September 10, 2022
Everyone at some point in their life has suffered from mental fatigue. Brain fog, procrastination, and mind wandering can be extremely frustrating as it stops you from being productive, feeling satisfied with your work outcome, and can affect your general mood.
What is mental fatigue?
Often when we have been working too much for too long our minds start to feel foggy and sluggish. Mental fatigue can be caused by increased levels of stress, illness (such as COVID), medication, and lack of sleep. This is often accompanied by procrastination and mind wandering as our minds refuse to focus on task.
The issue of mental fatigue and procrastination is a popular topic in psychological studies, especially in relation to its effect on sleep and self-directed learning. Sirois et.al (2015) found the trait procrastination is related to negative feelings upon waking, but not necessarily on sleep quality. Furthering this study, Song et.al (2021) found that there was a stronger relationship between daily procrastination and negative feelings for those with higher levels of job autonomy (i.e. high earning employees with less supervision). In relation to self-directed learning, an issue many of us faced during lock-down, Randall et.al (2021) found that mind wandering negatively effects self-directed training outcomes such as knowledge and self-efficacy.
All these studies show how important it is to tackle procrastination and mental fatigue so that we can return to higher productivity and improve our mood.
How to tackle mental fatigue?
For some, mental fatigue might only last a day or two and by having a good night sleep can wake up clear headed. For others, it is much more difficult. There are various methods that have been proven to help you clear the fog and keep focused:
Move around: It’s often difficult to move around when you are suffering from mental fatigue as you feel that since you are taking longer to do your work, all your time needs to spent working rather than taking time for yourself. However, moving around can dramatically help clear your mind and improve mood. Try walking around when you take a break instead of being on your phone – go chat to a co-worker or do that pile of dishes from last night. Exercise doesn’t need to be a mile hike; the important thing is that you are moving.
Change of environment: We often become stale and bored when working in the same environment day after day. If you can, try going out to a coffee shop to work for a couple hours or work in a library. Make sure that you have plenty of sunlight as vitamin D has been proven to increase serotonin levels.
Take time to socialise: Taking time off to socialise is essential for improving your mood and brain activity. This can often be difficult if you work from home or in a small team. Try meeting up regularly with friends or go to a coffee shop with a co-worker to discuss work instead of doing it via zoom.
Limit screen time: Most of us stare at screens every day, all day, which can leave us feeling lethargic and foggy. Limiting screentime in favour of socialising, exercise, or taking up a hobby can help improve your mood and help you focus on task.
Eat good food: Our diet affects our mental and physical health. Whilst unhealthy food can be delicious, it can often leave us feeling bloated and sleepy, and skipping meals leave us anxious and irritable. Eating good, healthy food makes us feel more energised and ready to tackle the day. Check out Dr. Liji Thomas’ article about the effect of diet on our brain function.
Return to a healthy sleep pattern: In order to tackle problems of mental fatigue, we must also address our sleep cycles. The 8-9hrs of ‘ideal sleep’ may seem impossible to many but it is vital to dissolving brain fog. For tips on how to sleep better, see our article: coming soon.
Small steps: Mental fatigue and procrastination often leave us in a low mood as the work quickly piles up, but we frustratingly don’t have the ability to tackle it at our normal speed. It’s important to take small steps, do one job at a time no matter how long it takes. Doing a little is better than giving up and not doing any at all. At these times it’s important to treat yourself kindly – the fog will clear.
Read medication side-effects: Mental fatigue can be a side-effect of medication. Check out any recent medication you are taking and contact a doctor if listed or if mental fatigue persists for an extended period of time.
Mental fatigue will go away once you return to a normal sleep cycle, eat well, and rest. Often the cause of our mental fatigue is stress from work or university, which is much harder to tackle but by following the methods outlined above you can begin to clear the fog. If you are struggling with academic stress, check out our article which discusses various methods of dealing with all the stresses of university.
Again, if the problem persists do speak to a doctor as it may be a sign of an illness. Mental fatigue and procrastination can have negative effects on our mental health, so it is important to speak to those you trust about your wellbeing in these situations. At Mind Space we have trusted and highly skilled qualified therapists available 24 hours a day. We can help you take the steps to improve your life, no matter what challenges you are facing in complete confidence. Get some MindSpace, call us on 0207 553 5010.