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 schoolwork, 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. In addition, they are subject to the 24-hour news cycle, with constant updates about the virus, treatments, and vaccine timelines.

On top of all that, parents' day-to-day responsibilities have quadrupled. Early on in the pandemic, many normal sources of help—like babysitters, daycare, teachers, or extended family—all but vanished. And even as vaccines become more available and things begin to open up and return to normal, life is still in flux and unpredictable.

The pressure and stress parents are under are overwhelming. Juggling all of it makes it difficult to take care of their own basic needs, like healthy eating, exercise, self-care, and sleep.

What Causes Brain Fog?

If you experience extreme moments of forgetfulness, especially when coupled with 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 finding yourself having moments of foggy or scattered thoughts, you are most likely experiencing brain fog brought on by anxiety or stress.

Brain fog is a stress symptom that is often triggered by difficult, traumatic events, depression, or anxiety. It is most common when stressful events or mental health crises are prolonged. This has certainly been the case during the pandemic.

According to a January 2021 survey 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.

Prolonged stress, like the kind people have experienced during the pandemic, can actually make changes to the way the brain functions. This leads to deficiencies in the ability to think clearly, plan, and accomplish everyday tasks. When emotions are in high gear, the limbic system is activated, which can cause difficulty with attention and impulse control.

Pandemic Brain Fog vs. COVID-19 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 also been known to trigger brain fog symptoms in people who have recovered, especially in those who experience “long haul” symptoms of COVID-19.

Long-haul symptoms are those that persist after recovery from acute COVID-19. They include brain fog, chronic fatigue, dizziness, and rapid heart rate. Experts believe that long-haul symptoms may be caused by postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a blood circulation disorder.

It’s important not to self-diagnose something like brain fog, especially if you have recently recovered from COVID-19 or you have other concerning physical symptoms—such as rapid heartbeat, 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 brain fog symptoms related to the pandemic, keep in mind that this is a widespread reaction to the extremely troubling and difficult circumstances we are in. You are not alone.

You are not a worse parent because you find it hard to cope or are having more trouble than usual concentrating or accomplishing tasks. Don’t blame yourself for this—it’s just a consequence of the times we live 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.

Routine, Routine, Routine

Limiting social interaction during the pandemic means that 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 a structure for 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 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, especially for kids not yet vaccinated. 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.

Staying Safe Outside

If you are gathering outside with people outside your family unit, take proper COVID precautions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fully vaccinated people may resume most activities without masking or social distancing.

However, unvaccinated people still need to wear masks and social distance when they are around people outside of their household.

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 pumping—which can decrease your stress levels.

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 affect your emotions. Making a greater effort to eat wholesome foods can boost your mood and energy levels.

This can be difficult when you are preparing 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 sugared and caffeinated drinks for water and herbal tea when possible.

Name Your Emotions

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

This can lead to feeling completely overwhelmed. Taking time to name your emotions—writing them down or sharing them with a loved one—can help you feel a little more control over your feelings and even lessen the impact they have on you.

Limit Multitasking

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. This is because your brain becomes overwhelmed and can’t properly concentrate on anything, thereby doing a poor job with everything you are tasking it to do.

Setting time aside to concentrate on each task separately will increase your overall focus, It will also boost your patience and productivity.

Get Organized

Any way you can take control when 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 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 brain fog symptoms during the pandemic are psychological in nature. Sometimes brain fog can be a symptom of a serious medical condition. Some of the most common medical conditions that trigger symptoms of brain fog include:

  • Side effects from medications
  • B12 deficiency
  • Thyroid deficiencies
  • Sleep apnea

You should discuss any medications you are taking with your doctor, who will tell you if they may be causing brain fog. In addition, 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. However, it is a good time to take stock of what matters most: you and your kids’ physical and mental health.

In some ways, experiencing 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. But, for now, “good enough” may be the best you can do, and that’s okay.

7 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.
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  2. American Psychological Association. U.S. adults report highest stress level since early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  3. Messinger H. Coping with COVID stress: From pandemic brain fog to building (and studying) resilience. Penn Medicine.

  4. John Hopkins Medicine. Covid-19 story tip: Brain fog, fatigue, dizziness... Post-COVID POTS is real.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When you’ve been fully vaccinated.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Choosing safer activities.

  7. Harvard Health Publishing. Is an underlying condition causing your fuzzy thinking?

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.