So I know a couple of guys who are thriving under covid-19: Doing more workouts, seemingly minimally and proportionally worried, getting their jobs done while getting outdoors for their adapted exercise routine. Truly exemplars of adaptability.
Me, I’ve struggled quite a lot. I’ve had a few weeks with two low-grade colds, insomnia, reduced ability to focus and the general sensation of an air raid siren sounding continuously. At the same time, I’m one of the fortunate: I have a job, and I can work from home, and my employer is unlikely to lay off staff in the pandemic. (Online tax software is coping OK.)
I’ve got two long-form essays on the subject that resonated with me and wanted to share. The first is from ex-broker Josh Brown, who I’ve had on my RSS feeds for years now. He’s had it tough and is blunt here, but this is the more relatable section:
I couldn’t sleep. Maybe for weeks. And while there were people risking their lives in hospitals and saying goodbye to their loved ones, we don’t feel our own individual stress on a curve, or in the context of someone else’s. Even acknowledging, out loud, that other people are going through a worse situation doesn’t help us trick our own body into complacence.
Your hypothalamus doesn’t care about your relative safety compared to someone else’s as it sounds the alarm. Your amygdala doesn’t consider other people as it passes on its signals – this is an ancient part of your brain that developed to keep your great grandfather from being eaten by something with sabreteeth. Your pituitary glands don’t feel for others as they pump the adrenocorticotropic hormone which lets the adrenal glands know to pump their epinephrine, and so on. Your whole nervous system is now engaged, the gas pedal is pushed to the floor and held there. It’s not designed to react to your empathy for others, it’s designed for your own survival. And when it remains at this heightened state of vigilance for days on end, you’re in trouble.Josh brown
That. Just because I’m fortunate doesn’t mean I’m coping. And there’s good reasons for that. Read the whole thing; it’ll rewire what you expect from candor in the CEO of a financial advisor firm.
Over the past few weeks, my ability to focus has completely disappeared. I set my timer for 25 minutes and then stare at it, not doing work, for minutes at a time. I do a burst of work and realize only six minutes have passed. Earlier this week, I fell asleep while reading a book, in the middle of the day. I can’t focus for long enough to figure out how to fix my inability to focus.
The good news is that I’m not alone: since February, there has been a “300 per cent increase in people searching ‘how to get your brain to focus’, an 110 per cent increase in ‘how to focus better’, and 60 per cent rise in ‘how to increase focus’.”
It turns out that this pandemic has weakened our pre-frontal cortexes—the part of the brain that is responsible for higher function—because of higher levels of stress chemicals that dampen the cortex’s effectiveness in order to prioritize more primitive function.FPINTM
A bit further down it quotes and links to The New Statesman:
There are three major factors that make Covid-19 particularly potent for cutting off our prefrontal cortex: its invisibility; the lack of individual control we have over it; and being forced to go against our normal habits in order to protect ourselves.The new statesman
As disturbing as it may be to think that this inability to focus is hard-wired into our brains, it’s also a bit of a relief to know that this isn’t a personal or moral failing. It makes sense that I’m finding it hard to focus, and that means I can forgive myself for my distracted mind.
That is, after all, the best thing we all can do, in this crisis or not: forgive ourselves for who we are. We can always strive to be better, but we can’t beat ourselves up for being ourselves.FPITM
Read the whole thing. It’s excellent. He (or is it she?) also includes poetry and well-curated links. A wonderful blog to find.
Anyway, if like me you’re not an exemplar of human adaptability, fortitude, etc, etc, then I encourage you to read the essays and accept why your brain is so wigged out. I’m right there with you.