What is mental fatigue?
Mental fatigue is a transient decrease in maximal cognitive performance resulting from prolonged periods of cognitive activity. It can manifest as somnolence, lethargy, or directed attention fatigue. Medically, fatigue is a non-specific symptom, which means that it has many possible causes.
In simple terms fatigue is tiredness. Here i will talk about Mental Fatigue which is different from physical fatigue as it affects things such as concentration, problem solving, memory, thinking etc.
Who experiences Mental fatigue?
Everybody knows that feeling first thing in the morning when you have woken up but need something to give you that kick to get going, which is coffee for many.
Through my eyes the most common side effect of mental fatigue that effects almost everyone is memory loss. You know where you left your keys right? Or do you?
Personally I experience mental fatigue in a somewhat exaggerated way due to the Brain Injury. Which was much more apparent for me in the more acute stages following injury. But still has a big impact on my life on a day to day basis.
Do you feel mental fatigue?
How often do you feel mentally fatigued?
Mental Fatigue and me.
Before this Injury mental fatigue was never something I considered. Despite working most hours of the day I was too dependant on caffeine and nicotine to feel any mental tiredness. I slept around 8 hours each night and that was fine for me.
Following the Brain Injury, everything changed. I remember being released from hospital, at this time my physical fatigue was also very high, having to spend around 22-23 hours per day in bed. At this time, mental fatigue was almost a constant as simple tasks took so much mental effort for me.
Lets jump forward in time to today, I have come a long way and achieved a lot etc. etc. My latest step forward has been getting back to work on a constant basis, which started as 8 hours spread over 3 days. However this very quickly became 14 hours over 5 days which was when I started to notice serious mental fatigue.
For me, in my situation, the biggest thing for me is working 4 days in a row without a break and not having a better work/rest balance for what I am capable of today. So I have had to speak to my boss to cut my hours back down, I am not ruling out going back up to more hours in the future. For now however, it is too much.
How do I feel mental fatigue?
The first thing for me is that my thinking slows down. If I compared my brain to a computer it would be like down grading, switching to an older model. So my ability to function becomes much more work, leaves me with that feeling of being 'overloaded'. Completing a task requires more concentration, I often forget other things that need to be remembered i.e. clothes i the washing machine, clean the kitchen, clean my work clothes etc. Also understanding and speaking in my second language, Portuguese, becomes much tougher. Which can be challenging when my wife is at work (as she is 6 days out of 7) and I need to speak to non-english speakers.
Physical fatigue comes as a side effect too, which is often coupled with the in-ability or lack of tiredness to sleep. Not to mention irritability which is the main reason if not the only reason for a cause of friction with the wife. Who experiences her own level of mental fatigue while working 6 days per week.
It all sounds pretty Negative, right?
What did I cut out to help fatigue?
It might sound surprising but I decided to cut caffeine out and I personally found a massive change in mental and physical fatigue along with fewer headaches.
After trying many changes and still feeling fatigued I decided to cut caffeine out my diet. At first the side effects were terrible, I had problems sleeping, I experienced several migraines each day. Along with that my physical and mental fatigue had increased to even more that before. However when I hit the 2 week (or so) mark the headaches cleared, i was full of energy and was feeling much sharper when conversing, studying etc.
Aside from the fact that caffeine had me feeling more anxious(which I will go into in another blog) it was also making me need it! I was in a place where I couldn't function without it. I then found that after the withdrawal effects had subsided I was much more alert and capable than when I had been on caffeine.
I was amazed to find that something so common had been so detrimental to my health. It was really through insomnia that I had started monitoring my caffeine intake. Through that monitoring and a long time I realised that caffeine was a vice that was really doing me more harm than good.
Find a Balance
When coping with mental fatigue I find that I need to find a balance, this is something that isn't easy.
A current example for me is my english teaching job. I'm currently doing 14 hours per week spread over 5 days. For me, in this moment, this is too much. During my days off I feel somewhat like a mere shell struggling to cope with basic tasks and conversations.
So for me I need to find a balance, I am currently in the middle of this at the moment. Through a bit of thought I have realised that taking on 4 consecutive days with 3 hours per day it whats causing the real problem for me. Following the severe Brain Injury, I need more time in-between having to take 3 straight hours of english classes to 'recover'
In the past I often refered to this 'recovery' time as being like a hangover. As that was how it felt despite being often much longer and not being caused by alcohol consumption.
At the current time, I notice my quality of teaching deteriorate as the week goes on. Never mind my ability to undertake other and often necessary tasks in everyday life. So I need to get a balance between health and work. Health arguably being the more important of the two.
Health should be top of your priorities
Whatever your situation, I believe making the most out of your health is one of the most important things to do.
I feel that health is something that is taken for granted, I know I did in the past before my Brain Injury.
In my last blog I spoke about motivation, which is important. But you always need to keep your health in mind. If you are working towards a goal that is causing negative effects on your personal health then you possibly need to re-think how you are going about things. I know I have had much experience of this! Don't be afraid to get motivated and push yourself, but if something is having a negative effect on your health it might be time to take a step back and reassess things.
Positive thinking can help
I'm not saying that positivity can eradicate fatigue from your life. However Though my personal experiences I can tell you that when I am feeling fatigued a big part of it has to do with my thought's.
i.e. When I am in a situation where I am overwhelmed with fatigue, I am always in a negative state of mind. If I stay like this, feeling frustrated and sorry for myself the overwhelming fatigue lingers...
However, I have learned to become aware of these situations, where all that is needed is for me to take a step back and take it easy on myself, to know that how things are in this moment are only temporary. Allow myself to rest, whether it be in bed, to switch of listening to music or to meditate. I still don't get it right every time, but I always try!
I feel that I learned these things through Cognitive behavioural Therapy (CBT) which I worked with over years of seeing a psychologist following the Injury