Right now our society is experiencing an epidemic of mental fatigue because there are so many people who are worrying about their families, their jobs, their livelihoods while having to take care of their children and some are having to take care of aging parents also.

The pandemic has caused us all to feel mentally exhausted, sapping our motivation, constantly leaving us feeling emotionally and mentally drained and in overwhelm. However, mental fatigue is complex and usually isn’t caused by one thing. Some of these causes can be self-inflicted too.

Contributing factors can be physical ones such as poor nutrition, and lack of sleep, or they can be cognitive because we’ve been asking our brain to do too much. It’s no wonder we feel mentally exhausted by the end of the day! Yet, that’s exactly how most of us operate on a daily basis.

Mental fatigue doesn’t have to hang around in your life and in this episode, we are going to identify some steps you can take to help you recharge your brain and live that life you were experiencing prior to the pandemic. Learn how you can move out of that state of mental fatigue, and reclaim your mental energy to put you back into an alert, action-oriented state.

We are going to check out the ways you can maintain brain function by reducing the use of your smartphone, tablet, and computer. Lifestyle modifications can also help such as getting enough rest, exercising and eating healthy food. It’s time right now to remove some of these tasks and responsibilities that have become part of your new normal. Let’s say goodbye to mental fatigue and hello to a super-charged brain!

In this episode

00:59 – Introduction

03:15 – What is mental fatigue?

06:53 – Give your brain high-quality fuel

10:25 – Tips for maintaining sufficient energy levels

14:24 – Benefits of prioritising sleep

20:45 – Benefits of physical activity

23:40 – Impact of decision fatigue

29:50 – Impact of over checking your emails

33:45 – Impact of too much time on our phones

38:33 – Conclusion

Episode Transcription

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 00:59

Are feeling lethargic and struggling with staying focused lately? Are you far more distracted and way more disorganised than what you usually are? It could even that you may feel disconnected and perhaps your brain feels like it’s in overload. You’re having trouble getting things done and your productivity fluctuates. It goes up and it down. Maybe you’re having trouble thinking clearly and you’ve been feeling absolutely mentally exhausted in recent months?

Well, if you answered yes to one or all of these, it may well be that you’re suffering from mental fatigue and this is a real thing especially since the pandemic. Mental fatigue has become a real problem for many of us over the past year. You may feel that the pandemic has destroyed your drive and your determination and it’s become harder and harder to have that mental focus you once had. You may find that your mind is not as sharp as it used to be, you’re feeling a bit of brain fog, or you are feeling lack of clarity, and it takes you a bit longer to make decision.

I am here to tell you that you are not alone. What you are feeling is basically like mental exhaustion and that’s how I feel some days. Just mentally exhausted!

For me, there are times that kind of fatigue shows up when I am focusing on a task that is mentally challenging for a while. I might also feel this kind of brain drain if I’m consistently on high alert like in a fight or flight mode for a number of days. It sends my brain into overdrive, leaving me exhausted, hampering my productivity and my overall cognitive function.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 03:15

So if you are constantly stressed out and maxed out, caught up in the chaos and the drama, you may well be suffering from mental fatigue too. That kind of mental overwhelm becomes too much and your mind can’t handle another thing. It’s just like physical tiredness, but it’s your mind feeling fatigued instead of your muscles. For most, the most common symptoms of mental fatigue include mental block, lack of motivation, irritability, stress eating or loss of appetite and insomnia.

Right now our society is experiencing an epidemic of mental fatigue because there are so many people who are worrying about their jobs, their livelihoods, how they are going to feed their families, they are having to take care of their children who are being home schooled and some are taking care of aging parents as well. Look there are so many other things causing this mental fatigue that we are having to deal with on a daily basis due to the pandemic. This kind of mental fatigue can even make those small tasks that were a walk in the park seem unachievable. It can sap all your motivation and make it hard for you to stay on track and you start to miss deadlines. Basically, you are living in a state of constantly feeling emotionally and mentally drained and in overwhelm. It’s that feeling that your brain just won’t function right and some may even describe it as brain fog.

