5 Ways to Overcome Mental Exhaustion
3. Give yourself permission to relax (and mean it).
Posted Apr 15, 2016
People often complain about not having enough time, but they sometimes don't recognize their mental exhaustion. Here are 5 simple tips to recharge mentally that don't require much of a commitment of energy you don't have.
1. Spot small opportunities to rest your mind.
Like many people, whenever I have a spare second (e.g., waiting in line at the supermarket) you'll find me clicking around on my phone. I like to do this, except when I'm feeling mentally exhausted. If I know I need to rest my mind, I'll use those little spaces of time to do some "mindfulness lite." This is usually as simple as just feeling the physical sensation of my body standing, and doing some slow breathing. You can pay attention to any physical sensation—e.g., the feeling of your feet making contact with the ground, or the positioning of your hips or shoulders. This is mindfulness for real life and it doesn't need to be complicated.
2. Reduce excess sensory input, or go mono-sensory.
Take a break from excess light and noise. Spend a few minutes sitting in a dark, silent room and notice how relaxing it is.
Take steps to reduce the excess sensory input you encounter in a typical day. For example, wear headphones on the subway, turn off the TV when you're not watching it, use night shift mode on your phone, and/or get some blackout curtains. Do whatever will reduce excess, unpleasant sensory input in your life.
Another option is to put yourself in an environment with only one main type of sensory input. For example, use a white noise app in a dark room. I like this one—sounds of rain, such as "rain on a tent"—that's free and available for both Apple and Android users.
A massage allows you to concentrate on an often ignored type of sensory input—touch—and take a break from the onslaught of noise and light we typically face throughout the day.
If you can make it work, head to a national park for a day or a weekend, and do a quiet walk in nature to give yourself a sensory reset. (If you can't make it work, then you can use nature sounds apps for a similar effect.)
3. Give yourself permission to relax.
If you've got a lot going on and your to-do list is never ending, it's easy to feel like you always "should" be doing something. When you're relaxing, allow yourself to enjoy it. There's no need to feel guilty for what you enjoy and find relaxing.
Part of being an adult is knowing yourself well and knowing what you find genuinely relaxing, comforting, and sustaining. If what you enjoy is looking at your Facebook feed, allow yourself to enjoy that. Likewise, comfort eating is fine; only comfort overeating isn't. Allow yourself to quietly enjoy the simple pleasures in your life—and if that's peanut butter on toast, so be it.
4. Stop being unrealistic about how much you can get done.
In the modern world, many of us just never get anywhere near the bottom of our to-do lists. They're never ending. Just accepting that you'll never get done all the things that you could be doing can be immensely freeing. Remind yourself: In a world full of opportunity, there are always opportunities to do more and achieve more. This is a positive overall, since if you can't do something today, chances are another comparable (or better) opportunity will come along.
5. Prioritize the types of work that are an investment.
Some types of effort pay dividends well beyond the initial effort you put in. For example, finding a more efficient way to do something, or setting up an automatic investment. If you prioritize these types of activities, you'll set yourself up to have more spare mental and physical energy over time. (More on this here.)
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