A complete guide for everything you need to know about mental fatigue. Learn to differentiate between mental fatigue and tiredness, the causes of mental fatigue, and how to overcome mental fatigue once and for all.
Feeling burned out? It could be possible that you are experiencing mental fatigue, or mental exhaustion.
While mental fatigue can sound trivial, or just a passing “phase”, it is actually more serious than most people tend to think.
Mental fatigue goes beyond mere tiredness as we know it, and can negatively affect our lives - and the lives of those around us - in more than a few ways.
It is, in fact, a mental (and emotional) condition that can be diagnosed. And for that reason it should be addressed and treated as soon as possible.
What is Mental Fatigue?
What exactly is mental fatigue?
In the same way that your muscles can reach a limit when being exerted, so can your brain. But while your brain is not a muscle, it is an organ that juggles multiple processes at once - from vision, breathing, and movement to processing thoughts and emotions.
Mental fatigue is when your mind becomes exhausted from one or more of these processes, either from being overused, overwhelmed, overstimulated, or a mixture of all three.
Many people often refer to mental fatigue as “burnout”.
Mental fatigue can affect some people more than others. Those with high-pressure jobs can experience mental fatigue regularly. Parents can quickly become mentally fatigued after having a baby.
Introverts, who have a fast-draining social battery, can also reach mental fatigue quicker than others.
Mental fatigue is not just tiredness, however; it is a mental condition rather than a physical one, where the person will feel mentally exhausted or mentally drained. This can pose a number of negative effects as a result.
Mental Fatigue Symptoms
How do you know if you have mental fatigue?
If you are experiencing mental fatigue, you will generally feel overworked, overwhelmed, and possibly overstimulated.
These feelings can also come with other feelings, such as stress, irritability, and anger.
In extreme cases, mental fatigue can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and anorexia.
It goes without saying that mental fatigue can have a negative impact on multiple areas of our day-to-life life. This includes work and productivity, our social interactions with others, appetite, quality of sleep, and the ability to enjoy what we usually like to do.
If you think you are mentally fatigued, check if you are experiencing the symptoms of mental fatigue that we have listed below.
Detachment, specifically the feeling that you have simply stopped caring about certain things, can be a symptom of mental fatigue.
This can be recognized in your work, your food intake, hobbies, and social interactions. If you find yourself not caring about these things - and, as a result, noticing a drop in quality in these areas - it is often a big indicator of mental fatigue.
Cynicism and pessimism can also develop from these feelings of apathy.
Of course, when the mind is overworked and tired, the ability to focus and concentrate will be reduced significantly.
If you have ever experienced a point where you simply cannot focus any longer on a mental task, this is the start of mental fatigue and a sign that you should stop and take a break. This will prevent overwhelming the mind further.
With mental fatigue, however, reduced concentration and productivity can continue longer than usual. In this case, taking a break or even sleeping will not fix the issue.
Stress is another big indicator of mental fatigue. As overworking and being overwhelmed are often the causes of mental fatigue, the natural corollary is stress.
In this case, stress can be interchanged with anxiety.
Stress can be identified by a number of things: irritability, anger (short temper), loss of appetite, and difficulty falling asleep. In addition to this, stress can also cause a significant reduction in motivation and enthusiasm for things we normally enjoy.
If you are feeling fed up with life, unsatisfied, and apathetic, it could be the result of depression stemming from mental fatigue.
In the same way that mental fatigue can cause us to stop caring for our work, well-being, and social life, mental fatigue can initiate feelings of unhappiness and discontent. This type of depression can often arise from the same source as our mental fatigue.
Mental Fatigue Causes
What causes mental fatigue?
The main causes of mental fatigue are being overworked or overwhelmed.
For introverts, mental fatigue can also be caused by over-stimulation from excessive noise and socialization.
These are umbrella terms, however. Direct causes of mental fatigue can be:
- High-pressure tasks
- Mentally demanding tasks
- Long working hours or long days (plus lack of sleep)
- Prolonged dissatisfaction (at work, or in a relationship)
- Taking care of a newborn, or many kids at once
- Dealing with the death of a loved one
- A lack of “personal time”
Therefore, mental fatigue can be caused by poor work-life balance, dissatisfaction with one’s job or relationship, dealing with a tragedy, or even not taking enough “personal time” to enjoy the things we like doing.
Sometimes, mental fatigue can come as a result of more than one of these causes.
How Long Does Mental Fatigue Last?
So, how long does it last?
