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How to Reduce Exhaustion and Increase Focus


Exhaustion, boredom and decreased attention are becoming regular symptoms of the times we live in. Often when we need a break, we grab our phones and scroll through a social media or watch some videos which provides a small little lift, but it is not sustainable refreshment. It often leaves us feeling more fatigued, drained, and depleted. So how can we get the relief and rejuvenation we need to stay focused?


Research has been showing us that there are better ways to take breaks. In the recent book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley and psychologist Larry Rosen explain the right breaks can reduce mental fatigue, boost brain function, and help us stay on task for longer periods. On the other side, the wrong sort of breaks can actually leave us more susceptible to boredom, exhaustion and cause a lack of focus. In the case of turning to the phone whenever we are bored, can train our mind to want to check it more through the day, driving a cycle of unproductivity and decrease our attention span. They suggest it would be better to take a break to restore the part of the brain we use to stay focused.


The prefrontal cortex in our brain has many functions but the main goal is coordinating attention, working memory and other key cognitive resources. An example of how it works, when you are cooking dinner, the prefrontal cortex will help coordinate the brain functions to guide through the necessary steps to be able to finish the task. This is a good indicator of how exhausted your brain is, if you need to recheck the recipe multiple times or walk away from the task and then remember “oh yeah, I was cooking!”. This is happening more and more frequently because during the last two years, we have not been able to take refreshing breaks and have relied more on draining activities.


Happily, there are better ways to take restorative breaks which will decrease exhaustion and increase focus.


Enjoy Nature. Research has shown that nature is restorative for the mind. One study reports better working memory scores after a walk in a natural environment which was not duplicated in an urban setting. Great thing for us locals, is that London, ON has lots of walking trails in the city which provide natural environments away from the noise of our urban life. Gazzaley and Rosen found that the reason that nature is refreshing is that natural stimuli draw us in but generate minimal prefrontal cortex responses. This gives our brain a break.


There are great ways to increase our natural surroundings indoors through having plants, fish tanks or even a fountain in our environment. Taking a short break to step outside and take a few deep breathes will also provide relief. If you are completely stuck indoors, research shows that looking at photos of nature will also provide relief.


Doodle or Daydream. Moments with nothing to do are rare because we feel that we have to keep busy. Brene Brown’s research has shown that we live in a society that honours busyness and sees it as a sign of success. Therefore, we often do not take idle moments. Denying ourselves these moments can have negative effects because we do not take time for deep thoughts or reflection. Daydreaming and doodling give the prefrontal cortex a rest. When you first try this, it is going to feel awkward. Provide yourself with some self-compassion and a plan. Find a place to be by yourself, set an alarm for 10 minutes, and take a deep breath. Direct your mind to a daydream or start to doodle on a piece of paper. If you find your thought swirling to negative thoughts, stop. Refocus on the dream. If you are unable to stay focused you might need to see a mental health professional to help break those thought patterns so you are able to find the relief. You can practice shorter durations while going through your day, when you have to wait for something or someone, allow your mind to drift into a dream.


Rest Your Eyes. More and more of us are staring at a screen during the day. This causes our eyes to become fatigued which then drains our brains. A simple technique to help with this is the 20-20-20 eye break. Every 20 minutes, stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. According to Gazzaley and Rosen this type of break is restorative because it requires blood flow to the brain area that are not related to sustained attention.


Laugh. One of the easiest ways to increase heart rate and increase oxygen levels is laughter. Short term effects of laughter finds that bouts of giggling reduce cortisol (stress hormone) and increase dopamine (the pleasure/motivation neurotransmitter) which reduces stress and for older adults has shown to improve memory. There are lots of resources to utilize to help you laugh. Listen to a comedy podcast, watch a standup comedian on a streaming service, read a funny book, or just google jokes on your computer. Taking a 5-minute break to laugh will help you get through your day, reduce your stress and help you meet your deadlines at work.


Exercise. The dreaded recommendation. We know that research has shown the positive effects of exercise on the body and brain. Did you know that even a seven-to-ten-minute burst of activity can boost attention and memory performance? This could be walking up and down your stairs for a few minutes, chair pushups, or a walk around your house or office.


This time that we are living in is having some undesired affects on our minds and bodies. I hope that these tips will help you find ways to combat your own fatigue, boredom and increase your ability to stay on task and increase your brain functioning. If you continue to struggle, we are here to help.


Warmly,

Trish Pauls, MA RP

Registered Psychotherapist

HELPPS Psychotherapy Services

www.helpps.ca

519-601-HELP (4357)


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