In this episode, we are going to offer some suggestions to help minimise mental fatigue in a no fuss kind of way. I want to help you move out of that state of mental fatigue, and put you into an alert, action oriented state. I can’t promise you’ll never feel mental fatigue again, but even if you can experience it less often, a little less severely, and with fewer negative consequences for your mental health and productivity, it’s worth it. And I have done my job!!

Yes, mental fatigue is complex and usually isn’t caused by one thing. Contributing factors can be physical ones such as poor nutrition, lack of sleep, hormonal imbalances or it could be cognitive because you’ve been asking your brain to do too much. These are all things that are in your power that help you reduce and manage mental fatigue.

The good news I want to share with you is that mental fatigue doesn’t have to hang around in your life because sometimes finding the cause of this fatigue is a no-brainer. Pardon the pun!!! Luckily, there are some basic steps you can take to manage mental fatigue. So let’s get proactive and identify some steps you can take to help you live that life you were experiencing prior to the pandemic.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 06:53

Give your brain high-quality fuel

It’s easy to forget that our brains require energy to function. It’s the same as we wouldn’t run a long distance marathon and then feel like a failure just because our legs are tired. So why do we treat mental fatigue so differently? Why are we so hard on ourselves when our brainpower is exhaustible too, but, it’s also 100% rechargeable if we manage it wisely.

The link between athletic performance and nutrition is obvious, but when it comes to mental performance, we don’t always make that same connection. We forget about feeding our brains and the brain is fuelled with the very same food as your muscles are! In fact, our brains are the gas-guzzlers of the body’s organs using up over half of the glucose in our bloodstream. Therefore what you eat impacts your cognitive functioning in a massive way.

When it comes to diet, the biggest problem here is that it’s hard to know what we should and shouldn’t be eating. It feels like there is new conflicting research out almost every day. One day the research tells us that it’s ok to eat chocolate. Then the next day, the new research tells us that you should only eat dark chocolate, and all other chocolate is bad for your health. Then just when you thought you had heard it all, the very next day, you hear on the news, that no amount of chocolate, including dark chocolate is good for your health. So in three days we have gone from chocolate is ok to eat to avoiding all chocolate at all cost!!! It’s all too much. There’s so much confusing and conflicting science out there about good nutrition. It’s a mine field of misinformation.

In my opinion, when it comes to nutrition advice, and the best piece of advice is that you should always be sceptical. Proceed with caution!!! You can end up trying all these weird and wonderful supercharged foods, Some people swear by intermittent fasting, but I can assure you that you don’t have to go paleo or keto or become addicted to salads in order to avoid mental fatigue in the middle of the afternoon.

I know that for me, if I’m not giving my body the correct nutrition during the day, I find that come mid- afternoon, I can’t concentrate, and even the most simplest task feels like the most difficult. I find myself reading the same paragraph over and over again or correcting the same line of the email I am about to send over-and-over again. Things that would have been water off a duck’s back in the morning, become really overwhelming mid-afternoon. I find that I start to get impatient with other people and start to lose my cool. And there is no need to feel this way!

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 10:25

So lets look at some basic good sense guidelines for maintaining sufficient energy levels throughout the whole day without sacrificing too much:

You can start by cutting down on refined sugars. This is one piece of nutrition advice that all the research does agree on. It has been proven that, sugar consumption does decrease alertness within an hour and increases fatigue within 30 minutes. In other words, the sugar rush isn’t real, but the sugar crash is. You can aim for sustained energy levels throughout the day by cutting down on the amount of refined sugar you eat. I know that when I have foods high in refined sugars, I have the highest highs and the lowest lows to the point that I start to shake, my heart races and I feel nauseous!! It is a horrible feeling and there is no way I can concentrate on anything or even function as a normal human being in that state.

