Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on June 3, 2019

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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:

Advertising

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?

Advertising

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

Trending in Smartcut

1 How to Bounce Back Gracefully After Getting Fired 2 How to Find Your Keystone Habits to Change Your Life 3 How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes (with Examples) 4 7 Essential Success Tips to Achieve What You Want in Life 5 Pave Your Road to Success with These 7 Golden Rules

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

Advertising

Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

Advertising

When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

Advertising

Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

Advertising

When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

More About Success and Failures

Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

Read Next