Researchers are finding that living through a global pandemic has influenced and changed the human mind in many different ways. Even people who were never infected with COVID-19 have seen the effects of a long-term global pandemic.

  • How does stress affect the brain? Constant feelings of stress over the long term can change your brain in harmful ways, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
  • When the brain is put under large amounts of stress for long periods of time, it can lead to chronic, low-grade inflammation.
  • If left untreated, chronic, low-grade inflammation can “silently promote multiple diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis,” according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Stress and the pandemic: A study recently published in the Brain, Behavior, and Immunity journal used brain imaging to observe behavior before and after the pandemic.

  • The study gathered datasets from individuals before the pandemic and individuals after the pandemic who tested negative for COVID-19.
  • Healthy individuals who were examined after the lockdown measures were put in place in 2020 exhibited elevated levels of neuroinflammatory markers, reported the study.
  • “This work implicates neuroimmune activation as a possible mechanism underlying the non-virally-mediated symptoms experienced by many during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study reads.

How are lives changing due to pandemic-related stress? Scientists think that even people who haven’t been infected with COVID-19 are experiencing increased tiredness, lack of focus and impaired decision-making as a result of the pandemic. This is referred to as “COVID brain,” according to BBC.

  • The World Health Organization states, “Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.”
  • As a result of the pandemic, people have been using drugs and alcohol at an increased level and more people are struggling with anxiety and insomnia, WHO reports.
  • Dr. Emma Yhnell, a senior neuroscience lecturer at Cardiff university states that chronic stress and anxiety can also lead to changes in the parts of the brain that involve attention and decision making.
  • “Uncertainty influences the biology of our brains — and generally we can cope with a certain amount of uncertainty but the longer we have it, generally the worse it is for our brain,” said Yhnell to BBC.

Accessing mental health services becomes increasingly difficult during the pandemic: A survey conducted by WHO across 130 countries concluded that there was a severe disruption in mental health services during the pandemic.

  • 60% of countries surveyed reported disruptions in mental health services for vulnerable populations — children, older adults and women receiving postnatal services.
  • 67% saw interruptions in counseling and psychotherapy.
  • 35% saw interruptions in emergency interventions — services for people who experience seizures, severe substance abuse withdrawals and delirium.
  • 30% of the countries stated there was a disruption in access to medications for mental, neurological and substance abuse disorders.
  • Up to 78% saw interruptions in school and workplace mental health services.