At work, mental fatigue has a similar effect to stress although for different reasons: for each of us, there is a level at which mental fatigue at work causes exhaustion because of fitful sleep (you tend to fall asleep quickly then lie awake), more frequent relationship problems (work, social and at home - because you are far less tolerant of others when you are mentally very tired) and increasing pressure at work (because you can’t get through work as quickly as normal).
The latest research (see New Scientist June 17-23, ‘The Fire Inside’) suggests mental fatigue can cause inflammation of nerves and muscles in our bodies, and a higher risk of minor health problems such as colds that linger on for weeks, and even major health problems like obesity and heart attacks.
Mental fatigue in some industries is a major cause of workplace accidents.
Not only that, but continuing to work whilst under mental fatigue, you will find it increasingly difficult to concentrate on and complete tasks to the required quality and time. Your workplace confidence and personal self-esteem will slip as your performance falls below your usual standards.
Simply stated, employers and employees alike, should be focussed on reducing mental fatigue at work.
What are some of the symptoms of mental fatigue and how do we keep it in check?
Key indicators of mental fatigue are -
How we cope with mental fatigue boils down to whether we are conscious of it or not.
Some simple ways to reduce mental fatigue + one golden rule
If you notice your performance slipping, there are some simple things you can do to reduce mental fatigue:
The golden rule
The golden rule is to do one or several of the above, frequently and for short periods of time (even five minutes at a time will help) during the day. We may have to be intentional about scheduling time to do this during busy days.
How much of this sort of activity is needed to reduce mental fatigue?
The short answer is ‘enough for our mental fatigue baseline to return to normal levels’. You will know when this happens because you will feel enthused and energetic about a task and you will find it relatively easy to do it on-time and to the level of quality that is usual for you.
If you have tried these activities and they don’t seem to be working, there is also the option of professional coaching where a specific goal over a period of time is set to reduce levels of mental fatigue.
Don’t let your mental fatigue get the better of you, there is a solution out there!
Matt Featherstone has a degree in psychology (Macquarie University) and has taught and coached professional skills development for 17 years.