The festival of WordPress
January 22, 2021

This is an archive of the January 2021 event

Has 2020 Killed Your Spirit Too? Same. Want To Know Why?

“Hey, how ya doin’?”

Anyone else cringe when this question was asked in the chaotic year of 2020? Anyone else feeling unmotivated, unfocused, and discombobulated? There’s actually science behind why we are feeling some of these things, so not only are you not alone, but your body and brain is actually functioning *correctly*

In UX design we study cognitive science and psychology in order to create better products. Turns out that understanding how we function/don’t function through a global pandemic, at a time when the world is (sometimes literally) *on fire*, also benefits from this same science.

Speaker: tracy apps

Time: 4:00am UTC
Region: Oceania
Stage: Global Stage

Well, good morning or afternoon

or evening or night, whatever

time it is, wherever you are.

I’m Tracy apps also known as

tapps, many places on the internet.

And I am coming to you

from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

USofA where there’s lots

of snow, wherever you are.

I hope you’re good.

Hope you’re doing good.

Or not.

That’s okay, too, but at least safe.


That’s what we can ask.


So Hey, how you doing?

Do you hate this question?

I’m doing awful.

I’m doing terrible.

Don’t ask me that.

Have you felt that this kind of

reaction to this question last year?

Well, yes.

This, I found video of myself.

Last year, I want to say this

was Marchulyvember the 78th,

well maybe 79th, whatever.

It was a Thursday.

I know because the

weekend it flooded more.


So what did your 2020 look like?

My typical day kind of rotated

around well, many of these things,

so I ate way too many cookies put

together way too many puzzles.

And according to a bag of

chips, I am a family of four.

Whenever I just, everything, this

my, I lost my grandma in May, but we

didn’t have a chance to have a funeral.

So we had a funeral in November,

so I felt this grief was just

like hanging over unprocessed.

It was discombobulated all over the place.

Sad, upset.

Disillusioned and just disappointed

by people and actions and the world

then feeling despair and like anxiety

because of the state of the world and

wanting to do something, but a complete

lack of motivation just takes over.

And I felt ashamed because.

I couldn’t do anything and an anxious

and avoidant and spent hours on TikTok.

And normally I have my battles with my

persistent depression, which had that.

Then I add in some little

Seasonal depression.

Add in that grief and my sudden

loss of my job and my relationship

during the middle of a pandemic.

And now the cherry on top is the

added COVID pandemic, depression.

Which I don’t know how to

handle that because that’s new.

And now I’m trying to keep up with the

news, trying to be a responsible adult.

And I still can’t because of

the motivation energy thing.

And but yet I’m still obsessive, really

researching scientific studies and

stats and all those kinds of things.

And I know perfectly well,

perfectly well that human contact.

And connection is crucial

for my mental health.

And yet I was so overwhelmed and

burnt out that I couldn’t do anything

about it and even avoided people.

So instead I sat on my couch

and ate dairy free ice cream.

Let me just to name a few.

I mean, this is typical a standard day.

Anyone else?

Well, hence why this talk, our

brains are actually working fine.

You know that?

What, what do you mean?

Well, turns out brains

are complex and weird, so.

There’s a lot of things that are just

happening without us even knowing

it just happened automatically.

And so I wanted to make this

talk because of this, but first

I want to reiterate something.

You are not broken.

I am not broken.

We are not broken.

I spent much of the year just

blaming myself, beating myself up.

Because I couldn’t get

back to my normal state.

I couldn’t get back to that.

I used to have energy.

I had ambition, I had focus.

I was learning.

It was motivation, all this stuff.

I was beating myself because

I couldn’t get back to that.

Hence why I had to write this

talk because I needed to hear it.

I needed to hear this and I have a

feeling that I’m not the only one.

So let’s look at a little

bit what’s happening.

So our brains are complex and

they receive so much information.

It is impossible to process all

of that information in our brains.

Can’t even it is they, can

not it’s just not possible.

So instead they’re shortcuts

and a bunch of other stuff that

kind of goes on automatically.

So we don’t get eaten bear,

you know, so explain, let’s go back to

science and biology class and look at our

brain Our brain has all of these different

regions and parts, and each of them has

their own functions that they perform.

So things like the cerebellum that

handles your balance and coordination

or lack thereof, your rhythm and

that kind of the perception, the

spatial perception around you.

Then you’ve got your temporal, that’s kind

of that speech that auto the emotions,

behavior short-term long-term memory.

And then there’s these other parts of

one that just, just handles like the

visual system recognizes letters the

sensory information and other part

touch, taste, smell, temperature.

But the most.

Important to this talk,

especially and one of the most

developed we’re going to look in.

The at the frontal lobe.

So the part right in the front

of our brains, this is a pretty

complex area of the brain.

It handles a lot of different things.

It’s a wide range of

things that it handles.

So things like that complex abstract

thinking in the future planning and

organization and reasoning regulating

our emotions and our attention.

All of these things happen

in the frontal lobe.

And we can even go look deeper.

They break the frontal lobe up into

three main areas, the prefrontal cortex,

the premotor area and the motor area.

