It seems like everyone I talk to lately is tired, and not because they’re suddenly more active or more productive than usual. In fact, most of them can’t tell you exactly why they’re so tired, they just are. This isn’t to say people aren’t busy, they are — just in new and taxing ways. But these new kinds of busyness and the “new normal” brought on by the coronavirus is causing many of us to feel mentally fatigued.

Mental fatigue is something that occurs when your brain goes into overdrive. You can’t stop thinking, worrying, anticipating, planning, etc., and this constant parade of changing thoughts can lead to exhaustion. This isn’t uncommon, most of us have experienced this at one point or another, usually when there’s a big project or event coming up. But lately mental fatigue seems to be the rule rather than the exception for many.

Why Your Brain May Be More Tired Than Normal

Most of us feel we’re rolling with the punches to some degree while the world around us changes. But the truth is these changes take a psychological toll on us all. You may be working, but your work has changed. Kids are in school, but school has changed. You may be healthy, but for how long? And there are marches, riots, and an upcoming election to consider. No matter how much you try to focus on your own small piece of the world the world around you is having an effect on you. 

In a normal environment, you know what to expect and how to navigate things. You probably have work under control, school schedules are structured, and the regular chaos of life ebbs and flows at a fairly predicable rate. Sometimes you’re stressed, sometimes you’re not, and occasionally you feel mentally fatigued when things are particularly crazy. 

But our current state of prolonged instability and change is something different. It’s like noise that’s always playing around us as we try to get through the day-to-day. Our brains naturally try to assign structure and normalcy to our personal environments, but the current noise can be deafening and distracting, and is changing all the time making it all that more difficult to put things in order and operate normally. This means your brain must work even harder to try and be productive and create routines and stability. 

What Happens When Your Brain Is Tired for Too Long?

If you work your shoulders or legs too hard, they get sore, right? Well, your brain may not become sore like overworked quads, but it absolutely shows signs of overuse. 

Mental fatigue has several tell-tale signs. See if any of these sounds familiar:

  • Inability to focus. When your brain is tired, it isn’t working at optimal levels. Just like your legs won’t carry you through marathon after marathon (or even fractions of that for most of us), your brain will eventually slow down too. This often shows up as an inability to stay focused on tasks and responsibilities, leaving you feeling scattered, disorganized and impeding your ability to complete tasks successfully. 
  • Physical exhaustion. Yes, your brain affects your body. When your brain is tired, it can make your whole body feel tired, effectively signally that you need a break. Shutting down through sleep is our normal physiological method for relieving the stress on our brain. Unfortunately, mental exhaustion itself can make sleeping difficult.
  • Difficulty sleeping. While you may be tired and your brain may need a break, it can often be very difficult to turn things off. The overstimulation caused by the environment around us means that we may not sleep as well. How many times have you tried to solve the world’s problems while laying in bed? Or stewed over the things you should have said or done earlier in the day?
  • Constant feeling of stress and anxiety. Mental exhaustion and the persistent noise around us can lead to a constant feeling of stress and anxiety. It can feel like there’s ALWAYS something to worry about, so even if your corner of the world is handled and organized, there’s no relief or sense of calm. Over time, unrelenting stress and anxiety can lead to depression as well. 
  • Lack of patience or sudden bursts of anger. If your fuse suddenly seems shorter than normal and you find yourself feeling irritable and angry all the time it can be a result of an overworked brain. When you’re not operating at optimal levels and feel scattered, tired, and stressed it can be very difficult to exercise the appropriate levels of patience.

Any of these ringing a bell?

Tips To Rest and Reset

This can be harder to do than it sounds. Turning off and tuning out the noise around us initially requires concentration which is difficult when you are already having a tough time concentrating. But the focus in this case is on being mindful and calm in order to give yourself a break.

Mental exhaustion won’t just get better — you need to give your brain a rest and break the cycle. Any of these can be helpful.

  • Get outside. Nature is calming, so use what’s around you. Being mindful of what you’re seeing and experiencing. 
  • Turn off the TV and internet. There’s bad news everywhere right now, don’t let yourself be inundated with it. Try music instead.
  • Exercise. This is a good idea for so many reasons. By getting physical you’ll relieve stress, sleep better, and improve your physical condition. 
  • Read. The escape into something that has nothing to do with the world around you can provide a healthy break.

The longer we let mental fatigue continue the harder it becomes to break the cycle. Over time you may experience physical issues, emotional problems, or full-scale burnout. And these all leave you incapable of navigating your life in a healthy and happy way. 

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