This is your brain in a 9-5 slump

An afternoon slump is one thing, feeling mentally exhausted is another Internet Explorer certificate. Learn how to fight the fatigue.

Fatigue goes by many names: tiredness, exhaustion, lethargy…the listlessness list goes on. We think of fatigue mostly in the physical sense. You feel out of breath after climbing up a few flights of stairs, or exhausted because you haven’t been sleeping well. Just as your body experiences fatigue, so does your brain. Your grey matter too can feel “tired” and “out of breath”.

What’s behind that brain fog?

The causes of mental fatigue are almost as endless as the names it is given. In the majority of cases, mental fatigue can be caused by continual mental effort and attention on one, or many, tasks, as well as high levels of stress or emotion. So it isn’t necessarily the result of one big event, but rather the constant, nagging, small things: when the volume of your tasks exceed your capacity to comfortably handle them.

Signs of mental fatigue

  • Physical fatigue. Your body feels just as tired as your brain (even though you spent your whole day sitting at your desk) and you’d rather crash on your couch than head for the gym
  • Impatience and Irritability. Short fuse alert! You become easily irritated, and quick to snap, shout or cry.
  • Inability to concentrate. It becomes harder to finish your work, and tricky to make decisions, find the right word, or focus on one job at a time.

Over time, mental exhaustion can lead to full-blown burnout, physical illness, and stress-related illness. But, as soon as you realise why you’re feeling so tired, you can take steps to restore your mental energy and start to feel better.

How to bust yourself out of the slump and boost your mental energy

  1. Make fewer decisions. Decision making is a critical part of the job, but eliminate non job related decisions where you can. Have the same meal every Wednesday, or pick out your clothes the night before. By keeping some basic, routine decisions simple (or eliminating them altogether) you’ll have more mental energy to spend on decisions that really count.
  2. Declutter your mind. Do this by delegating, setting reminders, taking notes, and keeping a calendar. Write things down! Do what you can to keep as much of your “to-do list” outside of your brain.
  3. Go green. Take a mini-break and look out the window. Studies show that just one minute of looking at grassy areas can improve concentration.
  4. Get up and move. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, bringing with it extra oxygen and nutrients to tired brain cells. Double up on exercise’s energizing effect by stepping outside. Exposure to sunshine not only gives you a healthy dose of vitamin D (an important energy booster) but also reminds your body clock that its daytime, which gives your mental energy an automatic lift.
  5. Choose brain food. Your brain uses more energy than any other of your organs, using up to 20% of your daily energy intake. Feed the beast! Choose nutrient dense options that balance out energy throughout the day. A sugary treat might make you feel great temporarily, but when your sugar levels drop, so does your mental energy.
  6. Take a mental health break. Whether it’s a mini-break or a week away, time off is essential to fighting mental fatigue. You can do this even on your busiest days by making sure you take a regular lunch break. If a lunch break isn’t an option, set aside 10 minutes to simply sit, breathe and gather your thoughts.
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