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Mental Exertion Leads to Physical Fatigue

If you’ve ever felt physically exhausted after a long day of thinking too hard, you’re right: Mental exertion is physically exhausting. And in this climate of COVID-19 uncertainty, nearly everyone in the U.S. is most likely experiencing this level of mental fatigue.

A 2015 study shows that when we add mental stress to our physical activities, we activate the prefrontal cortex in our brains. Blood oxygen lowers in that area, and we get tired much faster than we would without the mental exertion.

It’s about dividing resources, researchers say. Physical fatigue develops more quickly when the brain has to devote resources to highly cognitive tasks. The brain is like other biological tissue, after all — it tires out when overused.

“Not a lot of people see the value in looking at both the brain and the body together,” says study author  Ranjana Mehta of Texas A & M Health Science Center. “However, no one does purely physical or mental work; they always do both.”

So if you’re feeling physically fatigued, maybe it’s time to get some mental health help. Even during social distancing, reach out to your mental health practitioner to see if you can schedule a video appointment. If that's not available to you, do what you can to get outside for some exercise, eat a good meal, try to get a good night's sleep. If none of those things work, it may be good to start with a brief writing exercise: making a list of things you can control (vs. things you can't).

I’ve seen many clients’ overall feeling of wellbeing improve tremendously as we’ve tackled mental stressors and practised relaxation techniques to give their brains a break.

Mental health is so important to physical health — it’s always good to see our understanding of that relationship grow.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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