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Signs of Mental Fatigue And How to Overcome It

Signs of Mental Fatigue And How to Overcome It

Have you noticed that mental fatigue can bring out an entirely different personality? It’s like that Snicker’s commercial with the tagline, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”

Just as our physical energy is limited, so too do we have a limited amount of mental stamina. Most people think about managing their time to some degree, but they think less about the even scarcer resource that we possess: our mental energy.

We all have a finite amount of energy each day, and the brain uses a whopping 20% of that in order to function.

Imagine that your mind was a battery pack. When your mind is full of energy and vitality, the battery pack is full. But when you notice that you are tired, incapable of focusing, and quick to react instinctively, your battery needs a charge.

In this article, I will cover the signs of mental fatigue and what you can do to fight against it.

Signs of Mental Fatigue

The first two signs of mental fatigue are more obvious: feeling sleepy or unfocused naturally alert us to the fact that we are mentally fatigued.

But the third, and perhaps more consequential issue, often goes unnoticed as a key sign of drained mental fortitude.

When your brain gets low on energy, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) essentially goes offline. The PFC is the more recently evolved, rational part of the brain that is responsible for overriding your emotional instincts where necessary. So if you’ve noticed that you easily give into cravings, snap at a friend or loved one, or honk in traffic, it is quite possible that your PFC isn’t functioning properly.

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Mental fatigue, in a sense, causes a self-induced lobotomy.

5 Remedies for Mental Fatigue

We all have a limited amount of “happiness chemicals,” neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that make us feel mentally vibrant. That’s why the drug addict can’t stay high all the time, eventually draining dopamine stores and coming down hard. Drugs are forms of synthetic energy creation that can create bursts of vitality followed by a crash.

You might’ve experienced the sugar high, caffeine rush, or alcohol buzz that at some point subsides into a depleted mental state. Caffeine, for example, blocks your adenosine (a chemical that builds up throughout the day, telling you when you’re tired) receptors in the brain, essentially masking your fatigue until it wears off and you feel even more tired.

So if drugs clearly aren’t the answer, then we are left with more organic means of achieving mental vitality:

1. Sleep

This one is pretty obvious, as everyone knows that sleep is critical for an energetic mind. But few people realize just how important sleep really is.

By getting proper quantity and quality of sleep, you’re allowing your brain to remove harmful toxins that build up throughout the day as a byproduct of its activity. Furthermore, the brain is consolidating memories and processing emotions in ways that help you operate at your best during waking hours.

To maximize your sleep, it helps to keep a regular schedule, rest in a dark and cool room, eliminate external sounds, and avoid screens before bed. I’ve written more on tips for getting a good night’s sleep here: 5 Sleep Therapy Techniques for Better Overall Health And Wellness

2. Movement

It might seem counter-intuitive that you would want to expend energy through movement in order to have more of it. But exercise is net energy positive, as it trains your body to be ready for more energetic output.

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Your brain loves rewarding you for exercise, sending bursts of adrenaline, endorphins, and other “happiness chemicals” when you run, lift, jump and dance. Furthermore, it increases what’s called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein responsible for growing and maintaining neurons.[1]

Physical activity is vital for our happiness as a species, and yet about 1 in 4 American adults don’t exercise at all.

Our problems can be explained by an evolutionary mismatch between physiology and environment. Energy was a scarce resource, and we were designed by evolution to conserve it. While the struggle for survival used to keep us fit, the modern world makes it easy to avoid expending energy; we are ironically burdened with forcing ourselves to go to the gym.

3. Nutrition

Like exercise, diet is often thought about in the context of weight loss or physical health. Its effect on your mental health is less immediately obvious.

You may have heard that your second brain lives in your gut. This “brain,” or rather the enteric nervous system, evolved half a billion years ago in the first vertebrates and perhaps even gave rise to the brain itself.

The gut is heavily integrated with the rest of your cerebral functions and contains 500 million neurons that connect to your brain via the microbiome-gut-brain axis. It also produces a shocking 95% of your serotonin and 50% of your dopamine.

About a quarter of the energy you eat will be diverted toward keeping that big, expensive brain running at optimal capacity. The inputs you choose can help determine your emotions and thoughts in each moment (thinking back to the diagram linking physiology-thoughts-emotions, food changes your chemical makeup on a physiological level, which influences your mind).

I don’t have all the answers for you here (and in many cases the research is still inconclusive), but here are 3 guiding principles for optimizing your neuronutrition:

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4. Meditation

Sitting still and training your mind with meditation can increase natural energy levels. Meditation puts your brain into a restful theta state (slower brainwaves) and takes you out of “fight or flight” mode.

In a society characterized by constant schedules and stimulation, meditation allows your mind to heal and become focused.

If you’ve never meditated before, here’re some resources to help you get started:

5. Environment

It’s not just how we use our energy that matters, but also how we are interacting with the world. Your environment includes the community you spend time with, your living situation, and essentially anything you spend time interacting with throughout the day.

You may have heard the refrain: “Where attention goes, energy flows and life grows.” Wherever you place, your attention not only shapes your mind (neuroplasticity) but also determines where you expend energy.

Sadly, we live in a world in which most people’s energy gets diverted into a wide variety of short-term gratifications, including targeted ads, video games, pornography, social media, and YouTube videos of kids opening up presents.[2] That’s the information that’s populating their brains and shaping their desires, and that’s where they’re spending their energy.

Furthermore, if you’re spending time with people and doing things that you don’t like, it’s very likely that they are sucking up precious energy. Conversely, spending time around cheerful and positive people can be a net energy gain, as their enthusiasm for life rubs off on you.

You might also look at your interactions with nature. Do you spend time getting a healthy amount of fresh air and sunlight? Do you expose yourself to novel landscapes, or remain fixed in the same room or office?

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Small differences in setting can have a big impact on your mental energy.

Upgrading Your Battery

By addressing the above 5 areas of your life, you’ll keep your mental fatigue to a minimum. You might even feel a “natural high” that results from ideal living conditions.

Not only will your personal mental battery last longer, but it will get metaphorically upgrade from AA batteries to a full on 80-volt battery pack.

In addition to adding something that might be missing from your mental wellness plan, you might also consider eliminating or minimizing anything that is draining your energy battery. By plugging the holes in your battery pack where energy is seeping out, you’ll find that mental fatigue takes longer to set in.

Some examples of wasted energy might include toxic relationships, drug addictions, unhealthy foods, overly-stressful work, negative thoughts, and parking tickets. Rather than ruminating on the negative parts of your life, start focusing your attention (and therefore energy) on the joys, no matter how small.

Energy is limited, like money. Hopefully I’ve provided some helpful strategies for reducing mental fatigue and getting your mental energy headed in the right direction.

More About Mental Fatigue

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Liam McClintock

Founder of FitMind, Corporate Mental Wellness

Signs of Mental Fatigue And How to Overcome It 5 Sleep Therapy Techniques for Better Overall Health And Wellness

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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