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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

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

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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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