What is mental fatigue?
Mental fatigue is the experience of feeling extremely tired and drained after doing activities that require mental energy. Although some mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety can cause mental fatigue, we might also experience it in our everyday lives. For example, you may feel mentally exhausted after a long day at work or after going through stressful situations.
Mental fatigue can affect both physical and mental health. It affects how we think, act, and feel. Physically, our bodies can feel tired and sleepy. We might notice more pain, changes in our sleep and appetite, or that we have a weakened immune system. We can also feel bored, irritable, and unmotivated and have a hard time focusing on tasks. It can feel challenging to be productive at work when our mind is wandering or socialize with friends and family when we are too exhausted to hold a conversation.
Mental fatigue in today’s world
Many of us have felt mental fatigue at some point in our lives, but most of us rarely share this feeling with others. A recent survey shows that 50% of Canadians have been feeling fatigued, and that one in three are struggling with their mental health. This is understandable, as a lot of changes have happened over the past few years. The way we work has changed, along with our lifestyles, and the ways that we connect with friends and family. Working from home can also increase the risks of mental fatigue since we are less likely to socialize with coworkers as receive support. Many students can also experience mental fatigue from going to school online and being socially isolated.
Mental fatigue and burnout are also common in frontline and essential workers. Retail workers have taken on extra responsibilities, such as cleaning shopping carts, to prevent the spread of the virus. Factory workers may take overnight shifts for physical distancing. Pharmacists are busy with COVID-19 testing and providing vaccinations, in addition to their usual workload. First responders, teachers, and healthcare workers are facing staffing issues and are worried about contacting and spreading the virus to their families.
For those of us experiencing mental fatigue, you are not alone. It is important to take care of yourself. Here are 6 lifestyle tips to help ease your mental fatigue and help you feel more relaxed:
6 tips that may ease your mental fatigue
1. Eat well
Food fuels our mind and body, and healthy eating habits help us feel mentally well. Eat at regular times throughout the day and avoid skipping meals. If you have to skip meals, pack some snacks to eat during breaks.
2. Get quality sleep
7 to 8 hours of sleep each night is recommended to relieve tiredness from both your mind and body. The quality of your sleep matters too. Here are some ideas for a better nighttime routine:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day
- Use your bed mostly just for sleeping
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime
Check out these 7 strategies to help get your sleep back on track.
3. Add restorative activities to your schedule
Restorative activities help rest your mind and bring back mental energy. Restorative activities can be anything from going for a walk, looking at nature, or practicing mindfulness and yoga.
Regular physical activity can have a positive impact on your mood and energy. Exercises with low to moderate intensity, such as walking, biking, jumping jacks, and weight training, are especially beneficial.
Breaks help your brain to recharge when you use a lot of mental energy. Set a timer to schedule breaks regularly. Create focus times to set boundaries between work and non-work. Here are some other ideas for your next break:
- Step away from work during your break time
- Set aside an evening to watch a movie with friends
- Book a weekly one-hour of self-care time for yourself (Here are some self-care tips for the colder weathers coming up)
- Clear your schedule of nonessential tasks for a day
6. Reach out for support
When you feel tired and burnt out, lean in for support from your family, friends, and coworkers if you can. If you are working, ask about any Employee Assistance Programs that are available.
We’ve all come a long way over the past few years. These are just some of the many ideas to help you live a more healthy and balanced life.
This blog was written by Rona Guo, an occupational therapy student from McMaster University.