The main reason we consume foods full of refined sugars is because we haven’t meal planned. It’s important to meal plan so you know exactly what you are going to eat in advance because if you wait until you’re hungry, you’re going to be feeling low on energy and you will have zero willpower and you are more likely to crave a quick energy hit in the form of something like a chocolate. I know this because I have been in this situation and had one of my students grab me a Kit Kat from the nearest vending machine.

Personally, my meal prepping for my lunch commences with the evening meal the night before. I always cook too much and I love left overs. Oh my goodness dinner always tastes better the next day. I have found the most effective way for me to eat healthier is to cook more than my husband and I can eat and keep lots plastic trays handy that I can use and recycle. This might sound like hard work for you because it means making more time to cook at home. But it is so so worth it!!

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 12:44

Another important tip is don’t skip breakfast. Eat a breakfast that will sustain your energy levels until lunch so you don’t crash and burn in the middle of the morning. I suggest eating more eggs, yogurt, and oatmeal and fewer donuts, muffins, and sugary cereals. These foods are not going to sustain you till lunch time.

It’s a good idea to keep lots of low-sugar, unprocessed snacks on hand in case you do happen to end up having a crash and burn episode during the day. You can try fuelling your body with almonds, whole grain crackers and cheese, or my personal favourite, is carrot sticks with a hummus dip. It is so yum!!! And be sure to stay hydrated. All studies show that even mild dehydration can negatively impact brain performance. So drink lots of water all throughout the day!! Don’t wait till you are thirsty.

So go ahead and try some of these ideas and see how your body reacts. We are all unique, so figure out what makes you feel best. Even the most basic advice won’t work for everyone. If you’re experiencing big energy crashes in the middle of the day, try experimenting with the content and timing of your meals. Keep a log of your energy levels and see how your body reacts. In the end, only you can say for sure what makes you feel best.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 14:24

Prioritise Sleep

This is relevant to all of us, your brain needs sleep to function well. We are more alert, retain information, and access our emotional intelligence and creativity when our body has had the rest it needs. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it’s becoming more and more neglected in our society. And this neglect comes with devastating consequences. In fact, the new age of sleep science reveals that sleep plays a vital role in our every waking moment and every aspect of our health–from weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s. Every major disease in the developed world has very strong links to sleep deficiency.

You may not believe this but sleep also helps with your ability to be more skilled, to be more intelligent, to be less stressed, and to be more creative. All your preparation work actually starts the nights before. And yet what we are finding is that in today’s fast-paced, always-connected, forever on demand- constantly stressed out and sleep-deprived world, our need for a good night’s sleep is more important–and yet more elusive–than ever. For me personally, I feel as though I am hung over when I haven’t has enough sleep and I am an emotional basket case when I’m over tired. Not only that but I can’t think straight. My brain feels like mush!

When most people go to bed, they think it is relaxing, they feel good, but sleep time is recovery time. What happens to your brain is that it goes into a dishwasher mode when you go into a deep sleep. It’s like when you load the dishwasher before bed and in the morning the dishes are clean. That is what happens to your brain. Neuro chemicals start moving and dealing with the debris of cellular decline, that is the Neuro transmitters that get used up, and it also deals with that cortisol, the stress hormone. The dishwasher in your brain doesn’t go on at 10am. It doesn’t go on at noon. The only time it happens is when we go into a deep sleep. So if you have had a sound sleep for the correct amount of time, you will find yourself sharper, smarter, more creative in the mornings. I know I do! I always wake up with all these ideas, I feel far more creative and that is because the debris of cell decay and the stress hormones have been dealt with. That is why after a good night’s sleep, you feel less or no stress in the morning, than what you do say in the afternoon.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 17:54

Now is the time to stop making excuses as to why you don’t sleep. You can condition yourself to get more sleep. Your human body wants that 7 to 8 hours sleep every night. Every study conducted over the past 50 years proves this, so don’t think that you are the exception to the rule. That is ignorant thinking. Here are some simple strategies for better sleep: I like to call this the 3,2,1, rule:

  1. Eat dinner three hours before bedtime – You need a decent break between meals and sleep, especially if you eat carbs that are slow to digest. I know I find it hard to go to sleep on a bowl of pasta.
  2. The science says you need to learn to power down for at least two hours before bed. This is so important. This means to disengage with your emails, text messages and all forms of work two hours before bed.
  3. One hour before bed disengage with all technology, so all screens off. That means no social media, no computer, no television. You can read a book instead. Technology changes our sleep cycles and prevents us from getting a more restorative sleep.

