Stress is a normal part of life, and one we all have to learn to manage at some point in our lives.
But what happens when you push yourself passed the point of just being stressed?
If you are feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, or drained most of the time, that’s likely what you’ve done. This is the point of mental fatigue.
Mental fatigue takes its toll. The key is learning how to spot it, how to prevent it, and how to treat it if it’s already a part of your life.
These are the strategies we’re going to unpack today.
How To Prevent Mental Fatigue
What Is Mental Fatigue?
Mental fatigue is a condition triggered by long-term cognitive stress. If your concentration and focus have been pushed to the limit for a prolonged time, and your stress hormones are hovering at high levels, your brain will become affected.
You may begin to feel overstimulated, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Productivity, concentration, and cognitive function may suffer. Eventually, mental fatigue can begin to affect your sleep quality, digestive and immune systems.
Why Does It Occur?
Mental fatigue is often referred to as burnout, and associated with being overworked. This isn’t always the cause. Brain fatigue can occur because of persistent stress in any area of our lives.
Mental exhaustion can be triggered in different ways for each of us, but some common triggers can be:
- Feelings of isolation or lack of support.
- Having a baby.
- Caring for someone who has a chronic illness.
- Living with a chronic illness.
- Ongoing financial pressures—worry about bills or expenses, or poverty.
- Ongoing legal issues.
- High-pressure work—first-responders, for example.
- Long work hours, stressful or unhappy work conditions.
- The death of a loved one.
Mental Fatigue and Mental Health
Burnout can present itself in many ways, both physically and mentally. Because of the high levels of cortisol—the stress hormone—your brain is subjected to when you suffer from mental fatigue, you may notice some of the following symptoms:
- Apathy—a feeling of not caring
- Emotional detachment
- Social detachment or withdrawal from the people around you
- Anger and irritability
- Fear—it can be common to feel like your life is going to fall down around you
- Lack of motivation
- Decreased productivity
- Poor performance in areas you used to excel in
How to Manage Fatigue
There are ongoing techniques we can use to reduce the risk of mental fatigue, and to manage it when it presents itself:
Keep it simple.
Instead of writing lengthy to do lists that overwhelm us, try to keep your to do list simple. Make a list of your top priorities each night, before going to bed. This helps in two ways:
- Creating a short, simple To Do list can stop us from overcommitting, and gives us enough time and preparation to achieve our goals.
- Creating the list at night allows your brain to process it while you sleep, which helps you to be mentally prepared for what you need to do.
Minimizing the most repetitive tasks in your life reduce the amount of time you spend on them throughout your week. It also simplifies your day to day routine, which relieves the pressure we put on ourselves to achieve, for the sake of achieving.
Some examples of bulk performing could be:
- Preparing meals in advance. This reduces the stress and rush involved in preparing a healthy meal after a long day. Likewise, pre-preparing our meals ensures we will eat something nutritious, which has the added effect of supporting our body and brain.
- Buy in bulk. This supports a tight budget, which can ease the financial pressures we feel. It also reduced the amount of time we have to spend in the supermarket.
Establish a routine.
Having a set time to wake up, exercise, work, do our housekeeping, spend time with family, and go to sleep actually frees up more of our time, whilst ensuring we get a better night’s sleep.
This doesn’t mean you need to become a minimalist—it simply means keeping your environment less chaotic. Cleaning has also been proven to help support our mental health, and can be a mindful practice.
Simple tasks—like doing the dishes straight after dinner, or organizing your desk before you leave for the day—have the added benefit of helping us feel more in control of our environment.
There are very small actions we can take to reduce our chances of having a big problem later. If you are constantly feeling frustrated over your devices running out of battery, or having no coins for the parking meter, or forgetting things when you travel, put systems in place to reduce the chance of these things happening.
Put an extra charger in your car, office, or kitchen. Have an emergency coin stash in your car. Create a standard packing list for when you travel, and print multiple copies or store it on your phone. If you constantly lose your keys, invest in a little Bluetooth tracker that can help you find your keys in seconds.
Implementing little contingencies now can pay dividends in the peace of mind they give us later.
Mindfulness Techniques to Try
Other than the tangible strategies we’ve listed above, mindfulness can play a large part in easing and preventing mental fatigue.
- Meditate. Meditation helps improve focus and memory, and teaches us to regulate our breathing. It has also been shown to lower stress.
- Breathing exercises. Inhale for the count of 4. Hold for 7 counts, and exhale forcefully—as if you’re trying to blow out a candle—for the count of 8. Breathing exercises to reduce anxiety have also been shown to lower stress, improve immune function, and give us a better night’s sleep.
- Mindful focus. Choose a small object in front of you. Look at it carefully. Admire its form and feel. Notice whether it feels cold or warm, how it catches the light, and how small or large it is compared to your hand. Focusing our concentration on one small task is one of the things to do to reduce anxiety and stress throughout the day.
While there is no mental fatigue cure, these are some of the techniques we can use to identify it, manage it, and prevent it in the future.