IntroductionWhat is mental fatigue?What causes mental fatigue?Give your brain high-quality fuelMove your bodyPrioritize sleepWork around your natural rhythmsTake strategic breaksLighten your mental loadDisconnect at over of workdayIf you really have to lớn push through...
Chess grandmasters burn up to 6,000 calories a day during tournaments, just by sitting there & thinking.
When I reach a point of mental exhaustion, I lượt thích to reflect on that fact. Too often, our mental energy — or lack thereof — feels lượt thích a moral deficiency rather than a physical one.
If I had more willpower, I could power through và get this done. Why can’t I just focus? What’s wrong with me?!
It’s easy khổng lồ forget that our brains require energy khổng lồ function. We wouldn’t run a marathon & then feel like failures when our legs are tired. So why vày we treat mental fatigue so differently? Our brainpower is exhaustible, but it’s 100% renewable if we manage it wisely.
Think of this article as your marathon training program for your brain. I can’t promise you’ll never feel mental fatigue but you can experience it less often, less severely, and with fewer negative consequences for your mental health & productivity.
First things first, what vày we even mean when we say “mental fatigue”?
What is mental fatigue?
Mental fatigue is the feeling that your brain just won’t function right. People often describe it as brain fog. You can’t concentrate, even simple tasks take forever, & you find yourself rereading the same paragraph or tweaking the same line of code over-and-over again. Things that would have rolled off your back in the morning become more irksome & you get impatient with coworkers.
Mental fatigue can be acute or chronic. Acute fatigue is short-lived & is relieved after a brief period of rest. Most of us experience acute fatigue during an afternoon slump or at the over of a particularly hectic day. Acute fatigue is normal.
However, if left unaddressed, acute fatigue can snowball into chronic fatigue và ultimately lead to lớn burnout. Identify the root causes of your mental fatigue & take proactive steps to lớn manage it early on.
What causes mental fatigue?
Mental fatigue is complex & usually isn’t caused by one thing. Contributing factors can be physical— lượt thích poor nutrition, lack of sleep, or hormonal imbalances — or cognitive — you’ve been asking your brain to vì chưng too much.
That cognitive overload can take the khung of intense focus on a single task over an extended period of time — as is the case for those chess grandmasters who burn 6,000 calories in a day. But it can also result from spreading your attention across too many things — all of the decisions you have lớn make, the information you have lớn process, the emails you need to answer, the tasks you need to keep track of, the chores you need khổng lồ take care of. Khổng lồ make matters worse, worrying about a task can be as mentally taxing as actually doing it. That means even while you’re procrastinating, you’re taxing your brain.
All of that cognitive task-switching takes a toll. Imagine a chess player trying khổng lồ plan out their next five moves and anticipate their opponents’ reactions while also checking their Slack messages, responding khổng lồ emails, thinking about what they’ll eat for lunch, catching up on the latest trending hashtags on Twitter, and worrying about that project due tomorrow that they haven’t even started yet.
It’s common sense that each additional cognitive task will fatigue the chess player’s cognitive functioning faster. Yet, that’s exactly how most of us operate on a daily basis. Mentally juggling dozens of tasks & responsibilities has become our normal. It’s no wonder we feel mentally exhausted at the end of the day!
Luckily, there are steps you can take khổng lồ manage both the physical & cognitive sides of mental fatigue.
There are lots of underlying medical reasons you might feel mentally exhausted. While this article will highlight some of the ways you can mitigate và manage mental fatigue, we’re not medical professionals. If you feel abnormally fatigued for an extended period of time, we encourage you to lớn seek medical advice.
Give your brain high-quality fuel
The links between athletic performance and nutrition is obvious, but when it comes khổng lồ mental performance, we don’t always make the same connection. To be clear: Your brain is fueled with the same food as your muscles! In fact, our brains are the gas-guzzling Hummers of the body’s organs using up over half of the glucose in our bloodstream. That means what you eat impacts your cognitive functioning in a big way.
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There’s a lot of confusing and conflicting science out there about proper nutrition, but you don’t have to lớn go paleo or keto or become the Sad Salad Guy at work to avoid mental fatigue in the middle of the day. Here are some basic guidelines for maintaining sufficient energy levels throughout the day without sacrificing too much:Make a plan for what you’ll eat in advance. If you wait until you’re hungry, you’re already low on energy and willpower and are more likely to crave a quick hit of energy in the khung of yummy sugar (Kit Kat anyone?).Don’t skip breakfast. If you usually skip breakfast & then crash in the middle of the morning, try eating a breakfast that will sustain your energy levels until lunch. More eggs, yogurt, và oatmeal. Fewer donuts, muffins, và sugary cereals. See how your toàn thân reacts.Snack. Try giving your body consistent fuel with mid-morning & mid-afternoon snacks at a minimum. Keep lots of low-sugar, unprocessed snacks on hand – almonds, whole grain crackers & cheese, or my personal favorite, cottage cheese and apple with lots of salt.Figure out what makes you feel best. When it comes to nutrition advice, you should always be skeptical. Even the basic advice above won’t work for everyone. Some people swear by intermittent fasting, skip breakfast every day và feel great. If you’re experiencing big energy crashes in the middle of the day, try experimenting with the content and timing of your meals. Keep a log of your energy levels và see how your body reacts. In the end, only you can say for sure what makes you feel best.
The most effective way to lớn eat healthier is also one of the hardest: Making more time to cook at home. Here are some practical tips I’ve personally found helpful for creating and sticking to a cook-at-home routine despite the fact that I don’t like to cook.
When you’re exhausted the last thing you want to do is get up & move, but studies show that physical activity might be just what you need. While the causal mechanisms aren’t entirely clear, exercise has been shown khổng lồ boost overall energy levels & improve cognitive functioning, immediately and over the long-term.
So how can you start powering up your brain cells with exercise?Do it at the same time every day. When you make a plan for when you’ll vị something, you’re more likely lớn actually vị it. When you bởi vì it at the same time every day, triggered by the same events — for example, waking up, taking a lunch break, or ending the workday — it’s easier lớn build a consistent habit.Get an accountabilibuddy. Everything is easier with friends.Do group fitness. If you can swing it, join a thể hình that has a phối group class schedule you have to sign up for. I find that having someone else tell you exactly what to vì chưng removes a lot of the mental effort involved in exercising. All I have to vì chưng is get my lazy butt there & the rest of the decisions are made for me. During the pandemic, most gyms are providing virtual classes which makes them even more accessible.
Sleep is the most productive thing you vị all day. Period. No one really knows why we need sleep. We just know bad things happen when we don’t get enough of it.
Despite its paramount importance lớn your health, happiness, & productivity, sleep feels optional. Your quái dị holds you accountable lớn deadlines. Your friends expect you khổng lồ show up when you say you will. Your family relies on you to lớn get dinner on the table. But no one is holding you accountable for getting enough sleep except you.
Here are some science-backed ways to improve your unique of sleep:No screens before bed. The blue light messes with your body’s natural clock so stop looking at screens before bedtime và ban them from your room entirely. Get an old-school alarm clock with the sole function of telling time and waking you up when you tell it to.Have a calming bedtime routine. The Morning Routine gets all the attention, but the less glamorous Bedtime Routine is equally important. Doing the same series of relaxing habits every night before bed signals lớn your toàn thân and mind that it’s time khổng lồ wind down for the day.Don’t drink coffee after noon. Caffeine has a half life of 4-6 hours, so if you want lớn fall asleep by 10pm you should switch khổng lồ decaf – or better yet, water – by noon.