With the daily bombardment and continual information overload, it’s no wonder that your brain may feel like it’s turning to mush, or that there is a haze hanging over you. Well, the good news is that you are not alone in feeling like this. Much like the global collective experience of vivid dreaming that has been increasingly reported since the onset of the pandemic, “load theory” as concept has now been labelled, is the reason why we may be feeling less like ourselves, or somewhat “out of sorts” explains Nilli Lavie, a professor of psychology and brain sciences at University College London.
Our brains, as sponge-like as they sometimes seem – have a limited capacity to store everything that’s thrown at us on a daily basis. This limited capacity in turn necessitates that we filter out some of the information that isn’t essential or that shouldn’t take up too much space. “If our short-term memories – or our visual perceptions – are overloaded with more info than it can handle, we struggle to distinguish what matters, we become forgetful and we’re easily distracted.”
COVID-19 has given us all a whole lot more to think about and consider. In addition to the inadvertent but unavoidable varying levels of anxiety that are associated with a global pandemic, there are now additional thought processes that need to take place – such as having to remember to have a face mask on you at all times (not just in your bag or in your hands – on your face), especially when in public spaces, having to continuously wash and sanitise your hands, trying to remember not to touch your face and of course remembering to practice safe social distancing too. That’s not to mention ensuring that you make it to every Zoom meeting on time and not on mute while wearing pants, or helping the kids complete their home-schooling homework. These all take up space in the brain that would usually be ‘allocated’ to other stuff. So while you may remember your mask, you’re likely to forget something else.
What makes all of the above even tougher is the fear factor that COVID-19 brings. According to Lavie “We are programmed, to prioritize information that has high ‘affective value,’ even if its harmful for us to do so” which means that the more these scary thoughts and feelings permeate our memories, the more likely we are to get distracted from the more important tasks that require our attention.
So, how can we combat “load theory”? First things first, keep it simple and let’s get back to basics. Break tasks up into manageable bits and prioritise them according to their importance. Be realistic about what can be achieved and be transparent with yourself and others about this. Give yourself a break – both from all the screen time as well as in general, set necessary boundaries and ensure that you stick to them. If you have an allocated lunch break, take it and ensure that you don’t spend it at your desk in front of your screen. Lastly, it’s important to note – that you are not alone in feeling this way, and that’s okay.