How Parents Can Handle Pandemic Brain Fog

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You walk into the kitchen to prepare the meal that your toddler just asked for and you realize that you can’t remember what you’d agreed to make! Later, as you’re helping your second grader with their virtual schooling, you smell the toast you put in the toaster 10 minutes ago…because it’s burning.

You used to be a great multi-tasker, but now you can’t seem to even do one thing right. 

Why is your brain so “fuzzy”? What exactly is going on here?

What Is Pandemic Brain Fog?

If your parenting has been plagued by fuzzy thoughts or “brain fog” lately, you are not alone. Brain fog is a common reaction to anxiety and stressful situations, and there is no doubt we are living in stressful, unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for us all, but has placed a particular burden on parents.

Parents aren’t just concerned about keeping their immediate family safe and healthy, but they are also worried about their own parents and other people vulnerable to the devastating effects of COVID-19. They are subject to the 24-hour news cycle, with constant updates about the virus, treatments, and the up and down trends of cases and deaths.

On top of all that, their day-to-day responsibilities as parents have suddenly quadrupled. Many of parents’ normal sources of help—like babysitters, daycare, teachers, or family help—have all but vanished.

Many parents are working from home while also managing their kids’ schooling and other childcare duties. The level of pressure and stress parents are under is overwhelming, and there is virtually no time to take care of their own basic needs like healthy eating, exercise, self-care, and sleep.

What Causes Brain Fog?

If you are finding yourself experiencing extreme moments of forgetfulness, especially when coupled by other concerning physical symptoms such as dizziness, weakness, or racing heartbeat, you should contact your doctor to rule out more serious issues.

But if you are just finding yourself having moments of foggy or scattered thoughts, you are most likely experiencing brain fog brought on by anxiety or stress.

It’s no wonder many of us are experiencing brain fog right now, a stress symptom which is often triggered by difficult, traumatic events, depression, or anxiety. Brain fog is most common when stressful events or mental health crises are prolonged. This has certainly been the case during this year-long pandemic.

According to a January 2021 survey taken by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association, 84% of adults are experiencing at least one mental health effect as a result of prolonged stress, including anxiety, sadness, anger, and feelings of overwhelm—and these stress levels have only gotten worse over the course of the pandemic.

As Penn Medicine describes it, prolonged stress, like the kind experienced during the pandemic, can actually make changes to the way our brain functions, leading to deficiencies in our ability to think clearly, plan, and accomplish everyday tasks.

“In many cases, when emotions become overblown, parts of the brain in charge of executive function tend to not communicate as well with the emotional parts of the brain—the limbic system is overriding the executive functioning circuit,” explains Penn Medicine. “[T]his can cause people to have trouble focusing or controlling impulses,” they add.

Pandemic Brain Fog vs. COVID Brain Fog

It’s important to note that the brain fog referred to here is emotional in nature, triggered by the pandemic or quarantine lifestyle. The COVID-19 virus itself has been known to trigger symptoms of brain fog in people who have recovered, especially in those who have experienced COVID-19 “long haul” symptoms.

“While some survivors have fully recovered from this illness, others are still experiencing lingering effects, such as chronic fatigue, brain fog, dizziness and increased heart rate,” explains John Hopkins Medicine.

“These survivors have been called ‘long-haulers,’ and experts say some of the symptoms they are experiencing are thought to be caused by postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a blood circulation disorder.”

It’s important not to self-diagnose something like pandemic brain fog, especially if you have recently recovered from COVID-19, or if you have other concerning physical symptoms—such as rapid heart beat, weakness, dizziness, or anything else unusual—in addition to your “foggy brain.”

Always talk to your doctor if your “brain fog” symptoms are debilitating in any way or if your gut tells you they are more than a stress response to the pandemic.

Common Symptoms of Pandemic Brain Fog

Symptoms of brain fog can vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Short term memory issues
  • Trouble paying attention to detail
  • Diminished ability to multitask
  • Having trouble completing tasks
  • Having trouble planning
  • Feeling extra sleepy, scattered, or confused

How to Cope With Pandemic Brain Fog

If you are a parent coping with symptoms of brain fog related to the pandemic or to quarantine, keep in mind that this is a very common reaction to the extremely troubling and difficult circumstances we find ourselves in. You are not alone.

You are not a worse parent because you are finding it hard to cope or are having more trouble that usual concentrating or accomplishing tasks. Don’t blame yourself for this—it’s just a consequence of the times we are living in, and parents everywhere are struggling with similar issues.

That said, there are things you can do to decrease brain fog symptoms. Since brain fog is usually a manifestation of an overwhelmed system and high stress levels, most of the advice to combat it has to do with reducing stress and finding ways to take a little control of the circumstances you find yourself in.

Tips For Coping With Brain Fog

Let's take a look at ways that can help you cope with brain fog.

Routine, Routine, Routine

When you are quarantined at home, the days can easily blend into one another. This feeling of not knowing what day it is and having no real routine for your life can contribute to feelings of brain fog. It’s good to create structure to your days with your children, even if your activities are limited.

Try your best to wake up at roughly the same time each day, and create routines for you and your children around activities, meals, and sleep. These small things can help give you energy and clarity.

