Are work and school mentally draining you? Do you constantly keep feeling tired and unmotivated? Your mental battery is the lowest it has ever been but your mates are upbeat and on top of the world? If your answer was “Yes” to all these questions then you may be experiencing mental fatigue. While it is common to experience, you can take steps to fix it. 

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Key Takeaways:

  • Caused by chronic stress, poor nutrition, and multitasking, leading to decreased productivity and mood.
  • Address with simplified decisions, nature breaks, exercise, organized spaces, and prioritized rest.
  • Contrary to “grind” culture, regular rest boosts productivity and creativity.

What is mental fatigue?

Let us paint the picture: our brain is the engine. When you overload it with too many tasks, requests, and concerns, it inevitably leads to shutting down. You definitely remember the following case all too well: when simultaneously running a presentation, watching a lecture online, writing a letter to your professor, and finishing an essay, your computer just needs to cool down.

Mental fatigue hampers your productivity levels and makes you feel dull. If you’ve ever noticed symptoms like mental block, lack of motivation, irritability, loss of appetite, insomnia, or stress eating then these are the signs that you must get everything checked and fixed. Waiting any longer will exacerbate the state of things. On top of everything, research suggests that prolonged mental exhaustion can impact physical endurance. Chin up! There are ways how to fix it. 

What causes mental fatigue?

Before curing anything, it’s necessary to get to the root of the problem. In fact, there are many reasons why people feel mentally tired. One big reason is stress and uncertainty. When people are stressed for a long time, they feel mentally tired. An example is the stress from the pandemic, which made people feel unsure and worried about many things.

A picture depicting mental fatigue

Demanding jobs or lifestyles is another reason. Some people have jobs that require a lot of decisions or long hours, making them feel burnt out. Sometimes, people have many things to do at home and at work, which can make them very tired, especially if they care for children and old family members. Some people in an online community shared the following:

“From personal experience, I can tell you that if you are currently stressing a lot or are quite unhappy with your life that could also just as well be what’s taking all your energy away. In that case, you need to make some changes to your daily habits to improve it and the energy should slowly come back to you.”

“Focus on the things that bring you joy. Does a quiet drive alone recharge you? Go for it. Would you rather blast music alone in your bedroom while you knit or paint? Do it. Want to practice archery in the backyard or make beaded jewelry? Have at it. Not very physically active but like being outdoors? Plant flowers in pots or go bird watching so you don’t have to do strenuous hiking. Your goal is to pursue happiness, not to please a world that seems to value active extroverts and overachievers (especially since there’s always someone who will disapprove of what you do, no matter what you are doing).”

Another cause is living with an illness. Illnesses often make people feel tired and in pain. This can cause stress and sadness. Big changes or tough events in life can also lead to mental fatigue. When someone faces a big challenge, like losing a loved one or ending a marriage, they might feel a lot of sadness. This sadness can make them feel mentally drained for a long time. 

There are also simpler causes like poor nutrition or lack of sleep. If someone doesn’t eat well or doesn’t sleep enough, they can feel tired quickly. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep to stay healthy.  Being surrounded by too much stuff or feeling too much sympathy for others can also tire the mind. Users in the online community shared their observations:

“I always recommend taking a look at the diet. I was super allergic to a couple of things without realizing it, and it really messed with me on every level (happiness, sleep, energy, attention span) until I finally figured it out and stopped eating those foods. Gluten was my biggest one, dairy was the second. Once I realized foods were impacting me it was easy for me to start noticing how I felt after certain types of meals and how those affected my energy/mood (like feeling sleepy after a heavy meal, or sugar crashes causing an anxious feeling which makes it harder to concentrate).”

“You are tired because your diet is probably lacking in proper nutrition, you probably don’t exercise as much as you ought to, you probably have more stress than you ought to, your sleep probably isn’t as good as it ought to be, your self-esteem is probably lower than your sibling, you probably have less fun in life and aren’t fulfilling your passions and dreams. These are the main reasons for most people.”

“Exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep are certainly important, but it’s also good to engage in activities that bring you joy and peace.”

“You are suffering from mental fatigue if your diet is lacking in proper nutrition, you don’t exercise as much as you ought to, have more stress than you ought to, and your sleep probably isn’t as good as it ought to be.”

