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Even Healthy People Can Suffer From 'COVID Brain'

Elvert Barnes/Flickr

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. But you don’t have to be infected to be sick and tired of dealing with the coronavirus.

“We’re all ready for this to be over with,” said Allison Reynolds.

Like many of her fellow students, Reynolds, a senior marketing major at the University of West Florida, misses the normal college experience of in-person classes with lots of student interaction. But she says everyone is doing their best to keep the lines of communication open.

“I definitely miss seeing everyone face-to-face," said Reynolds. "I’m a talkative person so I like talking to people face-to-face. But people (that I’ve been to class with in the past), I’ve texted them and asked ‘hey, can you help me with this assignment?’, or just getting on a Zoom call with my teacher. So I would definitely say that even though we’re not face-to-face and seeing each other, we still have that communication and interaction with each other virtually.”

“I think people are feeling exhausted” said Dr. Michelle Manassah, the executive director for counseling and wellness at UWF. “People are feeling overwhelmed. And people are largely feeling like it is way past time for this whole pandemic experience to be over.”

Dr. Manassah says that, for the most part, the students and staff at the university understand why the precautions taken against the coronavirus are still in effect and have been doing their part. But that doesn’t mean they are happy about it. Many are suffering from what some are calling “COVID fatigue."

“Humans were not designed to be in isolation like we have been in so many ways for such a long time," said Manassah. "So what we see are the resulting feelings of being unmotivated, being lonely, sad, frustrated, and I think it’s fair to say that not only are students feeling that way, but faculty and staff, the general population of the world is feeling that way to some extent.”

That view is shared by counselors and social workers off the UWF campus as well.

“I’ve not seen anything like this ever in my life and I don’t think anybody alive has either,” said Ann Lewis, a licensed clinical social worker and a case management team leader at the Lakeview Center in Pensacola. “This has been so different in our work life, in our personal life, in our church life, in our grocery store life, in our social activities life.”

And it’s not just the pandemic that’s creating stress in our part of the world. 

“We’ve had multiple traumas as a community," said Tasa Isaak, Director of Community Support and Care Coordination Services at the Lakeview Center. "Starting with the shooting aboard NAS Pensacola where both myself and Ann responded to on the day of the call. We’ve had the pandemic of course that we are talking about now, but then we had the ‘pand-urricane’ as I call it, the pandemic hurricane, Hurricane Sally, and then we’ve got the (Pensacola Bay Bridge being out for months). So we’ve really got a lot going on as a community.”

Isaak says there was also added stress on parents who had to deal with working at home while their school-age children were trying to go to virtual classes at the same time. And some of those parents had to leave jobs to care for their children and loved ones.

But as we enter month 15 of the pandemic, things are beginning to turn around. Dr. Michelle Manassah from UWF says everyone needs to hold on just a little bit longer.

“We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, that light is getting brighter and brighter. (There is) lots of good news. Hospitalization rates (are) declining in this area. Infection rates declining, positivity rates declining, vaccines becoming more widely available and accessible; that’s all good news. But we’re not there quite yet. It’s important that people understand that there are still things that need to be done until we reach that level of herd immunity, which is what we’re striving for.”

And until we get there, we need to cope with what the people from the Lakeview Center are calling “COVID Brain”. Some people are coping with alcohol and drugs and a whole lot of overeating, but Ann Lewis says there are healthy ways people can get through to the end of the pandemic. This starts with admitting we are having some trouble.

“Awareness has to be the cornerstone of any mental health tool kit, and we have to give ourselves permission to know that we are not at 100%. Then we have to do the self-care, that’s the other side of that. We’ve got to go for that walk or take that long bath or read that book or listen to that book-on-tape while you’re stuck on the bridge. No sense in yelling at the cars ahead of you, you just have to do what you can do to breathe, cry if you need to, crying is healthy. (And) talk. Talk to people, call a friend, talk to somebody to let them know what you’re going through.”

If you suspect someone you know is having a hard time coping with the pandemic and everything else, or if you’re having trouble and need some help, you can call the Lakeview Center’s Mobile Response Team at 866-517-7766 anytime of the day or night. Or call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.