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COVID-19 and Chronic Stress

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This is a review of a recent scientific article I just read entitled  “COVID-19 and your brain:  6 ways to control the damage to your mental health”, in World Economic Forum.

The scientists at PMHW (Primary Mental Health Workers) have identified 6 biotypes (each distinctive biotype indicating the ways that different brain circuits get disrupted or stuck.)  Because of the involvement of brain circuits, the identification of Biotypes can be a step toward learning how your brain functions.  Because of COVID-19, you might be stuck in one of 6 “biotypes”.

  • Our brain circuits have been affected by COVID-19, with some functions under strain.
  • Chronic stress is most damaging, resulting in tendencies to ruminate, have negative bias and an alarmist sense of threat, emotional numbness, inattention and cognitive fog.
  • These patterns can be broken by training the brain to behave differently.

As demonstrated by this scientific study, there is no doubt that the stress associated with COVID-19 has a deleterious effect on your brain.   Brain circuits are like sections of an orchestra; they are composed of many individual brain cells and perform diverse functions on their own, yet must operate in concert with each other to create a harmonious mind. Among the most damaging influences on these circuits is chronic stress.

How to Deal with chronic stress on your circuits
Chronic stress on your circuits can be the first step toward clinical depression or an anxiety disorder. Scientists at the Stanford Center for Precision Mental Health and Wellness (PMHW) have discovered cutting-edge techniques to understand how brain circuits make us who we are – and what happens when they go awry.  They have identified 6 “biotypes” (indicating the different ways that brain circuits can get disrupted or stuck.)  If you recognize yourself in a biotype, it doesn’t necessarily indicate a diagnosis of clinical depression. But it can be a step toward learning how your brain functions.  Following are the six biotypes, together with tips on how to deal with their deleterious effects.

Rumination
Characterized by a general tendency to worry and “ruminate” on negative thoughts from your inner voice. Limit exposure to news and other information that causes cycles of worry.

Tips:  If you find yourself overwhelmed by news, limit yourself to a single, trusted news digest.
Schedule “worry time”, creating a sense of control and limiting impact on activities important for mental health, including sleep, meaningful discussion and exercise.

Negative Bias
A tendency to dwell on the negative aspects of your experience associated with the over-activation of the brain’s negative affect circuit that, when functioning optimally, helps us detect risk and appraise negative emotion but does not generate negative biases.

An inability to take pleasure in activities that usually give you joy and purpose or feeling like you’re “going through the motions”.  Surround yourself with positive stimulation to engage your brain’s reward network.  Light your favorite scented candle, surround yourself with images of loved ones, and look for opportunities to connect with others.

Tips:
Make a conscious effort to seek out good news. After reading grim statistics, take a moment to recall a positive memory.

Threat Response
 Automatic reactions that are activated when the brain’s negative affect circuit is put into “alarm mode” by threatening situations (real or perceived, immediate or remembered, physical and social) and which are hard to switch off when the sense of threat persists.   Characterized by the body going into “alarm mode” and having difficulty switching it off.

Tips:  Try limiting exposure to stimuli that are overwhelming and focusing on normal routines to establish a sense of control and create stability.  Avoid stimuli that are activating, such as alarming media sources. Over time, gradually increase exposure to necessary stimuli.

Emotional Numbness
Unable to take pleasure in activities that usually bring you joy, associated with reduced activation in the brain’s positive affect circuits that previously responded to rewarding events, activities and memories.

Tips:
Use sources of stimulation to engage the brain’s reward network – finding pleasant smells for the home, playing favorite music, and surrounding oneself with positive images.

Inattention
Difficulty concentrating and staying focused associated with disruptions in the connectivity of the brain’s attention circuit.

Characterized by an inability to stay focused.  Break down your to-do list so you can focus on one item at a time.  Write down the one you want to accomplish first and only expand the list once the item is complete.

Tips:
Break down your tasks and decide which you want to achieve in that hour or day. Write it down. Expand the list only once that task is done.

Cognitive Fog
Brain may feel foggy, reflecting reduced activation in the cognitive control circuit (the brain’s “executive”).  Characterized by the brain felling foggy, rather than sharp.

Tips:
Give yourself permission to rest, and allow your brain plasticity to catch up, acknowledging that it’s normal for your brain to get tired amidst the rapid changes COVID-19 has introduced into your lifestyle.

 

There is no doubt that COVID-19 is causing chronic stress for many of us.  It is hoped that the tips contained in this article will be of some help to anyone experiencing it.

 

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Comments (4) on "COVID-19 and Chronic Stress"

  1. Monique,
    I don’t know about the subject of brain games, but I can tell you this was a very interesting and informative article.

    It’s pretty clear to see that one or all six of these biotypes may be the reason behind all the unrest and riots currenty going on in our country.

    The brain can make us do some strange things at time.

    I believe that Covid-19 lit the fuse for all the turmoil we’ve been experiencing. If the virus wasn’t enough to worry about, we have civil unrest to deal with as well.

    This is a very thought provoking article.

    All the best!
    Barbara

    1. Thanks for your comment, Barbara. As you point out, the biotypes created by the COVID-19 pandemic could very well be responsible for all the unrest and riots currently going on. It is most important to keep COVID-19 from damaging our mental health. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  2. Thanks for this Monique. 2019 was a very stressful year for me and I think one of the things that saved me was meditation. Even though it got me through it, after reading the article, I feel that I might have a slight emotional numbness now. Not fully, but I do struggle sometimes to just be happy and let myself be happy when there’s no reason not to be. I’m listening to music, but will includes the smells and images too. Thank you 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment, Gareth. I’m glad you found some helpful advice in the blog. Yes, meditation is good. So is yoga. And of course, listening to music is good for the soul.

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