There are some other science-backed ways to improve your quality of sleep and that is to keep your room at a comfortable temperature if you can. Between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit (18-22 degrees celsius) is the general recommendation, but play around with the temperature to find what’s most comfortable for you. The science also tells us to have a calming bedtime routine. Doing the same series of relaxing habits every night before bed signals to your body and mind that it’s time to wind down for the day.

Lastly, don’t drink coffee after noon. Caffeine has a life span of 4-6 hours, so if you want to fall asleep by 10pm you should switch to decaf – or better yet, water. Just saying!!

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 20:45

Physical Activity

When you’re exhausted the last thing you want to do is get up and move, but studies show that physical activity might be just what you need. Exercise has been proven to boost overall energy levels and improve cognitive functioning, both immediately and over the long-term.

So how can you start powering up your brain cells with exercise? Be sure to start small. You don’t have to train for a marathon or join a CrossFit gym to see the benefits of exercise. Low-intensity exercise that is the equivalent of an easy walk — can actually boost your brain energy just as much as moderate-intensity exercise. So set a goal to go for a 10-minute walk every day. Once you’re doing that consistently, slowly increase the amount of walking time. No matter what, it’s important to make it as easy as possible to get started.

Schedule your exercise routine because when you make plan the day and the time for when you’re going to do something, you’re more likely to actually do it. When you do it at the same time every day, and it becomes a routine that is triggered by the same events — for example, waking up, taking a lunch break, or ending the workday — it’s easier to build a consistent habit. If you don’t trust yourself to commit to this, find yourself an accountability buddy. Everything is so much easier with friends.

If that doesn’t work find a trainer because having someone else tell you exactly what to do will remove a lot of the mental effort involved in exercising. All you have to do is get your butt there and the rest of the decisions are made for you. During the pandemic, most gyms are providing virtual classes which makes exercising even more accessible.

No matter what, find a physical activity you enjoy. Or at the very least find one that you hate less than other forms of exercise. If you hate running, just like I do it’s going to be hard to stick with the habit, so walk instead. Make physical activity feel like playtime and you’ll never have to exercise again.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 23:40

Decision Fatigue

Every day we make thousands of choices. It’s been estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 conscious decisions each day. One of the consequences that comes with this is decision fatigue, which in turn can lead to mental fatigue as well as putting you in a bad mood too. So with this kind of fatigue, you may end up being short-tempered or feeling irritated, snapping at people around you more often than what you usually do. Because as we know, being mentally fatigued makes it harder to control your emotions.

Ok let’s look this idea of decision fatigue and I can assure you that there is such a thing because I know for a fact that I suffer from this and I am sure I am not the only one. Not only do we have to make thousands of decisions for ourselves each and every day, but we are constantly being asked to make decisions for other people. I have to tell you there are times this drives me absolutely insane and boy can I snap!! My poor husband cops it from me a lot!! I am sure that he asks me what feels like a million questions a day. You might think, that’s ridiculous and that it doesn’t happen to me. Alright well answer me this. How many times does your partner or a family member or a friend ask you something like, what should I wear? Do you want me to make the salad? Do you want me to pick up the dry cleaning? What do you feel like for dinner? What do you want to do on the weekend? How do I look in this or what do you think I should wear tonight? When this happens do you immediately snap too? I don’t know, just, you deal with it?

