Managing Mental Fatigue

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It’s happens often. I arrive at the end of the day exhausted.

On paper it doesn’t look like I’ve done much. A few loads of laundry, in between sessions of wall ball with my daughter in between phone interviews and blog posts and magazine assignments and copy edits and invoicing, in between cooking dinner and checking in with friends.

It’s my summer schedule. And for all the flexibility with how I spend my time, I wind up using it all. There are very few breaks to unwind.

At the end of the day, I’m exhausted.  It isn’t the ‘I-feel-like-I’ve-run-a-marathon’ kind of physical exhaustion, but a deep seated, worn to the bone, mentally wiped out kind of tired that makes it hard to even decide what to cook for dinner.

I’m mentally exhausted.

Causes of Mental Fatigue

Mental and emotional exhaustion can sneak up on is. They aren’t necessarily the result of things gone wrong, or any big upset – though they can be – but more of an accumulation of too much.

Too many decisions. Too much work in not enough time. Too many interruptions, demands, shifts in attention. Too many tasks to complete all in the same time period and not enough time to focus and finish and relax after any one task. Mental exhaustion knocks us back when the amount we’ve taken on, exceeds our capacity to comfortably handle the stress (even the good stress) of it all.

Sometimes mental exhaustion can be a result of health issues. Depression, heart disease, chronic illness and autoimmune disease can also lead to insomnia or trouble sleeping which can cause mental fatigue. May be worth checking out this angle with your doctor.

Just Too Much

But for me, there are times when even the good stuff become wearing because there is just too much going on and that makes it hard to manage.

The more mentally tired we become, the less capable we are of keeping up with the demands of our day. Over time, this can lead to full-blown burnout, physical issues, stress-related illness. Mental fatigue can show up like:

Physical fatigue – you know this one. You’d rather curl up on the lawn chair with a margarita than head for a run at the end of the day.

Impatience and Irritability – We get a little snappish when people don’t deliver.

Inability to concentrate or focus – We become squirrely in the afternoons, finding it hard to finish up what we need to get done. Sometimes, I find I can’t even come up with the right words when I need them because my mind is skipping all over.

Desire to run away – Okay. Maybe this last one is just me, but when I’m feeling mentally exhausted I don’t even want to deal with other people. It’s at this point that I start fantasizing about wandering the beach of some desert island, alone, except for the barkeep of course.

But, fleeing to the islands is not an option, so how can we manage some of these more demanding days without letting them grind us down?

Schedule in Off Time

One of the biggest ways to keep away from crazy is to schedule in some time off. Even little breaks can make a difference to our health and well-being. Schedule mini-breaks as you would a work meeting or kids’ playdate or dental appointment.

And, on your busiest days make sure you schedule a lunch break. Or 15 minutes with nothing planned to take a walk, or at least a breath.

Then, each week, be sure to leave some time open and unplanned. Don’t fill in all the time slots on your calendar. This open time, gives you a mental reprieve but also allows room for something great to develop on its own.

Doing these simple things will help prevent overwhelm and also provide a subtle reminder that you really are in charge of how you spend your time. You get the final say. Just knowing that boosts our feelings of autonomy and that helps buffer stress too.

There are a few other things that can help too. I’ll share them with you Wednesday.

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  1. very true,
    I’d say that scheduling off-time, sleeping more and trying to focus for at least 2-3h a day (ideally first thing in the morning) have been the main stress relievers for myself. It used to be the norm to leave work with a headache, now that’s the exception (drinking more + doing short walks or breathing exercises in the afternoon has helped a lot on that too).