COVID Brain? Pick up your bricks!



March 13, 2020.  That’s the day everything in Canada closed.


It’s hard to imagine it’s been over a year, because this last year was basically cancelled. When everything began to shut down, we were a little excited for a stay-at-home holiday for a week or two. This was a small miscalculation on our part.  We had just returned from Brazil and were getting ready to turn around and go back again. But then we discovered all flights were cancelled, and the borders were quickly closing.


Now that it’s been an entire year, let’s consider the effect this pandemic has had on most people and how we might be doing. 


Brain scientists who study trauma and boredom, stress, and inactivity, know these are not good for human brains.  According to Mike Yassa, a neuroscientist at UC Irvine, the brain loves new and different things, and it hates stress and lack of activity. He thinks we are all suffering from mild cognitive impairment as a result of this pandemic.2


Even people who think they are doing well are likely exposed to microdoses of unpredictable stress all the time, according to Tina Franklin. She is a neuroscientist at Georgia Tech who researches how the brain reacts to learning, memory, and executive functioning. 2 Maybe you have brain fog and seem to feel tired all the time, or maybe you’ve noticed being more forgetful.  Even things you thought were simple before the pandemic now seem more difficult, like remembering how to order an Uber. This is because the brain likes to forget things it doesn’t use and quickly dumps information to replace it with new information it needs.2 This includes things like remembering to wear a mask and using hand sterilizer; this information could save your life. The brain is a very efficient computer with a self-clearing storage unit. But we need to consider something: What is this pandemic doing to our brains?


In the 1960s, Marian Diamond conducted a series of experiments on rats. She wanted to understand how environmental factors, including play, might affect cognitive function. She discovered that rats who had toys and playmates in their cages were better at mazes. 2 Dr. Stewart Brown conducted research where he discovered rats who were deprived of play were unable to differentiate between friend and foe.1


These long periods of time without challenging stimulation, the novelty of play, or positive interaction with peers can take a toll on us. Eventually, we might see shifts in ourselves as well as in our peers and team mates.  We just don’t know what the long-term effects will be of staying at home and working alone or suffering through hours of boring Zoom calls.  


At Strategic Play, we have been working hard to deliver workshops and trainings online that incorporate new and novel interactions, including building and playing with hands-on tools so people are interacting in the real world while also engaging online.  We remain forever optimistic. But we also acknowledge the  duration of the pandemic and its toll on everyone.


It is now April 2021; it’s been over one year. In many places, the world still doesn’t seem to have things under control. What are you doing to keep your brain engaged? What gives you hope?  What are you looking forward to? 


We would love to hear from you.


  1. Brown, S. L., & Vaughan, C. C. (2010). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York: Avery.
  2. Cushing, E. (2021, March 08). Late-stage pandemic is messing with your brain. Retrieved March 29, 2021, from
  3. Rock, D. (2009). Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. Harper Business.


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