Mental after-effects linked to lockdown can be countered — as long as you socialise

According to a Scottish study, our brains start returning to normal as soon as we start socializing with our peers again. — Picture by Christopher Futcher/Istock.com
According to a Scottish study, our brains start returning to normal as soon as we start socializing with our peers again. — Picture by Christopher Futcher/Istock.com

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NEW YORK, April 9 — Laziness, fatigue or difficulty concentrating: the effects of lockdown on our brains are detrimental. But the good news is that they are reversible. According to a Scottish study, our brains return to normal as soon as we start socializing with our peers again.

If you feel that you have lost mental agility since the various waves of Covid-19 and their accompanying lockdowns, Scottish researchers have good news for you. Three psychologists wanted to know if our cognitive abilities would return to normal after the pandemic. According to their findings, it would appear so. Dr. Christopher Hand, of Glasgow Caledonian University, Greg Maciejewski and Joanne Ingram, of the University of the West of Scotland, found that people with cognitive problems due to the pandemic recovered quickly when they could socialise again. The researchers used an analogy: Our brain in lockdown conditions behaves like a neglected house: It fills with dust and cobwebs. To recover its abilities, it needs a good spring cleaning.

Same cognitive battle for astronauts, trekkers and those living under lockdown

“Psychologists are only now beginning to recognise just how integral social interaction is to every aspect of our wellbeing and mental ability — and how isolation, whether for elderly people or those with extreme vocations, can affect our mental health and aptitude across so many measures,” the researchers explain in their article in The Conversation. Studies have shown that the mental health of people who had never previously experienced problems was affected. And the people who suffered the most cognitively during lockdown were those who were alone. In addition to a decrease in morale, a link was identified between loneliness and cognitive problems with fatigue, stress and concentration problems. These effects are normally studied either in elderly people or in people with extreme occupations, such as astronauts, desert trekkers and polar explorers.

Effects on attention, learning ability and working memory

To understand the effects of loneliness on our brains and then the effects of returning to a more social life, researchers studied the behavior of 342 Scots, all adults (between 18 and 72 years), between May and July 2020. This is the period during which pandemic restrictions were gradually lifted in the United Kingdom. It provided a good opportunity for scientists to observe whether the cognitive abilities of the people studied improved as they became more sociable.

The three psychologists administered tests to measure attention, learning ability, working memory (i.e., the ability to retain important information from a text) and time perception. According to the study, all of these indicators were significantly better with the end of lockdown. Even more encouragingly, they improved week by week. In addition to the return to sociability, the scientists also mentioned the positive effect of summery weather and better exposure to light.

So there’s hope that we can regain our abilities as they were prior to lockdowns — and rather quickly. — ETX Studio

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