You might think you’re doing less when working from home, but one Chicago expert said you are actually doing more.
All those little tasks — from remembering your mask when going to the store to thinking about setting up programs for work and school online — add up to increased stress. And you might not even know it.
Dr. Amy Bohnert, psychology professor at Loyola University, said this added stress affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which can lead to brain fog, forgetfulness, sleeplessness and even the feeling that time is time passing too quickly or too slow.
Want to fight through the fog? Here are Bohnert’s tips to manage stress and boost brain recovery.
Don’t see stress as a negative.
Bohnert said the first thing to do is acknowledge the stress, embrace it and recognize the role that it’s playing in our everyday lives. Instead, form a “stress mindset,” or try not to see stress as a negative.
Right now, people aren’t taking into enough account how much more time — and brain power — everything takes.
“It’s tempting to try new things or fill out our days with more tasks, but we aren’t giving our brain enough time to replenish,” she said. “We are overcompensating for the lack of novelty.”
Don’t try to learn a new language or skill.
We’re facing challenges that are taxing the brain’s prefrontal cortex, Bohnert said, the part involved in organizing and planning.
“Our technical capacities are really being pushed to the max,” she added. “That prefrontal cortex is on overdrive.”
That being said, “it’s also important to find one thing each day that provides some moment of attainable novelty,” she adds. “It’s not time to learn how to play the oboe, but finding things that are attainable … and add a fun element to our days.”
Focus on restoring the brain.
Bohnert said finding ways to give that part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, a chance to relax is key.
“Getting out into nature, particularly if it’s a natural setting that has varied elements like trees, grass, bodies of water,” she said. “We know there’s a restorative process that can happen in those types of settings.”
Bohnert also said structure and routines can help restore the brain, like getting adequate amounts of sleep and keeping to a consistent schedule. This is especially important for helping us focus.
Araceli Gómez-Aldana is a news producer and reporter at WBEZ in Chicago.