Your Brain on Quarantine

quarantine brain

No motivation.  Tired and foggy.  Shorter fuse.  Loneliness and frustration.

This is your brain on quarantine.  Although everyone is hopeful the COVID-19 restrictions will ease, many of us plan to continue following stay-at-home guidelines to ensure our health, as well as public safety.  The effects of the pandemic, and of the quarantine, are definitely real, and are being felt by most of us.

Many of my sessions lately have included conversations about expectations.  The fact that it’s okay to be struggling, and that it makes a lot of sense why we are struggling.


We are all living a slow-motion, communal trauma.  Not only has the pandemic itself changed what our daily lives look like, many of our leaders have done the opposite of providing reassurance and calm command.

When we experience trauma, some things tend to happen in our brains and bodies.  We get flooded with chemicals that make it hard to think clearly, to form long-term memories, to stay in relationship/emotionally-connected with other people, and to engage compassionately and non-selfishly.  It is accurate, in many ways, to call it “survival mode.”

If there is perceived danger, we tend to go into a “fight or flight” response.  If the threat is immediate, we typically to go into a “freeze, fall, feign death” response.  Fight or flight causes reactions that are in-line with anxiety symptoms, while the freeze, fall, feign death reactions are in-line with depression symptoms.  Notice yourself feeling anxious some days, and feeling more down or blue other days?  Check in with your thoughts and your body.  There might be a good chance you’re in one of these activated and heightened response states.


In addition, if we look back to our old reliable Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, our basic needs need to be met before we can do the higher-level work of self-actualization and meaning-making.  If we use that as a foundation for understanding our current situations, it is no wonder we are all struggling with motivation, or with doing all of the self-improvement work we want to accomplish.

A basic need is a feeling of safety and connection.  Even if we have food and shelter right now, we don’t have a feeling of safety.  We don’t know what the future holds.  And many of us don’t have the same opportunities to feel connected and engage with our communities.  That makes climbing to the top of the pyramid, where creativity and potential live, really hard.  It’s not a lack of will power.  It’s not because you’re failing, or wasting this so-called opportunity.  It’s also not a competition where you need to be showing off on social media how fun, free, and innovative you’re feeling during the lock-down.  It’s just biology, and the nature of human psychology.  The struggle is real, and the struggle will continue.  (Sorry, fellow humans!)

What is there to do?

Don’t beat yourself up.  We are all navigating the unknown every day.  Survival is the goal.  And survival rarely looks pretty.

Engage in self-compassion, and do what you can in terms of self-care.  Can you be kind to yourself in this moment, and recognize your own suffering?

Need some help surviving the current state of the world?  Get in touch today to make an appointment.

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