Cognitive fatigue (i.e mental tiredness, mental fatigue, mental exhaustion) is severe mental tiredness caused by tightly focused attention to detail, an over-stimulation of your brain which decreases cognitive resources, all independent of sleepiness. The signs of mental fatigue include drop in effectiveness, lack of motivation, cynicism with arise in irritability. To put it simply – severe increased mental effort needed to sustain focus depletes glucose needed to feed your neural energy. It’s more common to recognize physical fatigue, but knowing when you’re mentally fatigued can be much more difficult to detect. There are differences between cognitive fatigue and physical fatigue, but cognitive fatigue does have potential to impact physical endurance. Your mind and body don’t exist independently of each other, and the importance of the mind-body connection shouldn’t be disregarded. What is good for one is often good for the other.
My job requires an insane amount of focus on detail, a matter of determining a minuscule difference in human body tissue, at times more prevalent than others (depending on the severity of pathology) so physicians can make a proper diagnosis. By doing this several times a day in different organs and tissue textures, this leaves me extremely mentally fatigued and cognitively taxed. Comparable to when leg muscles are over worked they feel sore, making it difficult to walk. When your mind is similarly over worked, it becomes impossible to complete other tasks, resulting in a general loss of productivity and effectiveness, what I like to call “zombie like behavior”.
Cognitive fatigue is pervasive and has great potential to affect you in ways more than your mental state. In my opinion, your bodies way of saving itself. It’s vital to shift your focus towards restorative methods for your mind, clearing your mind of all distraction so you can refocus on what actually counts. Recognizing when we need a mental break and shifting your focus from a hyper focused sympathetic state to a parasympathetic state. This restoration occurs when we switch that effortful attention, when the mind needs to suppress distractions, to letting go and allowing our attention to capture what presents itself. Like most medical conditions, management and prevention are possible and necessary. Also speaking up is also important, setting boundaries for your work environment and also for yourself.
- Imperfection. This goes towards your work and outside of that. Motivation to make the most perfect decisions can result in decision paralysis and is actually counterproductive towards being effective. Perfectionism is a double edge sword, by being our most perfect self sets president there is no room for error which error and failure is not bad, it leads to growth. Trying to be perfect is self sabotage. This is mentally taxing and creates more stress and mental fatigue.
- Take frequent mental breaks, not less. Working harder and longer is not necessarily better. Extreme focus, trying to get so much done with no breaks actually does more harm than good. It’s counterproductive. Taking frequent breaks actually improves mental clarity, and actually increases focus during times you need it.
- Staying organized. Disorganization and clutter believe it or not triggers cortisol (the stress hormone). The more cluttered your physical surroundings the more stressed you will be, often unknowing. Streamlined spaces have a direct correlation to increased mental clarity.
- Sleep. Sleep deprivation can make your mind foggy from weariness, adversely affecting your mood, focus, alertness and productivity. When you have deadlines and obligations, tightly focused attention on work or tasks prioritizing sleep is the last thing on your mind . But by prioritizing sleep does the the opposite of what you might think your body needs sleep more than ever. It may feel like your getting more done by decreasing sleep, but more likely you are not being as efficient when you are not getting adequate rest. In addition to that more quality z’s are proven time and time again towards brain rejuvenation and improved mental health.
- Stress reducing activities. Meditation, and even a long walk does wonders. There is a direct link between long walks and creativity, walking leads to more creative thinking than a stagnant break.
- Rest & Reset. The good old American “work-to-live” mentality is not sustainable. This mentality is not conducive towards health or productivity in the long run. Taking significant time off work and prioritizing a vacation period is not a luxury, it is a necessity, for both your mental and physical well being. A proper vacation/break helps shift priorities, replenish mental resources and be more efficient in your vision and tasks.