The issue with mental fatigue is that it does not work in the same way as physical fatigue. With physical fatigue, we can rest a certain amount to recover and recharge, which ultimately leaves us feeling better and back to normal.
With mental fatigue, we cannot simply rest or sleep it off. This means that mental fatigue can last indefinitely.
But why is this the case?
The answer lies in the difference between mental fatigue and tiredness. Tiredness can be fixed with rest and sleep, while mental fatigue is often the result of something in our life that is draining us mentally or emotionally.
And until we address this problem area, mental fatigue can persist for weeks and even months.
How to Overcome Mental Fatigue
Thankfully, it is possible to overcome mental fatigue - and the methods are quite simple.
There are different ways to beat mental fatigue, so it is best to try them out and see which one works for you. And once you find a method that you find effective, you can continue to use this solution to overcome, and prevent, mental fatigue in the future.
Identify the Source of Your Fatigue
Similar to how it is recommended to identify the source of any negative emotion, it is important that we should do the same when experiencing mental fatigue.
For best results, this should be done by allocating a good amount of time to sit and write down all the symptoms of mental fatigue that you are experiencing, as well as where these symptoms might be stemming from.
By identifying the source, or causes, of your mental fatigue, only then is it possible to address these issues and fix them.
For example, if the main cause of your mental fatigue is your job, now would be the time to adjust your working conditions (by talking with your boss) or transfer to a new job altogether.
If, as another example, you are burned out from looking after a newborn or multiple kids at once, the solution would be to communicate with your partner to provide help, or arrange help from an external source.
While exercise might seem counter-intuitive, or even the last thing you would think beneficial when experiencing mental fatigue, the opposite is actually the case.
It is important to remember that mental fatigue is mental and not physical. This means that while we might feel exhausted and demotivated on the surface, we are still capable of completing physical tasks and applying ourselves physically.
The benefits of exercise are multitudinous, from the positive chemical releases in the brain (serotonin and dopamine) to the numerous after-effects that include increased confidence, heightened energy levels, and clarity of mind.
In fact, countless studies show exercise to be a proven stress-reliever and instant mood enhancer, as well as a means to improve cognition, concentration, and alertness.
With that said, finding some time in your day for around 30 minutes’ exercise might just be the fix of your mental fatigue.
It is no secret that we need sleep to function optimally, both physically and mentally.
And yet, while physical tiredness is not a cause of mental fatigue, lack of sleep can contribute to a big drop in concentration, focus, contentment, and overall happiness on a day-to-day basis.
Experts widely recommend that working adults aim to get at least eight hours of sleep per night.
The big problem with poor quality of sleep is that it spills into and affects multiple areas of our life. As a result, the consequences of poor sleep can have a domino effect.
By not sleeping adequately, you can harm your productivity at work, which can then indirectly affect your contentment, appetite, and subsequently your social interactions with other people, eventually ending with a poor night’s sleep at the end of the day.
This is why it is important, not just for preventing mental fatigue, to get a good night’s sleep each night.
Expressing gratitude is a simple and effective way to flip your mindset at any given moment.
And when mental fatigue, including all its accompanying symptoms, are affecting us negatively, expressing gratitude can be a temporary or even permanent solution.
You can express gratitude through thought, or by taking a moment to sit down and write a list. Gratitude can be expressed for both small and big things, including recent achievements or some good news, a nice meal, or a new purchase that you are pleased with.
Gratitude can also be expressed for broader things, such as having family and friends or even being alive.
And while you might already feel grateful for these things, the point of expressing gratitude lies in the exercise itself. Studies show that by simply expressing gratitude, a positive effect comes over the brain subconsciously via the release of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine.
In fact, somnologists also assert that expressing gratitude before bedtime is one of the best ways to improve quality of sleep.
Similar to how expressing gratitude works, meditation is another scientifically proven method for reducing stress, feeling calm, and increasing gratitude and contentment.
Meditation can be used to express gratitude, reflect, or detach altogether. This is typically done by finding a quiet space, getting comfortable, closing the eyes, and slowing down the breathing.
And in a world where distractions, pressures, and stress triggers are growing increasingly, meditation is in fact becoming more popular than ever.
While meditation might seem inaccessible to some, it can be as straightforward as focusing on external sounds, envisaging that you are in a different place, or mentally confronting your anxieties and fears and accepting them.
You may have also heard the phrase ”being present” in relation to meditation, but it is not as esoteric as it might seem. Being present in meditation is simply letting go of the past, while at the same time not banking your happiness on a future desire or event.
