What is Mental Fatigue and How to Overcome It
Do you often feel like the day have too few hours for all that you have to do? Do you constantly feel exhausted even when you have been sitting all day? Are you getting irritated and angry at the slightest provocation?
These are all signs of mental fatigue, or your brain begging you to stop and take a break.
Mental fatigue is a condition caused by over-taxation of your cognitive abilities, when your brain reaches its capacity limits and goes into continuous stress mode. Long term mental fatigue can cause serious harm through increased stress, diminished brain performance, and even serious conditions like insomnia, Depression, Eating and Anxiety disorders.
Most common symptoms of mental fatigue include:
- Mental block
- Emotional eating
- Lack of sleep
- Confusion and faltering executive functioning
- Overwhelming sense of exhaustion
What causes mental fatigue?
Any kind of mental activity, if driven to its tipping point, can cause brain exhaustion. But some mental activities can be especially enhausting for your brain if not allowed proper rest and rejuvenation period.
Jobs that require almost constant decision-making are more prone to cause mental fatigue. Decision making particularly engages your executive functioning capabilities and it is one of the busiest areas of your brain. This doesn’t even have to be big decisions, just signing legal documents all day, and even having to choose between options constantly can have the same effect.
Whatever our brain may tell at the moment, putting off a job endlessly is a far more stressful experience than actually doing the job. The anxiety about whether or not we will be able to finish the job eats up our mental energy, thereby exhausting us far more quickly.
- Lack of sleep
Sleep is essential for almost all your bodily functions, but most visibly for your brain. A lot of important mental processes happen during our sleep, apart from providing the crucial period of rest and rejuvenation. Lack of sufficient sleep over a long period of time adds to our body’s sleep debt and that is one of the biggest causes of mental fatigue.
Taking up more tasks than you can comfortably complete in a given period of time is a surefire formula for mental fatigue to set in. Our brain does not work well when it has to constantly shift between different tasks; it divides our mental energy and as a result none of the tasks receive enough attention. Multi-tasking is likely to end up in fast depletion of mental energy, exhaustion of executive functioning, and heightened anxiety – all causes of mental fatigue.
How to overcome mental fatigue
- Have more green spaces
Greenery and natural environments have been scientifically proven to have an almost magical effect on stressed-out brains. Just 10 minutes in a park can increase productivity by almost 50% by soothing and healing an overworked brain. Schedule times during the day to have a walk in the neighbourhood park, or if you have any woods lying about your home or workplace, nothing like it! If you don’t have access to outside green spaces, surround your workspace with potted plants.
- Keep your life boring
Decision making is one of the biggest depletors of mental energy, and having a simple and repetitive routine is a good way to minimize choice and decision-making in day-to-day life.
- Have the same meal five days a week.
Meal prep for the week ahead on the weekend. Wear the same kind of clothes every day. Clean your dishes as soon as you finish eating so things don’t pile up later.
- Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day.
You’d be amazed how much energy can conserve just by switching to the ‘boring’ life.
- Schedule several breaks through the day
Every 35-45 minutes, get up from your workspace and take a 5-10 minutes break. Just flex your legs, grab a coffee, look away from all the screens, go out to the balcony. Keep the breaks short, but have many of them throughout the day. These little rest and rejuvenation periods go a long way in replenishing your energy capacity throughout the day.
- Be realistic about tasks
Be realistic about your capacity each day and take on tasks accordingly. At the start of each day, draw-up a to-do list with high to low priority ranking. Also note down short-term and long-term priorities. Assign an estimate of time needed to complete each with enough resting periods. If your task list exceeds your timeline, shift some on the next day or delegate responsibilities when possible. Taking on more than you can chew is only going to shoot up your anxiety levels, further depleting your mental energy and interfering with your ability to complete the task.
Our lives are busy, and responsibilities keep piling up as we age. In all the humdrum we tend to forget the one organ that bears the biggest brunt of all our tasks – our brain. Remember, nobody can toil endlessly; there’s a tipping point for everyone’s brain. So listen to your brain when it seems overwhelmed and wants to stop. There are bigger problems at store if you don’t.