5 signs you may have brain fatigue:
- You can’t remember simple words during a casual conversation.
- You need a nap before dinner, and/or go to bed before 9 pm.
- You frequently miss scheduled events because you forget about them.
- You are irritable, for no particular reason, but especially when you are asked questions requiring you to think.
- Your eye is twitching in an irritating, spastic way.
“Brain fatigue is a symptom. It is a symptom of your brain reaching a point of dysfunction. Brain fatigue happens on a large spectrum of dysfunction. The spectrum ranges from momentary blips on the radar of simply needing a break, or needing to eat lunch, to more severe, devastating, life-altering, neurodegenerative disorders. Brain fatigue, when it is not managed well, or goes on for too long, reflects wear and tear or neurological oxidative stress.”
In my case, it has been caused by teaching a brand-new subject, math, (specifically calculus), after 15 years of science, as well as keeping up with four growing children’s schedules and needs. After teaching classes for nine hours and then staying after school to tutor for another hour, I was going home, sitting at the kitchen table and studying/planning/grading until dinner, taking a break to eat, and then returning to school-work until it was time to get the kids ready for bed. This schedule cannot be maintained indefinitely, as I soon found out. I became sick with a respiratory virus that I couldn’t shake, and I showed all five of the previous signs mentioned. I had to stop and re-evaluate what I was doing and its effect on my health.
Although certain medical conditions (various dementias, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, MS, depression, autism, to name a few) can result in brain fatigue, for most, it’s a matter of being mindful about behaviors and patterns and taking a break.
In addition to the immediate symptoms, chronic stress can actually cause brain inflammation. What to do?
Taking a moment to be aware of ourselves and our surroundings, to be mindful of who we are and where we are, is often enough to stop the reactive, spiraling thoughts that we are momentarily caught up in. Simply taking a few deep breaths and “being”, returning to a grounded state rather than being tossed by the waves of emotion, is enough to remind us that whatever situation we are in, stress is like a hot coal that we are choosing to hold; we are allowing it to control us and cause suffering when all we have to do is put it down, to let go.
“In 2011, Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well.”
- Go outside
Whether it’s to take a walk, go for a jog, or just sit and bask in the sun while taking some deep breaths of fresh air, going outside causes stress levels and blood pressure to drop, giving our brain a moment of calm and a chance to “re-set”. Perspective and our place within the natural order of things is quickly restored with a view of the open sky above us and the touch of Earth on our feet.
“A 15-minute walk in the woods causes measurable changes in physiology. Japanese researchers led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki at Chiba University sent 84 subjects to stroll in seven different forests, while the same number of volunteers walked around city centers. The forest walkers hit a relaxation jackpot: Overall they showed a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and a 4 percent drop in heart rate.”
As a means to de-stress many of us walk through the door, drop our bags, and head to the fridge to grab a beer or pour a generous glass of wine. Sometimes we try to power through by grabbing a coffee or soda for that extra jolt of caffeine. Neither of these options is doing us any favors. Research points to the necessity and effectiveness of drinking water, and specifically green tea. This is a simple, quick restorative action that we can do easily.
“Led by Dr. Caroline Edmonds, researchers in the UK recently conducted a study showing that even mild dehydration has a negative effect on the brain’s performance. Drinking water, the researchers found, can improve the brain’s ability to complete tasks that require a rapid response.”
“Drinking green tea improved memory in healthy people,”
To conclude, brain fatigue is best combatted with rest. I read an article about the importance of sleep, and how we are literally shortening our lives when we cut out sleep, but no one wants to read a blog with more than 3 solutions for something. Keep it simple and marketable, because as Sweet Brown says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
Which is exactly the problem. Sometimes we just need to stop. This post has taken me over a month to complete because I needed a break, and as a working mother there is precious little I can actually take a break from. After a few weeks of mindful breathing at the start of my day, and at the beginning of each class, cups of tea, and daily walks I am happy to report that my eye twitch has thankfully subsided and the brain fog has cleared. My patience is restored, and my students have remarked with relief that I seem happy. Brains are like plants- give them space, give them sunshine, give them water. As Bob Ross might say if he was painting your portrait, here’s to “happy trees” growing between your ears.