Caring for the Soul

November 8, 2021

Hope for the Hippocampus: A Look at Covid Traumatic Effects on Learning

By Kathryn Donev, M.S., LPC/MHSP, NCC

Covid Trauma has caused great emotional distress in many children resulting in disrupted attachment, impaired emotional regulation and cognitive delay. This stress of uncertainty and fears associated with sickness, has had a “silent” physical impact on our children’s brain development and more specially on their hippocampus. The hippocampi are two curved organs that look like seahorses. They are located in the medial temporal lobe that form an integral part of the limbic system and play an important role in emotion regulation. They also store your memory. When you learn something new, a unique neural pathway is created. But a traumatized or stressed hippocampus does not allow for these memory pathways to be revisited to become stronger, thus hindering the hippocampus from recalling information. So a traumatized brain struggles to recollect memories and details. Learning becomes difficult. For teachers, this can be extremely frustrating when you feel your students are not retaining information. A subject that was “mastered” the week prior is now a foreign concept because the ability to remember is hindered.  But, there is hope.

The following are four ways to activate this memory center. The first is physical exercise. Movement stimulates neurogenesis or the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain. Secondly, mental exercises are just as important. This can include memorization activities like retrieving vocabulary or simply doing a puzzle. Stress management is the third way to assist the hippocampus. Reducing stress decreases the neurotoxic effects of cortisol on the hippocampus. Children find routine to be very calming. Besides mealtime and bedtime, routine can include structured play and family activities. With socially distancing in mind, staying connected with small acts of kindness can also aid in stress reduction for children. Fourthly, healthy eating habits make a healthy hippocampus.  Fish is among the most beneficial foods for your memory because of their omega-3 fatty acids which boost our cellular structure and brain signaling. Blueberries and dark chocolate releases antioxidants and dopamine which is great for fast learning and memory.

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