What is Cognitive Fatigue?

blog graphic with tired looking woman at a laptop and title "What is Cognitive Fatigue?"

Do you ever get to the end of a long workday and struggle to find the motivation to cook dinner or clean up the house? It probably isn’t laziness. When you have extensive demands on your mental resources, you can experience cognitive fatigue. Cognitive fatigue affects decision-making, self-control, and your ability to process information. It often occurs when you work on a difficult task for a long period, have to make a lot of decisions or are experiencing a high level of stress.

At A Cognitive Connection, we provide cognitive and behavioral therapies to help you experience a higher quality of life. We work with our clients to help them optimize brain function and develop healthy behaviors to overcome issues like cognitive fatigue. Keep reading to learn more about cognitive fatigue and how to cope with it.

Cognitive Fatigue Symptoms

If you’re unsure whether your struggle with productivity and motivation comes from cognitive fatigue, check out the symptoms below. Cognitive fatigue is often characterized by feeling mentally drained, apathy, and difficulty concentrating. Other symptoms include:

  • Being easily distracted
  • Problems with working memory
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Worsening mental health
  • Struggling to manage emotions

People who suffer from cognitive fatigue may also procrastinate because it’s more difficult for them to focus on the task at hand. They can also experience physical symptoms like headaches and stomach issues. If you see most or all of these symptoms in your daily life, it’s time to give your brain a break and consider seeking outside help.

What Causes Mental Fatigue?

Woman looking stressed in front of laptop. Too many decisions can lead to cognitive fatigue.

Several things can cause cognitive fatigue. Many people experience it when they’re overwhelmed by stress or anxiety, but it can also be caused by physical exhaustion, such as an intense training schedule. When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain doesn’t have enough time to rest and recharge, resulting in poor mental performance the next day.

In addition, we often forget about the power of our environment on mental fatigue. Working in an overcrowded office, having a cluttered workstation, or constantly being exposed to stress-inducing noises can all cause cognitive fatigue to set in quickly. It’s important to be aware of how your environment affects you and take steps to reduce stress and create more space for yourself.

If you think about your brain like a muscle, it may be easier to identify the source of your fatigue. If you overuse a muscle group without giving it time to rest, it leads to exhaustion and even injury. Your brain works hard throughout the day on everything from deciding what to wear to solving a complex work problem. Think about the things that are causing you the most stress or mental labor, and make sure to take breaks.

How to Deal With Mental Fatigue

When experiencing cognitive fatigue, it’s important to give your brain a break. Here are some tips for dealing with cognitive fatigue:

Take breaks throughout the day: It’s important to take regular breaks from work or other mentally demanding activities. Take a short walk, listen to music, nap, or simply sit and relax for a few minutes.

Practice mindful meditation: Mindful meditation can help you reduce stress and anxiety, significantly reducing cognitive fatigue. A Cognitive Connection offers a free two-week email course on mediation to help you get started.

Get enough sleep: A lack of sleep will make it difficult for your brain to function and make mental exhaustion worse. So get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night and keep your sleep schedule as consistent as possible.

Eat well: Healthy, nutritious food is vital to keeping your brain functioning optimally and avoiding cognitive fatigue. Try to stick mainly to whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats.

Stay organized: Staying organized and on top of tasks can help reduce stress and mental strain. Try using a planner or calendar to track your tasks for the day.

Batch tasks: Instead of jumping from one task to another throughout the day, try to “batch” similar tasks together. For example, check your email at set times throughout the day instead of checking it every time you get a notification. This will help you stay focused and prevent mental exhaustion.

Reach out for support: If you’re struggling with cognitive fatigue, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Whether talking to a therapist, joining a support group, or getting advice from a friend, having someone to talk to can help you work through your fatigue.

Cognitive fatigue can greatly impact your daily life and mental health. However, by taking small steps to reduce stress, prioritize rest, and seek support when needed, you can experience relief from mental exhaustion. 

A Cognitive Connection Can Help You Improve Cognitive Health

If you have severe cognitive fatigue or other mental health issues, the tips above may not be enough to help you cope. At A Cognitive Connection, we specialize in helping people who are struggling with cognitive and behavioral health, including cognitive fatigue. We offer a range of services to help those dealing with mental exhaustion, from cognitive behavioral therapy to brain training. Contact us today for help managing your cognitive fatigue. Our knowledgeable team is here to support you on your journey to a healthier mind.

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