This happens because we have decision fatigue. When someone asks you, What do you want to eat for dinner. What do you think I should wear today. How do I look in this, you feel you’ve already made so many decisions, choices and thoughts by that point, you don’t want to have to make another. And the sad thing is when you snap, people feel like you don’t care and even worse that you don’t love them. I have experienced this with my husband and my children many times when they ask me a heap of questions. I was in decision fatigue and I just didn’t want to have to deal with it. Then I end up feeling guilty, because I’m being so mean. There’s no winning in this situation for anybody!

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 26:35

Not only is our decision fatigue distracting us but most importantly, it leads to mental fatigue. We’re so tired of making decisions that we don’t have the energy for those important decisions. Unfortunately, of the 35,000 decisions we make every day, they are usually insignificant and irrelevant, and this decision making begins from the time we wake up in the morning. So when we wake up in the morning, we have to think about things like what do I have to do today? What time do I need to leave? What shall I wear? Should I drive or take the train? If you have to make those decisions, first thing in the morning, or by the time you get to work, you’re already going to experience decision fatigue and your brain is going to lose the ability to make that really powerful decision you need to make.

I heard this amazing story about Warren Buffet many years ago. For those of you who don’t know who Warren Buffet is, he is an American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist, whose net worth is currently estimated to be around $100.6 billion. I was told that when he’s making those big investing decisions, he doesn’t just sit there on his laptop with all his usual distractions, he will go and lock himself in an empty New York apartment. Not only that, but it has been said that during that time, he just has milk and cookies because he doesn’t want to lose valuable brain energy to decide what to eat or to decide what to wear. He doesn’t want to let his mind be distracted by anything else other than the investment numbers, for that week. There is another example of how to avoid decision fatigue that I know of and that is wearing the same thing to work every day. Barack Obama or Mark Zuckerberg do this!! My version of this is that I actually plan my clothes the night before, right down to my underwear so it’s one less decision I have to make in the morning. Sometimes, I even buy the same dress or skirt in different colours or patterns if I really like it ,so it makes it even easier to decide what to wear. It’s my way of providing some simplicity to my mind.

So I want you to do right now is to identify what are the decisions that you’re making on a daily basis, that are distracting you. It does help to meal prep the night before, you want to decide what you’re wearing, the night before, you want to create your to do list and focus on these the night before, and this is what you want to do at the end of your day when you’re dying to just to sit and relax. or if you want to do it just after dinner, that’s fine too because you often make better decisions once you’re fed. Studies show that even judges make more accurate judgments after they’ve eaten. Don’t do it late at night when your mind can be busy. These are the best times for you to make decisions. Making a habit of doing this will have your mind clear to make the biggest decisions that will come your way in the day.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 29:50

Email inbox

Your email inbox is another thing that may be causing your mental fatigue. If you are starting your day by checking your emails, you could be setting yourself up for mental fatigue and mental burn out BEFORE YOU EVEN GET TO WORK!! I read a study that said that in 2019, 333 billion emails were sent, and I am sure that since the pandemic this figure has escalated. Have you ever stopped to think how many you receive every day?

But how does checking your inbox zap your mental energy?? It’s because as soon as you open your inbox, you are now focused on everyone else’s priorities, you’re now focused on everyone else’s needs. You’re starting the day doing something for someone else. You are having to think about other people’s stuff and not doing your own work. By the time it gets around to what you need to get done and give it the brain energy it deserves, you have no brain space to get your own work done.

Ok, there are times when you might need to look at your emails in order to do your own work, and that’s fine, but you want to start with the things that are the important to you, and not start with the work that is important to someone else. When you start your day with your purpose in mind, your to do list, and the work that you want to achieve, you will have the mental focus and the energy to fulfil your purpose and your passion. You can serve your family, your students, your community with the capacity you promised them. And so I want you to think about how you can avoid starting your day with your emails? Or if you really need to read your emails at that time, to get your work started, and be sure to prioritize which emails you need to open. Even after getting through all those emails, do you feel unaccomplished or unfulfilled. Why is that? It’s because you don’t feel you’ve achieved the more important tasks of the day, you haven’t worked through your priorities, the very things you have to do.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 32:37

So try not looking at your emails first thing in the morning. I promise you that you’re going to be so much more productive and effective when you start with the work that you really truly need to do and get through that first. I suggest that you set a time to look at your emails later in the day, when it suits you to take the time to respond to everyone else’s needs.

