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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Oefinger

Why Do I Feel So Confused? Thinking and Organizing During a Pandemic

As someone who works in schools, my job responsibilities have picked up quite a bit recently. With increased expectations, I also notice more difficulties organizing myself than ever before. What is today’s schedule? Where is that zoom link? Is there a password? What do I need for this meeting? Just to name a few.

Many things just feel a little bit… fuzzy. Kids (and the adults who support them) may be having similar experiences. Reflecting on this nagging feeling of confusion, I keep coming back to working memory. Working memory is the amount of information we can hold at once (for the tech-fluent people, it’s like a computer’s RAM). Our capacity for multitasking (e.g., listening and taking notes, driving and listening to music, etc.) is largely dependent on working memory space, which varies from person to person.

In my role as a “virtual school psychologist,” my working memory is continuously taxed in all sorts of new ways. For example, let’s take something as simple as arriving to a morning meeting. In my pre-pandemic life, I used to drive the same route to work, park in a similar parking space, and join a meeting that took place in the same conference room each time. This routine was automatic. I basically ran on autopilot and used minimal working memory space to execute these tasks. My brain power was available for higher-level (or more complex) thoughts.

Now, arriving to a similar morning meeting strains my working memory. I turn on my computer, hope my headphones are charged, connect the Bluetooth, pull up the calendar, find the zoom link and password, pull up my notes for the meeting, etc. Sometimes, I’m on the wrong zoom link or I can’t find the invitation. Sometimes my audio does not connect, and I need to restart my computer. Sometimes, I’m dramatically backlit and have close the blinds behind me. Sometimes the internet doesn’t connect. Sometimes, I get flustered. My mornings rarely feel like I’m running on autopilot – instead, it feels I’m in constant problem-solving mode.

This is just one example, which may or may not resonate with your personal situation. Regardless if your job has changed through COVID, we all are required to reinvent systems and structures that previously just ran in the background (e.g., health precautions, childcare, social interactions, school, finances, etc.).

With all of these low-level tasks straining working memory, feeling a little fuzzy makes sense. It may also feel tiring. So, what can we do? Slowing down and spending the time to build out organizational systems is important. Set reminders on your phone, create a calendar with meeting links and passwords, pack your school/work bag the night before, plan out your meals, make lists, write things down, etc. Organizational skills build from the outside in, so use tools to help you ground in tasks.

Of course, stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns also significantly impact thinking and focus. More on these relevant topics at another time. Please take care of yourselves – mentally and physically. Be well. -Dr. Lisa

DISCLAIMER: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not imply nor establish any type of therapeutic relationship. It should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. If you think you need immediate assistance, call 911 or your local mental health crisis hotline.

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