Mental Fatigue and What You Can Do About It

Do you ever struggle with “brain fog?” Are you re-reading that same paragraph over and over because you’re having difficulty focusing? If you feel like you just can’t think through something, make a decision, or figure out what to do, you might be experiencing mental fatigue.

Mental fatigue happens when your mind becomes tired. Just like the rest of your physical body, your brain needs energy and sometimes that energy has been depleted. When this happens, you will find it difficult to concentrate or to solve problems that would normally not be challenging for you. You might also find that you feel more stressed and irritable because you feel pressured to complete tasks that your mind simply does not have the energy to handle at the moment.

Mental fatigue can negatively affect your efficiency and productivity. As a further result, it can also negatively impact your emotional and mental health and can lead to burnout. You use your brain for so many tasks every day — it is no wonder that it gets tired. The bad news is that your brainpower is exhaustible; but the good news is that it is also completely renewable.

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There are several factors that can contribute to mental fatigue. Some are biological — perhaps you didn’t get enough good quality sleep or maybe you are experiencing hormonal fluctuations. Perhaps you haven’t eaten. Or perhaps you’re a tad dehydrated. All of these play a role in how much mental energy you have available. Try not to get sucked into the vortex of the societal mindset that you must always push yourself beyond reasonable limits. Instead, embrace the healthier holistic mindset that self-care is essential rather than optional. Not practicing good self-care will lead to mental fatigue. Take care of yourself and don’t ever feel guilty about it.

Another factor that greatly contributes to mental fatigue is cognitive overload — meaning, you’re simply trying to think about too many things at once. You might be great at multi-tasking and mental juggling, but at some point, you might get tired. You might find that having your attention divided between so many things causes you to feel overwhelmed. It may make it more challenging to think through things, make decisions, process information, and keep up with all the tasks at hand. Additionally, worrying about all your unfinished tasks also requires mental energy and will cause your available brainpower to deplete even more quickly.

So what can you do? To tackle the biological factors, just simply take good care of yourself as stated above. Make sleeping well a priority. Eat healthy and have some snacks throughout the day, but try to avoid refined sugar which will lead to an energy crash. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. If you’re interested, do an online search to learn about “ultradian rhythms” — your body’s natural cycles which include periods where your performance is at its peak, followed by a short period of rest. It creates a cool wave pattern. You would benefit from learning to pay attention to your waves and rhythms and work with them instead of against them. Do these things so that your brain can be at its physical best.

To tackle the cognitive overload factors, you’ll benefit from getting organized, using time management skills, and prioritizing tasks by simply realizing that sometimes it just isn’t possible to get everything done. What are the most urgent things? Prioritize these. What tasks are important but not urgent? What could be delegated? And what could just be deleted? Look up the Eisenhower Matrix — it’s a really cool guide developed by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower that helps you take a quick glance at your to-do list and make decisions about which items will get your time and attention (since you have a limited quantity of both). There are even apps such as EisenTask that you might find really helpful. Begin to look at each task on your list and either do it, schedule it, delegate it, or delete it.

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Additionally, stop saying “I can’t catch a break,” and just take one. If spending 10 minutes away from all your demands helps you to be more productive and efficient when you return to them, you will not be losing ground. Walk away from everything long enough for a short walk or a power nap and occasionally, for a much-needed day off or vacation. Work some short spurts of exercise into your day — remember when you were a kid and you looked forward to recess? Give yourself an adult recess time.

Compare yourself to a smartphone — if it isn’t working well, you check to see if it has enough battery life. If not, it needs to be recharged. (The same goes for you.) If it has enough charge but is still not working properly, check to see if there are too many apps running at once and slowing it down. If so, close some. (The same goes for you.) Stop trying to live life on low battery — take time to rejuvenate and be refreshed. And stop trying to do too many things at once — prioritize, do the things that are the most important to you, and be ok with letting a few less important things go.

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Published by Julie Bailey, LCPC

I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in the state of Illinois. I hold a master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, I'm an author and a clinical manager and my life goal is to help you live your best life possible. I get excited about the daffodils in the spring and the colorful leaves in the fall (I mean like ridiculously excited). I enjoy genealogy, old cemeteries, loud music, and trivia, and I refuse to ever outgrow Harry Potter. I am an empath, which means that I literally feel the pain of others, and from time to time, this requires a visit to a quiet beach so that the wind and waves can soothe my soul.

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