So what do each of these do?

Well, the, the prefrontal

cortex does this one.

This is all those cognitive behaviors

or personality although decision-making

and future planning the complex kind of

thinking all of the stuff that I have been

feeling that I have lost during 2020 and

the pandemic all of the stuff that was

frustrated about kind of happens in that.

Free prefrontal cortex.

And then the other two areas

that premotor and motor area,

they kind of work together.

And the premotor area is like the

preparing your muscles for the

action that you’re going to do.

So preparing to put that toothpaste

on your toothbrush and then the motor

area at actually generates the neural

impulses down your spinal cord.

And now you have toothpaste

on your toothbrush.


So if everything’s

working correctly, right?

Well, this talk is going to focus a

lot, mostly on the prefrontal cortex.

Because like I said, these were the

things that I really struggled with.

I feel like I just failed or lost them.

So why are we doing this?

Why are we looking into this?

Well, this is science.

So let’s explain.

So going back to a bear situation, right?

Whoa, we’ve got a bear.

He doesn’t look happy.

Our brain now is taking that input and now

it’s like, okay, what’s more important.


Maybe I should add a

little more to my 401k.

Or run away.

I’m going to say that run

away is the correct answer.

That is more important in this situation.

In this case, our brains really

need the that’s that speed and

efficiency, efficiency is key.

Otherwise we have gotten eaten by a bear

while we are thinking about our 401k.

So our brains are smart because.

They do these things.

Well, they sometimes at least they’re

efficient cause he takes a lot of these

things and helps us out automatically

without us even asking it too.

So let’s take that situation.

Got bear.


And your is like rerouting, and

it’s taking that blood from your

prefrontal cortex and rerouting it

to that and powering up your fight or

flight mode, giving you that energy,

that, that adrenaline gets your

muscles going so you can run faster,

jump higher, all of these things.



The system worked.

This is a good thing.

We ran away from the bear.

This is what our stress

system is set up for.


Well, let’s look at 2020 though.

It’s more like bear!






Bear, bear, bear, bear!

Now this, this is less good.

This, this is not.

What our stress response

system is built to handle.

Let’s let’s look at, go back

to our frontal lobe again.

So everything’s functioning fine.

Everything’s balanced.

We’ve got our blood flow that is keeping

the functionality of our frontal lobe.

In check.

We’re doing great.

And then all of a sudden breaking

news, this crazy thing happened.

Oh, Oh, geez.

Oh wait.

Now everything’s on fire.

Oh, wait, what injustice?

I need to, what, what, what

happened on Twitter now?

Hurricanes murder.

Hornets, murder, murder Hornets.

You said?



No, we’re we’re bear!



We’re taking all of these things

and our brain is responding to

them in that stress response.

And it’s just ticking away.

Just, just suffocating out these

functions, like our future thinking,

our abstract thinking our organization.

Or reasoning, attention control all of

these things, the things that I’ve been

struggling with, they’re not getting the

resources they need to function correctly.

So I was getting so

frustrated with myself.

I was just beating myself up.

I used to have energy.

I used to have motivation.

I was plenty.

I had it.

I had, I was planning for my future.

I was good at it.

I was learning things.

I was feeling like I had control.

I was, I hit my stride.

I was doing good.

And then I just couldn’t.

Well I’m and this is why in turns out

these things are out of my control.

Doesn’t mean I’m helpless against

them, but I cannot control them.


That was the reminder I really needed.

And that comfort I’m like, Oh, I shouldn’t

beat up myself because these things

are, my brain is working correctly, but

wait, there’s more you think we’re done?

You know, just like 2020.

Going around again, but no, there’s a

lot of other things that are at play.

So this, this stress response, this

is just one piece of the puzzle.

So why is there no toilet paper?

Anyone else you wonder?

Well, let’s look a little

bit closer at cognitive bias.

These kind of drive our

actions and our behaviors.

So first.

What are, what is cognitive bias?

What are these?

It’s a way that our brains receive

and perceive and process that input.

And again, we have so much input,

so much coming at us that it is

impossible to process it all.

It’s that “Too long.

Didn’t read” part of our brains.

It’s the shortcuts.

It’s some of these things like,

Oh, I know that fire is hot.

I won’t touch it.

You know, those kinds of things

that we’ve learned, things that

are happened automatically.

Now, ultimately we’re creating our

own subjective reality because of

how we perceive the input is going

to be different than someone else,

how someone else perceives the input.

So our behaviors are being driven by this.

So there, some of these things that

we’re like, why is this happening?

Well, there’s actually.

Reasons because of this

cognative bias driven behavior.

So, and I said, cognitive

bias, it’s not all bad.

The shortcuts, they have their benefits

but they can lead to this distorted

view of the world and this illogical or

rash decisions and actions can happen.

So let’s look at some of

these things that are at play.

First one, talking about action bias.

So now this is a word, all right.

Under stress, the need to make some sort

of action to do some action, whatever it

is, it could re it could be beneficial.

It could be related to the actual

stressor, or it could not, but

just doing anything, anything at

all is better than doing nothing.


