Are you experiencing the equivalent of a “Coronavirus Concussion”?
Mood is a mysterious aspect of human experience, a diffused emotional state that appears as separate from and underlying sharper emotions such as anger, fear or grief, and also separate from and underlying conscious thought. Yet clearly mood interacts with these other aspects of consciousness. We have a hard time saying much about moods except that they’re “good” or “bad”, “negative” or “positive”, yet negative moods are associated with negative thoughts and negative emotions and sometimes negative performance. In their most extreme form, they can constitute mental illness.
In many respects, mood appears to be a proxy for the energy level of the central nervous system. We know that stimulants of the central nervous system such as cocaine and amphetamines (including MDMA, the street drug known as Ecstasy) induce temporarily positive moods and even productivity. When the effect of these chemicals wears off, the depressive effect on the CNS induces a negative mood. And actual chronic depression — perhaps the ultimate bad mood — is characterized by low energy at every level.
Our mood throughout the globe has shifted drastically. The mood we are in as a global community fluctuates between anxious, uncertain, irritable, and depressed resulting in fatigue, confusion, and even sleep disturbances. These symptoms are eerily similar to a mild concussion. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is so tiny it is only visible under an electron microscope so it’s almost unfathomable that something so small could have such devastating outcomes. Besides the disease it causes - and the now well over hundred thousand deaths around the world - it will inevitably be the resultant emotional trauma and the secondary epidemic of burnouts and stress-related absenteeism in the latter half of 2020 which will also take a huge toll.
With some 2.6 billion people around the world in some kind of lockdown, we are arguably conducting the largest psychological experiment in history. However, taking action now can mitigate the low mood effects of COVID-19 lockdowns.
We believe we can help.
Epidemiology studies show us that depression is less common in parts of the world where people consume foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Scientists have discovered that the omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – found in fish and algae oils help prevent and even treat depression and other mood disorders.
Omega-3s can easily travel through the brain cell membrane and interact with and improve transmission of good mood-related molecules like serotonin and dopamine inside the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression.
The science in support of omega-3 essentially fatty acids having a positive effect on mood is clear. For the affective disorders, meta-analyses confirm benefits in major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder, with promising results in schizophrenia and initial benefit for borderline personality disorder. In double-blind, randomized, controlled trials, DHA and EPA combinations have been shown to benefit attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, and aggression. Accelerated cognitive decline and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) correlate with lowered tissue levels of DHA/EPA, and supplementation has improved cognitive function. There is also evidence that omega-3 might be beneficial for the maintenance of (working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control) executive functioning. And there is even research comparing DHA-rich oil vs placebo has found that DHA intake was supportive of people under psychological stress.
Mood is elusive and subtle, and appears to control all. But besides supporting brain biochemistry with omega-3 essential fats, what else can we do to control it?
Research has pointed to ways by which we can harness and control mood and a good example is the role of mood in learning. Scientists estimate that we each have approximately 70,000 thoughts per day, but for many people, a majority percentage of those thoughts are the same thoughts they thought the day before. The same thoughts lead to the same choices, the same choices lead to the same behaviours, the same behaviours create the same experiences, and the same experiences produce the same emotions.
Don’t get stuck in the lockdown loop!
The circularity of this surely deserves to be called “unproductive.” It smacks of an unconscious process, of someone on “autopilot” and it seems reasonable that the more conscious we become of our states of mind and body, the less likely we are to remain in or revert to“autopilot” states. The mind off autopilot, almost by definition, is better able to learn and re-learn valuable skills, better able un-learn self-destructive behaviours, and more likely to experience new and better outcomes. This business of becoming conscious of our thinking is called “metacognition.” Metacognition is cognition about cognition, thinking about thinking, knowing about knowing, becoming aware of one's awareness.
Metacognition is a set of higher-order thinking skills that enable learners to become aware of how they learn, and to evaluate and adapt these skills to increasingly effective learning. Metacognition consists of the knowledge of cognition but also the regulation of cognition.
Knowledge of cognition has three components.
First: knowing the factors that influence one’s own performance.
Second: knowing general strategies to use in learning.
Third: knowing specific strategies to use for a specific learning situation.
For example, a student engaged in intensive learning can just blunder ahead by reading and cramming, but it’s far more efficient if he or she can become aware of the behaviours that help recall facts, names, and events. Which strategies are most effective for solving problems? What is the student’s own style of learning? Visual, tactile, auditory? These are examples of your knowledge of cognition.
Regulation of cognition also has three components.
First: setting goals and planning.
Second: monitoring and controlling learning.
Third: evaluating one’s own regulation by assessing results and strategies.
As examples, regulation of cognition might include developing a plan, monitoring our understanding, and evaluating our thinking after completing a task.
During the days of physical distancing: Plan, Monitor, and Evaluate
During the planning phase we may ask ourselves: what am I supposed to learn? What prior knowledge will help me with this task? What should I do first? What should I look for in this reading? How much time do I have to complete this?
During the monitoring phase we may ask ourselves: how am I doing? How should I proceed? What information do I need to commit to memory? What should I do next if I do not understand?
During the evaluation phase we might ask: how well did I do? What specifically did I learn? Did I achieve the results I expected? What could I have done differently? Can I apply this way of thinking to problems in the future? Are there any gaps in my knowledge?
Managing Metacognition Means Managing Mood
These metacognitive strategies enable us to effectively manage what are in effect mood issues: the anxiety associated with the learning, the worry related to failure, and the uncertainty we associate with the mastering of new skills. The result is not only that our mood is optimized during the learning process, but the association of a positive mood during learning will help consolidate stronger connections in the brain.
During this COVID-19 era, it goes without saying that when our mood is predominantly anxious or overly stressed, our brain defaults into fight-or-flight mode and cares only about survival. Retaining new skill sets takes a back seat.
The Bottom Line
To boost your mood during these unprecedented times, dose up on omega-3 essential fatty acids, break the autopilot loop, actively plan, monitor, and evaluate.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, policy or position of Trident Brands Incorporated or affiliated entities. It is important to understand that while a dietary supplement may have been shown through clinical study to be beneficial for certain health conditions, they are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or alleviate the effects of any disease. Please also note that Bryce Wylde has a pre-existing financial relationship with Trident Brands as Chief Innovation Officer.
Most importantly, the content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioner with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.