The pandemic is messing with our concept of time

(CNN)"What day is it, again?"

It's become a common refrain during the coronavirus pandemic, a reflection of both how all of the days seem to blur together and how lately, we find ourselves forgetting even the simplest of details.
Our internal clocks are shot. Tuesdays are Thursdays are Wednesdays are Sundays. There are no weekdays, or weekends. There is only yesterday, today and tomorrow.
    Along with these feelings of disorientation, it may seem like it's getting harder to concentrate and taking longer to complete tasks, as if our brains are just working more slowly.
    If it feels like your brain is turning into mush, you're not alone. Experts say it all has to do with how the pandemic is affecting our cognitive health -- meaning, our ability to clearly think, learn and remember.
    "It is a perfect storm between changes in environment, loss of social anchors and increases in cognitive stress," said Elissa Epel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. "And then on top of that, most of us are not getting the quality sleep that we used to."
    Here's what's going on, and what we can do about it.

    Our usual routines are gone

    Much like our bodies depend on environmental cues like sunlight to regulate our circadian rhythms, they also rely on physical and social cues, explains Epel.
    Those cues include routines like morning and evening commutes, set mealtimes or weekly religious services that help us keep track of what day it is.
    For those confined to our homes, those routines have largely disappeared. Days have lost their usual structure, meaning once-clear boundaries are now blurred.
    "We've lost all of the routine of a typical week, and that means having weekends as a boundary or as a separation or something to look forward to," Epel said. "Now the weekend is the same as a weekday."
    Because work is home and home is work for many people, some may find themselves working longer hours or into the weekends. Gone are the happy hours, concerts or sporting events that once separated weekdays from weekends, causing the days to just drag on.
    The loss of routine also means more mental energy is spent on determining what each day will consist of.
    "When we had our routines, you don't really think about that stuff," said Lynn Bufka, associate executive director for practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association. "So while your commute may be tiring, there's not a second dialogue in your head, trying to figure out what has to happen this day."
    For those who still need to go into work, routines may look a lot different. And there's the added mental strain of remembering to socially distance, wear masks and avoid touching surfaces. All of that can contribute to a sense of disorientation.

    We're multitasking a lot more

    Another reason we can't keep track of the days?
    We're multitasking a lot more. Many people are finding themselves balancing multiple responsibilities, such as homeschooling children or caring for an elderly family member -- all while holding down a full-time job or coping with the stress of a layoff.