Get Outside

Gathering indoors with people outside your immediate family may not be safe, depending on the community transmission rates in your area and other personal considerations.

But outside time is always in style, even during a pandemic. Getting outside the four walls of your home can work wonders for your mental health and help regulate your moods.

Outside time will also help you and your child settle down more easily at night. If you are gathering outside with people outside your family unit, make sure to take proper COVID precautions, such as masking and social distancing.

Move Your Body

The mind and body are linked, and if your body is sluggish, chances are your mind is too. So get moving—in whatever way you enjoy. This can be in the form of a dance party with your children, a walk around the block, or a sweat session on your exercise bike.

It doesn’t matter what it is, or even how strenuous it is. The idea is to get your juices flowing, and to get those endorphins—which can decrease your stress levels—pumping.

Eat Wholesome, Invigorating Foods

You are what you eat, as they say. Many of us have taken to eating comfort foods during the pandemic—and there’s nothing wrong with that!

But after a while, eating fatty, sugary foods in excess can have an effect on our mood. Making a greater effort to eat wholesome foods can boost your mood.

This can be difficult when you are also cooking seemingly endless meals and snacks for your family, but doing a little pre-planning—and stocking your fridge with easy to prepare, healthy foods—can help.

Make sure you have healthy snacks available too, such as fruit, nuts, and hard boiled eggs. Swap sugar, caffeinated drinks for water and tea when possible.

Name Your Emotions

One way to manage the swarm of emotions many of us are feeling during the pandemic is to name what you are experiencing. It’s so easy to go through your day just feeling everything—every worry, every irritation, every feelings of sadness—and not even realize what you are feeling.

This can lead to feeling completely overwhelmed. Taking time to name your emotion—writing it down, or sharing it with a loved one—can help you feel a little more control over how you are feeling, and even lessen the impact the emotion can have on you.

Don’t Try to Multitask

Parents are the ultimate multitaskers. Some of us don’t know how to function otherwise. But multitasking actually can contribute to feelings of brain fog. Your brain simply becomes overwhelmed and can’t properly concentrate on any one thing, thereby doing a poor job with each thing you are tasked to do.

Setting time aside to concentrate on each task separately will increase your overall focus—as well as your patience!

Get Organized

Any way that you can take control in a time where control seems to be lacking will help you with your mental health and your feelings of fuzzy brain. But you don’t have to be in charge of this yourself! Technology is on your side here.

Use apps on your phone to create to-do lists, grocery lists, and to store other important data so that it doesn’t slip your mind. Use your phone’s calendar and most definitely use those handy reminder tools and alarms.

Speak to a Therapist or Counselor

Since brain fog is a symptom of stress and anxiety, it might be helpful for you to take charge of your mental health by consulting with a professional. These days, therapist services can even be accessed virtually.

Starting therapy can feel daunting. Look around until you find a therapist who makes you feel at ease. Just voicing your concerns and sharing your symptoms will likely feel like a burden has been lifted.

Brain Fog Red Flags

It’s important to remember that not all symptoms of brain fog during the pandemic are psychological in nature. Sometimes brain fog can be a symptom of a serious medical condition.

According to Harvard Health,some of the most common medical conditions that trigger symptoms of brain fog include:

You should discuss any medications you are taking with your doctor, who will be able to tell you if they may be causing brain fog. Simple blood tests can test for B12 deficiency and thyroid issues, and a sleep study can diagnose sleep apnea.

In rare cases, brain fog may be a sign of dementia. Most parents are too young to experience dementia, but your doctor will know whether this is something to explore.

A Word From Verywell

So many parents feel like they must do it all—and do it well. They were under immense pressure before the pandemic to be “perfect parents.” Unfortunately for many, that pressure hasn’t let up, even with all the extra responsibilities and stress that has been placed on parents.

If you are feeling this pressure, please know that now is not the time for perfection. Now is not the time for a spotless house. It’s okay if your children are on screens more than ever, or if their grades have slipped as they have navigated distance or hybrid learning. Now is a good time to take stock of what matters most: your kids’ physical and mental health, along with your own.

In some ways, experiencing symptoms such as “brain fog” may be the wake-up call you need to make sure to take your mental health more seriously, practice more self-care, and make a point of releasing yourself from the idea that you need to accomplish everything on your to-do list to be a good parent. For now, “good enough” may be the best you can do, and that’s okay.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hallion L, Kusmiersi S, Steinman S. Difficulty concentrating in generalized anxiety disorder: An evaluation of incremental utility and relationship to worry. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 2018;53:39-45. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2017.10.007.

  2. American Psychological Association. U.S. Adults Report Highest Stress Level Since Early Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Updated February 2, 2021.

  3. Messinger H. Coping with COVID Stress: From Pandemic Brain Fog to Building (and Studying) Resilience. Penn Medicine. Updated June 18, 2020.

  4. John Hopkins Medicine. Covid-19 Story Tip: Brain Fog, Fatigue, Dizziness... Post-COVID POTS Is Real. Updated December 29, 2020.

  5. Harvard Health Publishing. Is an underlying condition causing your fuzzy thinking? Updated June 1, 2016.