Mental fatigue is also caused by doing too many things at once. For example, thinking about many tasks, checking messages, thinking about lunch, and worrying about work. All these things can tire the brain. It’s like a chess player trying to play while also doing many other things. 

“Tackling mental fatigue could benefit from a new perspective on what productivity means. It can sometimes be a call from within to tend to our inner garden. Consider focusing less on the volume of tasks accomplished and more on the quality and value of each endeavor. It’s the depth of the river, not its length, that fills the jug.”

A picture depicting a multitasking student

This is how most people feel every day, juggling many things at once. It’s important to find the cause and try to fix it. If someone feels too tired for a long time, they should see a doctor.

5 Tips for Coping with Mental Fatigue

When you know your symptoms or your doctor identifies weak spots for you, it is easier to understand what is wrong and how to nip the problem in the bud. Here are 5 useful tips for coping with mental health. 

Tip 1. Simplify Daily Choices

To preserve your mental energy, consider making fewer decisions in your day. Routine decisions like what to eat or wear can be standardized. For example, having a set coffee order or dedicating specific meals for particular days can free up mental space. By reducing the number of choices you make, you leave more room in your brain for important tasks.

Tip 2. Connect with Nature

Taking short breaks to appreciate nature can boost your concentration. If you’re near a window with a view, take a minute to gaze outside, preferably at something green. If possible, spend your lunch break walking in a park. Nature not only provides relaxation but also enhances focus and productivity.

Tip 3. Incorporate Physical Activity

Exercise has proven benefits for the mind. A short, brisk walk or a 20-minute workout can increase blood flow to the brain, helping improve mood, memory, and creativity. Even if you can’t fit in a full workout, small bouts of physical activity can refresh your mind and lessen feelings of fatigue.

Tip 4. Maintain an Organized Space

A cluttered environment can lead to a cluttered mind. Keeping your workspace tidy can reduce cognitive overload and decrease stress levels. Spend a few minutes each day organizing your desk or living area. By maintaining a clean and organized space, you can work more efficiently and reduce mental distractions. Take a look at these easy DIY hacks to get your things together. 

Tip 5. Prioritize Rest and Breaks

Rest is crucial in fighting off mental fatigue. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep at night and take short breaks during the day. Even a 15-minute pause from your tasks can rejuvenate your mind. Additionally, leave some open slots in your weekly schedule. This gives your mind a chance to relax and can also open doors for unplanned, pleasant surprises. You can unwind by creating a self-care day, for instance. Dedicate this day to activities that make you feel happy. This is perfect timing for your guilty pleasures. If you’re out of ideas, take a look at this handy guide and get inspired. 

Why Rest is Just as Important as Work for Productivity

Knowing how to relax properly with benefits for your health is important for the future. Say, for your job. The modern work culture often idealizes relentless hard work, where taking breaks or resting is seen as counterproductive or even a sign of weakness. This “grind” mindset, propagated everywhere from social media memes to boastful business leaders, suggests that success can only be attained by those willing to work tirelessly. However, there’s growing evidence that contradicts this belief.

Studies and experts alike emphasize the immense value of rest during work. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less,” highlights that rest is crucial for smart and effective work.

“Rest is an essential component of working well and working smart.”

A picture of a worker relaxing at work to maintain his productivity

Resting isn’t merely about non-activity. When the brain is at rest, it remains active in its “default network,” focusing on creativity, problem-solving, and information absorption. Pang believes that while we might not have full control over these mental processes, a proper resting regime can harness their full potential.

Practical ways to integrate rest into a hectic schedule can be simple yet effective. A 15-minute break every four hours and an undisturbed hour for lunch. Laura Pendergrass, an industrial psychologist, suggests incorporating short joy-inducing activities into one’s day, like a brisk walk or reading. 

“Those small, restful activities can go a long way toward recharging your battery.”

Small goals, such as ending work by 6 p.m. or designating a meeting-free day, can also be instrumental in prioritizing rest.

In conclusion, the importance of rest can’t be understated. It’s not just a luxury, but a necessity for productivity, creativity, and overall well-being.


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