Chronic stress also changes the prefrontal cortex (the executive control center of the brain) and the amygdala (the center of fear and anxiety). Long-term use of excessive glucocorticoids can damage the prefrontal cortex and its connection with the amygdala. As a result, the prefrontal cortex loses its ability to control the amygdala, leaving the fear and anxiety centers out of control. This pattern of brain activity (excessive amygdala activity and insufficient communication with the prefrontal cortex) is common in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is another condition that has surged during the pandemic. Especially among frontline health care workers.

The social isolation caused by the pandemic may also be harmful to the structure and function of the brain.Loneliness and Decrease the volume In the hippocampus and amygdala, and Decreased connectivity In the prefrontal cortex. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who live alone during a pandemic are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

Finally, damage to these brain regions will not only affect people’s emotions, but also affect cognition. Many psychologists attribute the epidemic brain fog to the effects of chronic stress on the prefrontal cortex, which can impair attention and working memory.

Reversal time

So this is bad news. The pandemic has hit our brains badly. These negative changes are ultimately attributed to the decrease in neuroplasticity caused by stress-the loss of cells and synapses, rather than the growth of new cells and synapses. But don’t despair; there is some good news. For many people, once the stress disappears, the brain can spontaneously restore its plasticity. If life begins to return to normal, our brain will also return to normal.

James Herman, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati, said: “In many cases, the changes caused by chronic stress actually diminish over time.” “At the brain level, you can see many of these negatives. The reversal of the impact.”

“If you create a richer environment for yourself, where you have more possible input, interaction and stimulation, then [your brain] Will respond to this. “

Rebecca Price, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology, University of Pittsburgh

In other words, as your daily life returns to its pre-pandemic state, so should your brain. As the vaccination continues, the stress hormones will subside, and the anxiety about dying from the new virus (or killing other people) will subside. When you venture into this world again, all the little things that once made you happy or challenge you in a good way will do so again, helping your brain repair the lost connections that these behaviors once established. For example, just as social isolation is bad for the brain, social interaction is especially good for the brain.People with larger social networks have more social networks connection inside Prefrontal cortex, Amygdala, And other brain regions.

Even if you don’t want to socialize again now, you can force yourself a little anyway. Don’t do anything that feels unsafe, but there is one aspect of “pretending to succeed” when treating certain mental illnesses.Clinically, it is called Behavior activation, It emphasizes that you can go out and do things even if you don’t want to. At first, you may not experience the kind of joy or fun you had when you went to a bar or barbecue in the backyard, but if you keep going, these activities will usually start to feel more relaxed and help relieve depression.

Rebecca Price, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, said that behavioral activation may work by enriching your environment, and scientists know that The growth of new brain cells, At least in animal models. “Your brain responds to the environment you present to it, so if you are in a poor, not rich environment, because you have been trapped at home, this may lead to some reduction in the available pathways,” she said . “If you create a richer environment for yourself, where you have more possible input, interaction and stimulation, then [your brain] Will respond to this. “So, get off the couch and visit a museum, a botanical garden or an outdoor concert. Your brain will thank you.

work out Can also help.Chronic stress Depletion level An important chemical, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), helps promote neuroplasticity. Without BDNF, the brain cannot repair or replace cells and connections lost due to chronic stress. Exercise to improve level BDNF, especially in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, explains at least in part why exercise can improve cognition and mood.

BDNF not only contributes to the growth of new synapses, it may also contribute to the production of new neurons in the hippocampus.For decades, scientists believed that human neurogenesis stopped after puberty, but A recent studyHas shown signs of neuron growth until old age (although the problem still exists) Fierce competition). Regardless of whether it works through neurogenesis, exercise has been proven time and time again to improve people’s mood, concentration, and cognition; some therapists even prescribe it to treat depression and anxiety. It’s time to go out and start sweating.

Turn to treatment

There are many changes in the way people’s brains recover from stress and trauma, and not everyone can recover from a pandemic so easily.

“Some people seem to be more likely to fall into a chronic state, fall into depression or anxiety, etc.,” Price said. In these cases, treatment or medication may be required.

Some scientists now believe that psychotherapy for depression and anxiety is at least partially effective Change brain activity, And getting the brain to start up in a new mode is the first step in getting it to connect in a new mode.A kind Review papers An evaluation of psychotherapy for different anxiety disorders found that the treatment was most effective for those who showed more activity in the prefrontal cortex after a few weeks of treatment—especially when the area exerts control over the fear center of the brain Time.

Other researchers are trying to change people’s brain activity through video games. Adam Gazzaley, professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, developed the first brain training game, which was approved by the FDA for its ability to treat childhood ADHD.This game has also been proven Improve concentration The span is in adults. More importantly, EEG studies revealed greater functional connections involving the prefrontal cortex, indicating that the neuroplasticity in this area has increased.

Now Gazzaley wants to use this game to treat patients with epidemic brain fog.He said: “We think that in terms of the recovery of the new coronavirus, there is an incredible opportunity here.” “I believe that attention as a system can help across a wide range of [mental health] People are suffering from diseases and symptoms, especially due to the new coronavirus. “


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