In this case of the toilet paper,

the action taken was the hoarding of

supplies of the toilet paper and food.

When in reality, there was no threat

of a shortage if everyone had it.

Alrighty, basic bought up

all of the toilet paper.

So, and now this is magnified

by the bandwagon effect.

So this need or desire and drive

to jump on the bandwagon and do

what most other people are doing.

So then that just magnifies this.

And now we, we have no toilet paper,

representativeness heuristic say that five times fast.

Now this is a phenomenon that it’s this

disconnect where we are overestimating the

probability of something that’s very low

risk and we underestimate something that

has very high risks or high probability.

So think about.

There is a very small percentage

chance that I will be a

victim of a terrorist attack.

But because of that small

percentage, that possibility we

have the security measures in place.

We have these processes,

we do all of these things.

We take our shoes off all

because of that small percentage.

That’s fine.


We should take things seriously.

The flip side though, is the

underestimating of something that has

a high probability of like underplaying

something that is affecting millions

of people in very catastrophic ways.

And we have people throwing big parties.

This this disconnect is something.

It falls under this this

heuristic here, substitution bias.

I, this one actually is funny to me.

It’s just like, it sounds

you’re substituting something.

You’re substituting solving a big

problem and solving a smaller, easier

one instead, because you can do that.


Think about this, we’ve got

our big complex problem.

The big complex problem is that

the healthcare system in the

United States is very flawed.

It is unjust.

It needs a lot of fixing

that it needs to be solved.

Well, let’s substitute a solution.

Well we added hand sanitizer

by the door, so done.

So it’s, it’s that?

Oh, it’s too big.

I can’t.

So I’m going to take a nap instead.

We all, we all do it.

How many of you just

took a nap instead of.



And these are just a few, these

are just a handful of, of the,

the biases and processes and

things that are at play here.

The other, these, and here,

some are more of them like this.

My favorite is like this telescoping

effect, you know how At least anyone

around my age, we think that 2000

was just like a couple of years ago.

Well, it’s this disconnect of well, we

think things just happened recently,

but in actuality, they happened far

away or long, you know, longer away

than we thought it was in things

like the ostrich ostrich effect.

You know, we just put our head in

the sand and these are kinds of some

of these things I encourage you.

There’s so many cognitive biases.

I encourage you to look them up

sometime, you know, when you have time

on your hands it’s fascinating reading,

well, nerdy, fascinating reading, but

fascinating very interesting to kind

of understand the, under the, like why

things we do things that don’t make sense.

A lot of them are explained in

because of through cognitive bias.


Finally, now don’t forget this

prolonged exposure to stress.

It’s constant.

The bear every five minutes.

This is literally changing our brains.

It is literally changing our brains

and negatively affecting our health.

And our stress response system

was just not cut out for this.

So it’s kind of working

against us in this situation.

So remembering that we’re

not, we’re not set up for this

constant and continuous stress, so

know that this is working against

you and not under your control.

And second, the the ongoing trauma living

through that, it’s like a Petri dish.

It is provides this perfect

environment for developing complex

post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

I like literally like the same and.

I’ve been reading some of these emerging

studies and they’ve been coining the

term post COVID stress disorder which

is PTSD, but it’s a communal one.

It’s something that’s a

shared by a population.

And in this case, a global

population, so a, a trauma that

we all share we’re dealing with

and we’re kind of carrying around

constantly is hanging over our heads.

Wherever we go and finally keep in mind.

So the core of this trauma

is disempowerment and

disconnection from others.

Does that sound familiar?

I think it’s pretty much my exp all

of 2020 losing control and power

of everything that I thought I had.

Frustrated with that.

And I’m disconnected so disconnected

and from others, both unintentionally

and intentionally, and basically we’re

just a constant, constant state of

battling against a trauma response.

And that’s exhausting.

So we’re tired.

We’re not broken.

Remember this you’re not broken, I’m

dealing with just one of these things.

Just one of these things that I

mentioned for a month would be

hard, but now we have been drowning,

constantly pelted from every side and

angle for a long time, constantly.

That from these external forces that are

coming together, banding together, like

the power Rangers and making it incredibly

hard for our ability to function yeah,

their working together against us.

Now, when I need to continually

remind myself this Because,

like I said, I was frustrated.

I was just upset at myself for not having

control or not being able to do this or

taking a nap instead of this or all of

these things, or just staring at a wall.

But I.

Not everything.

A lot of these things

were not under my control.

A lot of the things that I was

frustrated with are not under my control.

I’m not broken.

You are not broken.

We are not broken.

We’re just tired.

We have good reason to be.

So I want to emphatically.

Emphatically remind you and

myself being nicer to yourself.

You’re doing great.

It may not seem like it, but you are.

Thank you for listening now.

I’d love it.

If you keep in touch, I would be.

Happy to talk more, answer questions

of my research that I have for this,

or just geek out over some of the the

science behind our behaviors and emotions.

Some of the links on it.

Here, you can find everything


These slides are up on

So please connect with me, talk

with me and thank you for watching.

Thank you for listening

and be nice to yourself.

Cause you’re doing great.

Keep on being awesome.

Thank you.

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