By Claudia Venturino, psychologist, psychotherapist and psychodramatist
Mental fatigue is a nervous system disorder, often caused by stressful situations or by a job that is forcing us to concentrate during long work hours.
Symptoms can be: difficulties maintaining the concentration level, troubles memorizing new information, memory lapses, feeling without energy, drowsiness during waking hours and the sensation that the hours of sleep are never enough. Often these symptoms can be accompanied by headache, muscular pain, and digestive issues.
These conditions can be temporary, as for students under finals. In these cases it is enough to get a good period of rest, away from stressful activities in order to recover the energy lost. In other cases, instead, the condition persists because slowing down or reducing the work load is not an option or because, after having done that, it is not possible to restore the right balance.
Here are a few tips to help release nervous tensions and recover the energies faster. One of them is to work out: even though rest by wearing oneself out might seem nonsense, physical work allows one to release tensions through muscular activities and to free the mind at the same time. Another tip is to make time for pleasant activities throughout the day, like listening to music or chatting with friends, especially during breaks between working hours.
Sleeping well is absolutely necessary: at least 7-8 hours per day should be dedicated to sleep, as well as trying to be consistent with bed-times.
There are a few situations where mental fatigue is not related to the activity: many people suffer from chronic fatigue even during periods of rest that do not involve challenging tasks from a mental standpoint.
In fact many psychological issues are often accompanied by physical and mental fatigue. Anxiety, for example, is a psychical disorder quite common and highly debilitating that can reach such intensity as to compromise the regular flow of daily activities. An anxious person cannot free himself from the feeling that something negative is about to happen and is constantly looking for reassuring manifestations as well as for potentially dangerous signals to be avoided. Even though his normal activities are neither stressful nor challenging, his internal work forces him to continuously analyze every possible consequences for his actions; this generates a psycho-physical stress condition that, with time, becomes a chronic issue. Such condition is worsened by the fact that the person cannot find a reason for his fatigue because he is not aware of his constant effort to live through situations that are otherwise considered normal.
Physical fatigue immediately follows mental fatigue because the tension produced by feeling always in danger generates a state of physiological alert. It is as if the person were ready to flee at any moment and, as a consequence, his muscles are never completely relaxed. One cannot feel rested after a day spent looking behind one's back or being ready to jump.
People suffering from depression present a different case. This psychical pathology is characterized by an overall sense of dismay, which affects mood and physical and psychical energies. Who suffers from depression displays a lack of interest for all activities, including those that used to be enjoyable for the subject. Sad mood and a general state of apathy deprive the individual of vital strength: he struggles to find the energy necessary to perform even the simplest task because motivation is missing, which is the spring that guides all of our actions.
In presence of symptoms of physical/mental fatigue it is recommendable to consult a psychologist or a neurologist in order to dig deep into the causes of the problem and to face it in the best possible way.