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Overcoming Brain Fatigue: What to do when our brain gets too tired?

Author: Sandhya Basu


Have you ever experienced the feeling of ‘not wanting to do anything?’ Like, next-level procrastination? Ever dealt with having zero motivation to get work done? Or getting angry or feeling irritated most of the time? If yes, then this blog is for you! (And if no, then think again!)



Being mentally exhausted, brain fried, or feeling tired all the time are signs of brain fatigue. As the name suggests, brain fatigue is a resulting condition of exceedingly long periods of brain (or cognitive) activity. Simply put, working continuously can send your brain to an overdrive that leaves you exhausted, resulting in low productivity. Surprisingly, even though many people experience such exhaustion, we still do not have the actual figures of people suffering from brain fatigue! But thanks to recent research that brain fatigue has got the limelight it deserves.


Neuroscientific studies show that a decrease in alpha frequency waves in the visual cortices (brain region responsible for sight) can induce brain fatigue. Alpha waves occur in our brain when we are calm, relaxed, or in a meditative state. So, a sure-shot way of coming out of brain fatigue would be to stay calm, composed, and meditate. But is it possible to stay relaxed when we are continuously working or, even worse, worried about our work?


A survey found that an average workday for an individual in India is lengthened by 32 minutes during the pandemic. Many researchers have also stressed the fact that due to the pandemic, balancing work from home, taking care of families, and doing household chores: all at the same time, have led to an increase in brain fatigue among many people. Also, such a lifestyle undoubtedly increases the chances of experiencing brain fatigue. Look out for the following symptoms to know if you have fallen prey to brain fatigue:

  1. Increased pessimistic attitude and irritability

  2. Feelings of not caring or apathy

  3. Feelings of hopelessness and detachment

  4. Lack of motivation

  5. Difficulties in concentrating on work

  6. A visible decline in productivity

  7. Chronic fatigue and random headaches

  8. Social withdrawal and increased procrastination

  9. Sleeplessness

These signs may look like an everyday occurrence. We usually don’t have issues understanding how physically exhausted we are. But understanding our mental exhaustion can be a little tricky. These signs will help us recognize the exhaustion we might be going through mentally and help us deal with it effectively.


On the other hand, it is also important to know whether these signs are temporary symptoms of stress or strong indicators of brain fatigue. Stress is a common response to a new, exciting, or challenging situation. The biological response to stress is the secretion of stress hormones, namely cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones help us in responding to a stressful or challenging situation quickly. Once the situation eases, our body also goes back to normal. Brain fatigue, on the other hand, occurs due to long-term stress. Because of which the stress hormones are produced highly, and when they cross a certain threshold, they start interfering with the immune system, sleep patterns, digestive systems resulting in physical, behavioural, and emotional consequences.


To deal with brain fatigue, it is important to know what causes it. We have already discussed the current lifestyle crisis due to the pandemic-related challenges. Other factors such as high-pressure working conditions (workplace with strict deadlines and endless meetings), financial stress, job dissatisfaction, lack of social life, poor work-life balance, living with a serious illness, or taking care of an ill or aged loved one, can also result in brain fatigue. Individuals who have to make decisions continuously or have habits of overcommitting to tasks also undergo brain fatigue-related challenges.


While doing home chores or assignments at work, brain fatigue can put us in an incredibly challenging position, especially when our productivity decreases. Coupled with anger and frustration, it can also lead to short-term (or even long-term) health problems, including anxiety and burnout. The good news is that we can come out of it victoriously! All we need is a commitment towards doing the following activities:


1. Sleep: A study showed that disturbed sleep, repeated awakenings, and difficulties in falling asleep were the main predictors of mental fatigue. Sleep can take a backseat, especially when we are overburdened with work. But a sound sleep of 7-8 hours is recommended to energize your body for the next day.


2. Food: When we are stressed out, we usually turn to our comfort foods that mostly include a lot of sugar and carbs. There is nothing wrong in treating ourselves once in a while provided, we are also maintaining our nutrition level. Staying hydrated and eating balanced food at proper intervals boosts our cognitive energy (did you know that nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin B12, B6, and zinc can lead to fatigue and cognitive decline?). Keeping foods like nuts, yoghurt, and fresh fruits handy can also help if we feel like snacking.



3. Exercise: A tired brain can definitely benefit from quick exercises. A study shows that exercising increases mitochondria (the powerhouse of cells) in the brain. Because of which the brain becomes more resistant to fatigue and improves cognitive performance. But some studies say heavy exercise can lead to both physical and mental exhaustion. Generally speaking, light to moderate exercises should boost both physical and mental productivity.



Apart from these, taking breaks while working, staying organized with respect to work, indulging in self-care, avoiding rumination over minor issues, being realistic with deadlines and work timings, and practising meditation goes a long way in keeping mental exhaustion at bay. Research on meditation shows that it works towards removing work-related stress, promotes self-awareness, emotion regulation, and improves attention span. All these aspects are important if one wants to tackle brain fatigue.


The bottom line is that brain fatigue can cause serious challenges related to work, home chores, and physical and mental domains. From decreasing work productivity to burnout, brain fatigue can be difficult to cope with, especially with our current lifestyles. But we can come out of it by improving our sleep patterns, food habits, and other general ways of living. Just how our body needs physical exercises, our brain also needs some specific training to strengthen its efficiency. The ReStart program, introduced by Brighter Minds, is one such training program that prioritizes our brain health. It is equipped with exercises that fight age-related brain issues and helps us in realizing our cognitive potential.


Tony Robbins, a philanthropist, once said "The higher your energy level, the more efficient your body. The more efficient your body, the better you feel and the more you will use your talent to produce outstanding results." But for higher energies and productive work, we need to first overcome our mental fatigue effectively.


References

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Lachance, L., & Ramsey, D. (2015). Food, mood, and brain health: Implications for the modern clinician. Missouri medicine, 112(2), 111.

Meeusen, R., Van Cutsem, J., & Roelands, B. (2020). Endurance exercise‐induced and mental fatigue and the brain. Experimental physiology.

Murnieks, C. Y., Arthurs, J. D., Cardon, M. S., Farah, N., Stornelli, J., & Haynie, J. M. (2020). Close your eyes or open your mind: Effects of sleep and mindfulness exercises on entrepreneurs' exhaustion. Journal of Business Venturing, 35(2), 105918.

RESTART | By Brighter Minds. (n.d.). Restart. Retrieved July 12, 2021, from https://www.restart.brighterminds.org/

Steiner, J. L., Murphy, E. A., McClellan, J. L., Carmichael, M. D., & Davis, J. M. (2011). Exercise training increases mitochondrial biogenesis in the brain. Journal of applied physiology, 111(4), 1066-1071.

Tanaka, M., Ishii, A., & Watanabe, Y. (2015). Effects of mental fatigue on brain activity and cognitive performance: a magnetoencephalography study. Anat Physiol, 4, 1-5.

Thorpe, M., MD PhD. (2020, October 27). 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#6.-May-reduce-age-related-memory-loss

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