By Jenny Brockis.
Trying to work when exhausted, demotivated or stressed is a common problem and comes with a huge cost. ‘Presenteeism’ affects productivity, performance, wellbeing and safety, and costs the Australian economy more than $44 billion each year.
Ways to reignite mental stamina include:
Getting 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 sleep, or it is too fragmented, resulting in daytime sleepiness, loss of concentration, slower speed of processing and making 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.
Giving the brain a break
The optimum time for focused work is around 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.
Taking a technology detox
On average, we are online for 10.5 hours a 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 affects energy, mood, memory and cognition. Taking a proper lunch break, looking for healthier food options based on the Mediterranean style of diet, and drinking plenty of water to keep hydrated keep our mental energy flowing.
While caffeine is often used as a kick-starter 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. Restricting caffeine intake to 300mg (three or four cups of coffee) and consuming it in the first half of the day helps to conserve mental energy and improves sleep.
Fitting in some exercise
Exercise helps to reduce fatigue. The increase in blood flow with the additional oxygen and nutrients primes the brain for higher performance. This is 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 across the day to move more.
Fatigue is a cognitive menace. Placing a greater 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