A recent research revealed that whether or not you’ve contracted COVID-19, your brain will likely be affected by the pandemic. Neurological disorders upon contracting the virus are very evident, but for those who were fortunate enough to have escaped its claws, were not very fortunate after all. Alterations in brain chemistry and emergence of disorders like depression and anxiety has been an evident side effect of the pandemic isolation and it’s becoming a cause of worry.
Studies show that even though the virus has been inherently dangerous because it severely affects the respiratory system, the underlying neurological impacts are overlooked. The virus, which is neither the deadliest nor the most contagious virus known, yet has created the worst pandemic in the last century, is because of a reason.
On contracting COVID, Doctors showed how the damage caused was not limited to the respiratory system, but travel way beyond it. There were apparent physiological changes observed in the brain which were caused by the virus’ ability to gain access to the brain via the forebrain’s olfactory bulb which shows up as a loss of smell in some patients with COVID-19. Not just this, but other brain changes were also included, like introduction of severe fatigue, memory loss, headache and even stroke, which are caused by the disruption of blood and oxygen supply to the brain. It is also contended that the virus already alters dopamine and serotonin levels in the olfactory bulb—the chemicals which are secreted in the brain to induce happiness, pleasure, motivation etc.
The Added Burden
In addition to these physiological symptoms, there is also an added burden of psychological issues. The shadow pandemic relating to increase in suicide rates, could be a side effect of this increase in anxiety, suicidal ideation and depression. The uncertainty that the pandemic brought with it scaled massively relating to personal and professional uncertainty triggered a series of response. Helplessness, grief over the loss of loved ones, and worrying about keeping safe from the virus all piled up and acted as a foe to the mental well-being of individuals.
Humans, known as social animals, were for the first time in the last 100 centuries were forced to live in isolation. Loneliness, insecurities and uncertainty on a personal front, coupled with unemployment and financial insecurity have all been identified as potential trigger points that may result in major depressive episodes. Most doctors even believe that not just citizens staying at home, but frontline workers were also affected from such a long-drawn and mentally exhausting pandemic. The inability to save lives, even after pulling off 22 hours shifts, may lead to cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders or PTSD among the doctors and other health workers who contributed significantly during the entirety of the pandemic and that may lead to a potentially long-lasting effect on the brain’s physiology and function.
Neuroimaging techniques have demonstrated how chronic worries and fears diminish prefrontal cortex activity and damage neurons, shrink areas of the brain and impair thinking. In addition, neurological and psychiatric symptoms, including psychosis and neurocognitive dementia-like symptoms have been observed in some COVID-19 patients.
Can You Do Something to Change This?
The answer is: Yes! You absolutely can!
Neuroscientists have shown that the human brain is actually plastic. Demonstrating this through Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging or FMRIs, they noted that each individual has the ability to over-ride the brain’s hardwired reactions and reflexes. Basic nuances like patient levels and even anger management makes a difference. The human brain has an ability called neuroplasticity, which allows for humans to utilize their ‘thinking brain’ to rewire the structure and functioning of your brain. Apparently, the architecture of a human mind is always changing and never permanent.
The lingering anguish caused by the pandemic can change and doesn’t necessarily have to be something you make your reality. The human brain can be re-engineered to satiate the wounds and use self-healing techniques to self-calm the knee-jerk worries and fears. A human mind truly is the greatest machine ever. It is capable of both- inflicting injury upon itself and also remedying it by its own. Mental health may have remained a neglected part of human history, but with it’s coming to forefront, a lot can be done to change the state of mind. Literally!