Pandemic Forgetfulness— Forgetting the Past Year Might Be Easier than Expected
Pandemic forgetfulness isn’t just in your head
Since fall 2020, friends and colleagues too young to be worried about dementia have been talking to me about their growing forgetful. At first, I assumed this was an isolated problem. After a few months, I started to investigate and sure enough, pandemic forgetfulness isn’t just in our heads.
A growing body of research suggests that months of heightened stress and social isolation have taken a toll on our brains, including our ability to remember.
To clarify, when I talk about pandemic forgetfulness, I’m not talking about “COVID brain fog.” COVID brain fog is a cognitive impairment that happens to some but not all people who contract COVID-19. Pandemic forgetfulness can inflict anyone because it isn’t caused by the virus but rather by the conditions of lockdown.
The link between social isolation and memory declinewas already well known prior to the pandemic. Earlier studies have also found that ongoing chronic stress often has a negative impact on memory. During the pandemic, social isolation and stress have become the norm for millions of people around the world. As a result, it isn’t entirely surprising that even healthy young adults are increasingly suffering from memory loss. But should we be concerned?
While it is too soon to know for certain, pandemic forgetfulness will likely be temporary and decline as we begin to re-enter the social world. In the meantime, there are a few consequences that can’t be ignored.
Decision-making is a process that draws on past experiences. When our memories are compromised, recalling past experiences and knowledge is more difficult, and this in turn may compromise our ability to make the best decisions. Worse yet, forgetfulness can also be a symptom of more serious problems, including burnout.
Reduce stress and rebuild bandwidth
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent pandemic forgetting. First, cut yourself some slack. We’ve all been working under exceptional conditions for months, and we’re not all going to be at our best. Second, rebuild your bandwidth. Finally, proactively manage your latent stress. Remember that managing latent stress now is the best way to set yourself up for post-traumatic growth.
So, what should you do the next time you pick up a piece of paper and can’t remember why you were looking for the paper in the first place? First, don’t beat yourself up. Pandemic forgetting is a real thing. Second, take time to reflect on how you might start doing a better job taking care of yourself at this extraordinary time.
Keep reading to discover how to identify and mitigate the effects of pandemic forgetfulness. To learn more about business psychology and how it can help you and your team have more impact, set up a time to talk to Dr. Camille Preston.