Most of us have experienced feeling run down, burnt out, or exhausted at some point in our lives. It's that feeling when you just can't seem to muster up the energy to do anything else. You're not physically tired, but your mind feels like it's been through the wringer.
Mental fatigue is a real phenomenon, and it can significantly impact your productivity, decision-making, and mood. You may be suffering from mental fatigue, and there are ways to fight it so you can refocus your energy and improve your mood.
What Is Mental Fatigue?
Mental fatigue is the result of an overactive brain. It's common and can happen when you expend too much mental effort on projects or tasks. An important first step in addressing mental fatigue is understanding the potential cause.
It's important to get ahead of any signs of mental fatigue to prevent burnout. Some possible factors include:
- Not getting enough sleep: This is one of the most common causes of mental fatigue. When you don't get enough sleep, your body and mind can't rest and recharge.
- Working long hours: If you're working long hours, make sure to take breaks.
- Multitasking: When you're trying to do too many things at once, your mind can become overloaded and tired.
- Stress: Stress can take a toll on your mind and body, leading to mental fatigue.
- Boredom: If you're not engaged in what you're doing, your mind can become bored and tired.
Symptoms of Mental Fatigue
Common mental fatigue symptoms include:
- Inability to concentrate
- Increase in simple mistakes
- Feeling stressed
Mental fatigue can affect your wellbeing and impact your relationships. It can even make other people feel drained.
If you think you may be mentally fatigued, here are seven tips to help.
How to Prevent Mental Fatigue
1. Limit Low-Yield Activities
Be ruthless about how you spend your time.
Low-yield activities don't provide much value. Examples include checking social media, watching television, and surfing the internet. If you engage in these activities more often than you'd like, it's time to cut back. Instead, save those activities for a scheduled block in the day when you normally have less energy. This frees up time to use your best energy on the most important tasks.
Sometimes the best way to deal with mental fatigue is to take some time off. This may mean taking a day or two off from work or just taking a break from your usual routine.
During your time off, avoid your email and social feeds. Instead, aim to learn new things and pursue activities that increase your wellbeing and quality of life. As a result, you'll likely feel even more accomplished and energized.
2. Try the Timebox Technique
Many savvy entrepreneurs use timeboxing to manage work projects. The timebox technique is a time management strategy that involves working on a task for a set period, which can help you stay focused and avoid burnout
Because timeboxing forces you to limit time allotted to specific tasks, it counteracts perfectionism and ensures that you do the best you can within the set time frame. This helps you avoid falling too far down the rabbit hole.
3. Remove Unnecessary Distractions
Distractions can make staying focused on a task difficult. Removing unnecessary distractions like emails, message notifications, loud noises, and even physical clutter can help you stay focused and prevent mental fatigue.
You can also use music to reduce distractions and help you focus and retain information. Try listening to nature sounds, jazz, or lo-fi hip-hop while you work.
4. Give Your Eyes a Break
If you've been staring at a computer screen all day, your eyes are probably tired. Give them a break by looking away from the screen every 20 minutes or so. You can also try closing your eyes for a few minutes or using eye drops to refresh your eyes. Lowering your screen's brightness can also help your eyes.
If you manage a workplace, consider this computer workstation advice from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
5. Prioritize Exercise
Exercise is a great way to reduce mental fatigue. Not only does it help to increase blood flow to the brain, but it also releases endorphins, which can help to improve mood and reduce stress. According to the National Library of Medicine, incorporating exercise into your daily routine is helpful for fighting mental fatigue.
Since you may or may not consider yourself an athlete, you can start small: find a short workout class online or take a brief walk. Every small dose of movement can help.
6. Take Time Off
Sometimes the best way to deal with mental fatigue is to take some time off. This may mean taking a day or two off from work or just taking a break from your usual routine. Use this time to relax and rejuvenate yourself. Even when we're on vacation, many of us spend more time surfing the web than surfing the waves.
Planning idle time is a smart move if you're trying to refresh your mental energy and spirit. If you find it hard to break away from the hustle and bustle, try scheduling time on your calendar for self-care. This might be an hour before or after work to read a good book, write in a journal, or take a walk.
Taking time off to rest and reset can help reduce and prevent further mental exhaustion. The emails and projects will still be there when you return. Taking breaks can make you more productive and happier.
7. Get More Sleep
Sleep is essential for both physical and mental health. Make sure you're getting enough rest by going to bed at a reasonable hour and getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
Even though you can train yourself to feel less brain fatigue in some areas, you can't force yourself to require less sleep. Make it a practice to go to bed when you're tired and give your brain and body the rest they need to recharge.
Mental fatigue zaps us of our most precious energy to do work we're proud of and enjoy our lives. If you feel signs of mental fatigue, these seven strategies can help you fight it to fuel forward.
A version of this article was originally published on October 10, 2014.
Photo: Getty Images