Mother or father with the feeling of having a 'fried brain'?  Do not suffer, it is normal

A few weeks ago, on a Wednesday morning, I was having a beer on a terrace with a friend, a children’s literature editor. Luis, who is his name, told me that he had been unable to concentrate when working for months, taking hours to do what he used to do in minutes, forgetting pending tasks. Without going any further, I see myself looking for words that used to come out alone to complete articles like this one, forgetting things every moment, being unable to get up early to work and, despite this, feeling infinitely tired. It is a general malaise that I have heard in recent months from many mothers and fathers. A discomfort that we ourselves, among friends, have already baptized as “having the brain fried” and in which, we intuit, the pandemic and its direct impact on our way of life have a lot to do with it.

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“Suddenly we have found ourselves in the need to attend to many demands simultaneously (work, care and education of our children, household chores, etc.) so we continually keep our attention divided. To this must be added the uncertainty about the future, health, economic situation and social isolation. All these changes are leading us to a sustained and constant stress that affects our health and our brain ”, says Susana Martín Mora, psychologist at the Cáceres Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center, belonging to Hermanas Hospitalarias.

As the psychologist Isabel del Campo Martín-Cobos, from the Center of Psychology specialized in Calma maternity, there is a good stress, eustress, which is a natural human emotion that allows us to adapt and prepare to overcome difficult situations: “This stress makes us be on guard, be more motivated and be more productive.” However, when stress is excessive and, like now, it lasts for long periods of time without our body and mind being able to relax, that emotion changes its name (distress) and becomes negative. “It has been shown that distress causes irritability, fatigue, loss of attention and memory capacity. This is because the mind understands that we are in danger and, therefore, focuses attention on specific details, losing the ability to distinguish what is relevant from what is not. Therefore, our productivity and our memory diminish ”, argues Martín-Cobos.

The intensive parenting to which we have been led, the confinements, the online classes of our children, the limitations to social contact, and the misunderstood teleworking are factors that, without a doubt, have influenced the generalization of this distress between parents and mothers. “More than teleworking, the problem is the conditions in which we telework. On many occasions, there is no physical space or technical means to carry it out. And to that we must add the need to reconcile teleworking with caring for children, which is already an impossible mission, because the distractions are continuous and it is difficult to separate personal space from work ”, reflects Susana Martín Mora, who adds that teleworking has made us feel “alone and isolated” and that working in multitasking mode has also decreased our attention span and concentration: “The fact of attending to too many things at the same time has a negative effect on our performance and our memory , decreases our capacity for reflection and makes us react more impulsively ”.

As the expert explained, teleworking during the pandemic has made it difficult (if not directly impossible) the separation between personal and work space. Our life, clearly divided before, now appears to us chaotic and mixed, with all the spheres coming together in the same place, the house, which multiplies the feeling of being at everything and not getting anywhere. Are we demanding a lot as fathers and mothers and are we demanding a lot of ourselves? “A lot is demanded of us, but the most worrying thing is how we internalize these demands and want to become superheroes”, answers the psychologist of Hermanas Hospitalarias, who highlights that the problem occurs especially among women: “Even today, although there are exceptions, the The burden of domestic organization and care continues to fall on women. Somehow we feel that we have to do everything and everything right. For this reason, it is frequent that we end up sacrificing our time and our interests to be able to cover family demands and that we end up feeling frustrated because even then we do not get to everything “.

With the dream we have run into

Isabel del Campo Martín-Cobos affirms that bad stress or distress “is usually accompanied by insomnia or lack of hours of sleep.” Sleep, precisely, has been one of the aspects of our lives most affected by the pandemic, according to all the studies carried out to date. “Before the pandemic, it was estimated that approximately one third of the adult population had problems in conciliation or in maintaining sleep. However, this figure has increased significantly during the pandemic and especially during confinement ”, says Dr. Marta Moraleda, clinical neurophysiologist and member of the Pediatric Working Group of the Spanish Sleep Society (SES).

After this increase, according to the expert in sleep medicine, two causes are hidden. On the one hand, the aforementioned stress, which is a risk factor for the appearance of sleep disorders. On the other, the alteration of the correct functioning of the circadian rhythm due to factors such as the decrease in daily physical activity, the scarce exposure to sunlight during the day, the increase in the use of electronic devices, especially late in the day, or the decline in our social relationships. This situation is aggravated even in the case of fathers and mothers. “According to a study published in the scientific journal Sleep, recovery of sleep (in terms of satisfaction and duration) to levels prior to the birth of a child is not achieved until the child reaches six years of age. That is why it should not be surprising that mothers and fathers with young children and sleep problems have a worse feeling of rest. If we add to stress and chronodisruption the difficulties that teleworking posed during confinement in reconciling family life… ”, argues Moraleda.

Could lack of sleep also contribute to the “fried brain” sensation that many mothers and fathers live with, especially in recent months? “Of course. Poor quality sleep will have multiple repercussions on our daytime functioning. We must not forget that human beings have a 24-hour circadian rhythm and that what happens during the day is as important as during the night ”, responds the SES spokesperson, who recalls that nowadays scientific evidence has shown that sleep is not only an active process, but it has a fundamental role in the regulation of multiple physiological functions such as the regulation of the immune system, the regulation of metabolism, the regulation of the internal environment or homeostasis, memory and learning processes: “In the short term, lack of sleep already has a very important impact on our daily functioning, with symptoms such as headaches or morning fatigue, a feeling of lack of energy, irritability, anxiety, mood disorders, daytime hypersomnolence, forgetfulness, concentration problems and, therefore, low performance at work level ”.

Recover our brain

Recovering attention span, memory and, ultimately, recovering our brain, necessarily happens for Isabel del Campo Martín-Cobos, to reduce the levels of distress. In this sense, the psychologist from the Center for Psychology specializing in maternity Calma recommends:

  • 1. Maintain a routine: have a fairly defined schedule for everything: work time, leisure time, time spent with the family, time alone, etc.
  • 2. Try to be strict with the work schedule: You often have to “say no”, even if it costs, because it is a question of health.
  • 3. Disconnect more often and before new technologies: turn off the computer as soon as we finish work and silence the mobile and leave it “parked” at least an hour before going to bed.
  • 4. Take care of yourself at all levels: “On a physical level, it is essential to maintain a balanced diet, which has a direct impact on the brain, doing physical exercise, which is one of the best antidotes to reduce anxiety, and sleeping well, which is almost more important than eating. On a mental level, what helps the most to reduce stress and anxiety is being in the here and in the now. Not spending the day regretting our mistakes of the past, nor worrying about the future. In that sense, it also helps to perform relaxation and meditation techniques, which considerably reduce stress levels. On a more spiritual level, it would be good to remember that the human being does not end in himself, but has an impact on others. Thinking of others, not being indifferent to the pain of others and being grateful for what we have has a direct impact on how we live and how us we face the days ”.

To these tips, finally, Susana Martín Mora adds the importance of contact with nature, which “can also be of great help to reduce stress”, and a tip that she considers the most important of all: “Free ourselves from so many self-demands , adjust our expectations and set more realistic goals that help us to be more satisfied with ourselves “.

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