I’ve become very disciplined at doing this for some time now, and I can honestly say that it’s changed the way I function. It certainly helps to avoid distractions and it helps me become more focused. I’m able to get through so much more of my own work and I feel more accomplished at the end of every day. By then, I am more than happy to help everyone else out who’s sending me emails asking for whatever it may be.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 33:45

This one is kind of similar but it goes even deeper than issues around emails. Don’t start your day with your phone. You need to stop!!! Studies show that we look at our phones around 50 to 200 times per day. But for most of us, we’re doing it every minute. Right, so 60 minutes a day, multiplied by let’s say we’re awake for 16 hours, that’s 960 times a day.

So if you’re looking at your phone 960 times a day, why do you need to look at it first thing in the morning? If you’re going to look at your phone first thing in the morning, you’re opening up news, notifications, negativity, chaos, drama and noise. You’re asking your mind to go from zero to 100 miles per hour in a matter of seconds. This is how you are starting your day, it’s how you’re setting up your day. You can now understand what it’s doing to your mind and how it may be overloading your brain and causing you mind to fatigue well before you have got out of bed, let alone even set foot outside the door to go to work.

I actually did this as an experiment on myself where for seven days, I tried waking up without checking my phone. I can promise you those days I woke up without my phone, my mind was clearer and less chaotic throughout the whole day. I was calmer. I was less stressed. I felt like I was making better decisions, because I not in information overload. I then I continued to do this for another 30 days. The benefits were amazing and now don’t look at my phone till later in the morning.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 36:10

When you pick up your phone, it’s like you need to know everything. How many of you like compulsively will open up Instagram, tik tok, messages, email, everything, and you’re just scrolling through everything because you have FOMO. And the challenge is when you fear you are going to miss out on something that is going on, you end up feeling really overwhelmed and overloaded. So my suggestion is that you go buy yourself a traditional alarm clock, and you’re going to leave your phone in another room, or on the other side of the bedroom so that it forces you to get up out of bed, to turn off your alarm, and then you get on with your day. This helps to ensure that you don’t check your phone until you start your workday, or your commute to work. Honestly, you will have separation anxiety to start with, but you won’t know yourself.

Try it for a few days and see how it transforms your life, that’s all you have to do. Then you can go further and try turning off your notifications. I dare you to add a time limit to your phone. So you may set this for two hours a day and then it will block you from being on your phone any longer. You can set a timer on your iPhone, or your device. So set yourself a time limit for how long you’re going to allow yourself to be on your phone and make it something excruciating like only a quarter of whatever time you usually spend on your phone every day. And you will see how much more you’re able to achieve when you don’t you’re your phone distracting you. We’re already have so many distractions that cause us to feel mentally fatigued, and you don’t need another. It is time to stop consuming and start creating.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 38:33

Mental fatigue is complex and usually isn’t caused by one thing. As you can see, contributing factors can be physical ones such as poor nutrition, lack of sleep, or they can be cognitive because you’ve been asking your brain to do too much and it is in overload.

Some of this can also be self inflicted. It could be the result of you spreading your attention across too many things — all of those decisions you have to make, the information you have to process, the emails you feel you need to respond to, the tasks you take on for others. It’s no wonder we feel mentally exhausted at the end of the day! Yet, that’s exactly how most of us operate on a daily basis.

It’s common sense that each additional cognitive task you require of your brain, will add to your mental fatigue. It’s time right now to remove some of these tasks and responsibilities that have become part of your new normal.

Check out the ways you can help to maintain brain function: by reducing the use of smartphone, tablet, and computer, lifestyle modifications can also help such as getting enough rest, eating healthy food, and These can help improve memory, reduce stress, and maintain emotional balance.