Fatigue and exhaustion are often discussed in terms that characterize the physical effects that they have on the body. However, mental fatigue can be just as draining as physical exhaustion, even if its symptoms are not as evident as achy muscles or tired feet.
The online medical resource WebMD notes that mental fatigue typically arises when individuals focus on mentally challenging tasks for extended periods of time. Many individuals also experienced mental fatigue during the pandemic. Pandemic-related restrictions forced individuals across the globe to confront a number of unforeseen, unexpected challenges, including a sudden shift to remote work and school closures that forced working parents to juggle the rigors of their careers with the difficulties of remote learning. That upheaval contributed to prolonged mental fatigue for many individuals.
Much like athletes need routine breaks from exercise to let their muscles recover, individuals need to look for ways to give their overworked minds a chance to recuperate from fatigue. Each person is different, but these strategies can help people overcome mental fatigue.
• Take breaks from the news. Overconsumption of news is one potential contributor to mental fatigue. That’s especially so in the digital age, when the latest headlines are never further than a smartphone away. The Johns Hopkins Women’s Mood Disorders Center notes that limiting news consumption during stressful times can be an effective way to reduce symptoms of stress, including mental fatigue.
• Schedule time to relax. The pressure to feel as if you should always be doing something, whether it’s working, taking care of your family or tackling a to-do list around the house, can contribute to mental fatigue. Schedule time to relax and make a concerted effort to keep that time open. Avoid using scheduled relaxation time to work on household chores or check work emails. Instead, use this time to do something you find genuinely relaxing, even if that activity feels like you’re doing “nothing.”
• Spot the signs of mental fatigue. Another way to overcome mental fatigue is to learn to recognize its symptoms. Recognition of these symptoms allows individuals to use them as alarm bells that alert them when it’s time to take a step back and unwind. WebMD notes that mental fatigue symptoms include mood-related issues like increased irritability or anger; difficulty concentrating that makes it hard to finish tasks; zoning out; difficulty sleeping; and engaging in unhealthy behaviors, including overconsumption of alcohol.
The signs of mental fatigue may not be as instantly recognizable as the symptoms of physical exhaustion. But mental fatigue can be just as dangerous as physical tiredness if left unchecked.