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Zap Mental Fatigue with These Nine Science-Based Tips

stress reduction, fatigue

Mental fatigue is a temporary inability to maintain optimal cognitive performance. The good news is that mental fatigue is usually not an illness in itself, but rather a symptom of something else, such as extended periods of cognitive activity, lack of sleep, poor diet, or dehydration. But unfortunately, if it isn’t corrected, it can lead to impaired physical performance and reduced productivity. While you should work to improve the factors that are contributing to fatigue (eating better, exercising), here are some easy ways to get energized so you can tackle the day ahead of you.

Make A Decision
There is nothing more energy-zapping than indecision, says Kathleen Vohs PhD of the University of Minnesota. Think about how you feel when you are faced with multiple choices and just can’t decide on the best. It probably feels rather exhausting. However, taking control of the situation and making a decision about something (no matter how small) can be energizing. Remember that most decisions are reversible – if you decide you don’t like something you purchased, for example, you can always take it back.

Surround Yourself with Bright Colors
The effects of color on our moods, health, and ways of thinking have been studied by scientists for years. According to Dr. Alexander Schauss, Director of the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Washington, when the energy of color enters our bodies, it stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands which in turn affects a variety of physiological processes.

Warm colors, such as red, yellow and orange, are more energizing than their cool counterparts because they activate brain circuitry. Orange, in particular, is an energizing color on a dreary day because the red component is adrenaline producing while yellow reminds us of the sun and feelings of exuberance, says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.

Put Away the Smartphone/iPad
Our new high-tech world has us highly accessible 24-hours a day which can be mentally draining. It also is a major contributor to multi-tasking, one well known factor in feelings of fatigue. Several times a day, take a technology break. Go old-fashioned and write your thoughts on paper, take a walk outdoors during lunch (without your phone – or at least leave it in your pocket where it will be there in the case of an emergency), read a book instead of watching TV or playing video games.

Don’t Live in the Past
Do you ruminate about events that occurred, such as a fight with a family member or a mistake you made at the office? "Regret is experienced as a major loss, causing us to shut down psychologically and physically," says Susan Nolen-Hoeksema PhD, chair of the department of psychology at Yale University. "That leads to fatigue and a loss of motivation—in other words, feeling drained."

Write your feelings in a journal and then close the book. Ask for forgiveness if the incident was truly your fault, but otherwise, if you feel you’ve made amends, just let it go. Chances are you are more worried about it than you should be.

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Jump Jump Jump
Elizabeth Lombardo PhD, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, says there is a reason we jump for joy. Jumping gets your heart rate up quickly, pumping oxygen throughout the body and has a positive effect on the mind with the release of feel-good endorphins. Don’t worry about looking silly – it only takes a few moments to help jolt your energy levels. Bad knees? Just do a silly dance instead – it will have the same effect.

Get Social
Yes, we did already tell you to disconnect from technology a few times a day, but don’t underestimate the feel-good potential of your social network, even the ones online. When you can’t be physically around your loved ones, send an email or Facebook message or give them a phone call. Being around friends and family can promote the release of oxytocin, a brain chemical that brings about feelings of calm and well-being. Just don’t stay online too long.

Make a List of Accomplishments
When you feel drained, you tend to focus on the negative. Turn that around, and make a list of all of the positive things you have accomplished – no matter how small. A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Riverside, found that workers who wrote down three good things that happened to them went on to move more and have a more positive mood for the rest of the day.

Splash with Cold Water
Cold water can invigorate the mind, says James Zacny PhD of the University of Chicago Medical Center. The body sees the icy water as a stressor which then promotes the release of noradrenaline which is an energizing hormone. While splashing your face with cold water can be energizing, many women may not want to try this for fear of ruining their hair or makeup. You can achieve the same effect by running cold water over your wrists for a minute or two, says Dr. Zacny.

Try Aromatherapy
Certain aromas, particularly minty scents, can lead to greater feelings of energy, says Pamela Dalton PhD MPH, a senior research scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Pennsylvania. “Such smells make us more vigilant,” she notes. Some studies indicate that they can help people exercise longer and complete clerical tasks faster and more accurately.

Aromatherapy has been used for therapeutic purposes for nearly 6,000 years. Experts believe that smell receptors in the nose communicate with parts of the brain, particularly the amygdala and hippocampus. In addition to improving the mood, it can promote a sense of relaxation, reduce anxiety and stress, and may even help to relieve pain.

Try packaged mints or gum, minty tea, or a mint-scented lotion for a middle of the day boost.

Prevention Magazine

Additional Resource:
University of Maryland Medical Center