As the goal of meditation is to find a state of calmness and acceptance, it can do wonders if practiced daily to alleviate mental fatigue, depression, insomnia, and anxiety.
Although one of the possible symptoms of mental fatigue is an indefinite loss of appetite, it is important that we maintain a regular, healthy eating schedule - even if it means forcing ourselves to eat.
Healthy eating can even reverse the effects of mental fatigue, and possibly fix mental fatigue on the whole over time.
As what we eat and drink fuels our body, as well as our brain, a simple switch to a healthy diet can completely overturn feelings of depression, anxiety, or even mental fatigue.
There is, in fact, some truth to the old adage, “You are what you eat”. The higher the quality of the food that you eat (the more nutritious it is), the better and longer it will fuel the natural functions of your brain and body.
By eating healthier, the result is that you will feel stronger, more energetic, more focused, and more motivated.
In general, healthy eating involves cutting out processed foods, high-sugar foods (and drinks), unsaturated fats, and simple carbohydrates. It is also important to stay hydrated throughout the day.
Following healthy eating, another way to alleviate and prevent mental fatigue is by taking supplements, specifically nootropics, which contain various vitamins, minerals, and other organic compounds that our brains need to function optimally.
In fact, those who take nootropics claim to experience improved concentration, better problem-solving skills, and a heightened state of contentment and happiness on a daily basis.
Opti Nutra’s Mind Lab Pro is one nootropic on the market that has gained increasing popularity due to its FDA-approved, GMP-certified blend of 11 premium ingredients, all of which have been individually proven to boost brainpower and mental health.
As a result, nootropics can prevent mental fatigue altogether.
Delving deeper, Mind Lab Pro also claims to reduce brain fog and clear brain toxins, improve memory processing, increase alertness and concentration, and support the natural functions of dopamine and serotonin, boosting motivation and happiness as a result.
The widely used nootropic is also vegan and gluten-free.
Have you ever felt calm, or at peace, gazing across a scenic view or landscape?
The science behind nature and its calming effects are widespread and universally agreed upon.
In fact, studies in recent decades go as far as to show that people who live in urban cities are, in general, less content and happy than those who live in rural areas abundant in nature and visually appealing scenery.
And it is for the same reason that psychologists recommend spending time in nature as a method for reducing anxiety, depression, stress, and mental fatigue.
Upon viewing nature, or being surrounded in nature, brain scans conducted for research show an instant positive effect on the brain and its neural processes. Specifically, an induced feeling of calmness, contentment, and gratitude, linked to dopamine and serotonin.
This is also the same for when we spend time in the sun. The sun’s warming effects, and its supply of vitamin D, provide a slow-releasing serotonin boost in the brain, causing us to feel happy and satisfied.
You might find that taking frequent walks in nature, or populating your home and workspace with plants, will reduce mental fatigue both temporarily and permanently.
Do Something You Love
It is often the case that when we are overworked and overwhelmed, we forget, or are unable, to make time for doing the things we love and enjoy.
This can be a major cofactor for mental fatigue.
Striking the perfect work-life balance is vital for segmenting our daily lives in a way that accommodates for everything we need to stay happy and productive. This includes work, hobbies, socialization, relationships, personal time, spiritual time, physical activity, and so forth.
The thing to remember is that even if one of these elements is neglected, the balance is disrupted and therefore so is our mental state. In turn, this can lead to dissatisfaction with life, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and mental fatigue.
If you are experiencing mental fatigue, it is important to remember and make time for your hobbies, passions, and the things you enjoy doing.
For some, this can be socialization, going to a concert, or simply “blowing off steam”. For others, it can be spending time alone to engage in a hobby, visiting family, or going on a hike.
What is needed to stay happy in life is different for everyone. What is important, however, is that we make sure to balance our lives in a way that accounts for and includes all of these essential elements. This is vital for maintaining optimum mental health and well-being.
Mental fatigue is not simply tiredness. Nor can it be always fixed with sleep. Mental fatigue comes as a result of being overworked, overwhelmed, or overstimulated, which can lead to stress, irritability, and depression, negatively affecting our lives in numerous ways.
The causes of mental fatigue can be linked to problems at work, prolonged dissatisfaction with a job or relationship, long working hours, a tragedy, or simply not being able to find time to do the things you enjoy.
The ways to overcome mental fatigue, however, include exercise, sleep, healthy eating and supplementation, meditation, spending time in nature, and making time for hobbies, passions, and the things you enjoy doing.