ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Causes and Effects of Brain Fatigue

Jack Bragen
Friday May 15, 2020 - 03:59:00 PM

Brain fatigue can be caused by a number of things. It can limit how much a person can handle, and it can affect numerous areas of one's life. When the brain is fatigued, it should be rested. If you do not give your brain some time off, you will not be able to rebuild capacity following a mental exertion.

Brain-intensive activities are affected by brain fatigue. Reading dense material or writing can be highly brain intensive. Many things are potentially brain intensive, including some that might surprise you.

Strong emotions seem to affect mental capacity. I know that following an episode of nervousness, it is harder to concentrate on something neutral.

I know that I am more subject to brain fatigue than most people, and it takes me longer to recover. This is a factor that limits my ability to handle anything that resembles professional employment. When my brain needs rest, it needs rest. In many "thinking jobs" a worker doesn't have that opportunity--they are expected to maintain an acceptable pace for eight hours or more, five days a week. 

In my twenties, I landed jobs in technical work. I would become exhausted because of the workload. I find that there are many types of work at which I could handle fifteen hours a week or less. At least, that is how it was for me in my recent past. I don't know if I can pin that on the fact that I have to fight off the effects of medication, or not. 

Brain fatigue makes itself known in various ways. In some instances, it can manifest itself in a strong distaste for a brain-intensive task. And sometimes, brain fatigue shows itself with an inexplicable coughing, unrelated to smoking or congestion. (When efforts at a brain intensive task are stopped or paused, the cough goes away.) In the not as recent past, I've woken from a sleep and realized I was in front of a computer and had been working--had fallen asleep while in the middle of creating a manuscript. 

If your brain is fatigued or you think it is, it is best to back off from brain intensive activities until after you get some rest. 

If the brain is in any way compromised, whether by a psychiatric illness or perhaps by a recent head injury, the owner of the brain must take care not to overload the mind too soon. I've touted mental exercise as a way of improving functioning. I still very much believe in that. Yet, any good exercise person will tell you that you need to give the muscles rest. And the brain, while it is not a muscle, is a form of tissue that improves with regular exertion. Yet if you don't give it a chance to recuperate, you could risk causing damage. 

This week's column is short because I'm giving my brain a rest. 

Jack Bragen is author of "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia: A Self-Help Manual," and other books.