By Jenny Brockis
Trying to work when exhausted, demotivated or stressed is a common problem and it comes with a huge cost. Presenteeism affects productivity, performance, wellbeing and safety, and costs the Australian economy more than $44 billion each year. Finding ways to reignite your mental stamina include:
Get enough sleep
It is estimated that more than 30 per cent of the population struggle with sleep. Operating in a 24/7 society means we either get too little, or too-fragmented sleep, resulting in daytime sleepiness, loss of concentration, slower speed of processing, and we make more mistakes. Scheduling a regular bedtime routine, keeping the bedroom cool, dark and quiet, and turning off all technology 60-90 minutes before bedtime, can help.
Give your brain a break
The optimal time for focused work is about 45 mins. Taking a 15-20 minute brain break refreshes and re-energises the brain to be ready for the next chunk of focused thought.
Take a technology detox
On average we are online for 10.5 hours each day. This consumes a great deal of mental energy. Switching off even for a short period when in meetings or during face-to-face conversations helps to restore mental energy. Recent research has shown how putting the mobile phone out of sight reduces stress levels and contributes to better attention.
The brain consumes more than 20 per cent of all the energy we take in. Studies have shown how our choice of food impacts energy, mood, memory and cognition. Taking a proper lunch break, looking for healthier food options based on the Mediterranean style of diet, along with drinking plenty of water to keep hydrated, keep our mental energy flowing.
While caffeine is often used as a kickstarter to keep us alert, it can also make us feel more tired because it leads to more adrenaline being released, reduces insulin sensitivity, and affects sleep quality. Keeping your caffeine intake to 300mg (three to four cups of coffee) and consuming it in the first half of the day helps to conserve mental energy and better sleep.
Fit in some exercise
Paradoxically, exercise helps to reduce fatigue. The increase in blood flow with the additional oxygen and nutrients primes the brain for higher performance. That’s why exercising early in the morning is ideal. The gold standard for aerobic exercise (anything that gets your heart rate up) is 150 minutes a week, but all physical activity counts. The greatest risk to mental fatigue is sitting too long, so get up to stretch or walk for a few minutes every hour, try a variable-height desk, hold standing or walking meetings, and look for new opportunities to move more across the day.
Fatigue is a cognitive menace. Placing a higher value on those lifestyle choices and workplace practices shown to boost mental energy is the best way to fight fatigue.
Dr Jenny Brockis specialises in the science of high-performance thinking and is the author of Future Brain: The 12 Keys To Create Your High Performance Brain (Wiley). Find out more at www.drjennybrockis.com