So your teacher caught you day-dreaming and staring into blank space again! He pounced a question on you just as your mind drifted off in class. You knew the answer to his question but your brain was just not cooperating. All the information was just swirling around in your head and the content that you stayed up all night to study remained a jumbled mess.
Mental exhaustion or fatigue happens when you are stressing your brain over a long time without sufficient replenishment. Our brains need different substances to help it to work optimally, such as dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. These signaling substances help to support attention and concentration. Some of these substances are also responsible for motivation, memory and moods. When your brain goes through intense mental activity over a prolonged period, it can tip the balance of these signaling substances which explains why we feel brain cramps.
If you are having some of these experiences, you could be suffering from mental exhaustion
- Lack of motivation to study
- Poor memory recall
- Problems focusing and paying attention
- Lack energy to do the things we planned to do.
- Problems falling asleep
- Moodiness or reactive emotions
When such stress is not managed, it can cause even more mental distress. If you have been having such symptoms or more and over a prolong period, the issue could be more severe than fatigue. You could be suffering from depression. Read more about depression here.
Sometimes the exhaustion is also weight on by the emotions that we feel about how we are doing in our studies. If you feel a sense of dread or anxiety every time you hit the books, it could get in the way of your concentration. Here’s some tips on what to do.
Tame the emotions
Name the emotions
Identify and name the emotions that you are feeling so that it is easier to manage that emotion. Here’s how you can manage emotions better.
Sometimes the negative feelings that we have about our studies can end up like a broken record in our mind and these interfere with our studies when we try to concentrate. Handle these distorted thinking by challenging these thoughts. Here’s more about Distorted Thinking.
No matter how bad things are, focus on that little bit of good that is still there. Focus on your strengths and work on what you are good in. A positive mindset will help to motivate you to choose the right actions and stay the course. Here’s how you can stay positive.
Your brain is one of the most important organs in your body and works the hardest, so please take good care of it.
Strengthen your brain
When we are stressed, junk food filled with loads of saturated fats can taste exceptionally good. But it’s also really bad for your brain! Eat food that contain tyrosine which can be transformed into dopamine, the substance in your brain that helps with motivation and reward driven behavior. Eat more proteins and foods such as nuts, beans, bananas, dairy, soy, avocados, chicken and fish.
Recent research has shown that exercising is good not only for our body but also our brain. Exercise strengthens brain cells by helping the cells to transmit information better hence maintaining brain function and even forming new connections.
Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep. When you sleep, your brain clears out all the waste and toxic by-products that builds up during the day. Sleep allows your brain to work well when you wake up. Sleep also helps you to consolidate what you’ve learnt during the day and store it in the long-term memory so that you won’t forget it and can retrieve the information when you need it.
Dehydration can make it more difficult to do complex task and slows you down even in the normal routines. A study done by the University of East London, found that a person’s reaction time is faster after drinking water, particularly if they were thirsty before drinking.
Deep relaxation such as that experienced in meditation helps to shut down stress chemicals in your blood stream and calms you down to think better.
So, you’ve been studying very hard and that’s great! But if you are constantly getting your brains fried with the way you are studying, perhaps it’s time to reassess your study approach.
While studying for many hours with no break might impress your parents, it may not necessarily help you to understand or remember the content any better. Different people have different length of concentration span. How long we can concentrate also depends on how rested we are and how calm are our minds. Find the length of study time that works best for you and really concentrate during this scheduled study time. Then take a break and renew your mind. Even as you rest and seem to ‘do nothing’, your brain is actually still doing something. During this time, your brain is in ‘Default Mode Network’, where old memories or knowledge is linked to the new memories or information that you have just put in.
Prioritize and Focus on one task.
It’s not true that you can Multi-task. Neuroscience has shown that our brains can only concentrate on one activity at a time. The reason why we can seem to do many things at the same time is because our brains are consistently switching focus from one activity to another. This switching of activity takes up more energy and gets you more tired.
Plan to reward yourself after reaching certain milestones in your study. Plan in some enjoyable activity or some other nice treats for yourself. Anticipation of a rewards can help to kick start dopamine, the ‘motivation molecule’ in your brain that will further help you to focus and pay attention better.
Understand and Apply learning
Having to remember stacks of content can be daunting. But if you pack that information into Mnemonic tools, it could be less taxing on your brain. For example, you could create acronyms, songs, rhymes, images or a rap song to remember content. However, what is more important is that you understand what you are learning. A very effective way of remembering information is to apply it to real life experience. Research has shown that episodic memory (memory from what you experienced) last longer than semantic memory (memory from learning facts). The best learning comes from applying the content knowledge to your experiences and everyday activities.
Sometimes the exhaustion happens because you keep doing the same things that don’t work for you. If you have been using the same old methods of learning and it does nothing to help you, then maybe it’s about time to try a different approach. Here are some effective tips on studying Chemistry from Seb Academy.
How do you learn and pick up Chemistry quickly and effortlessly?
The most important key is, you have to try. You can abbreviate Chemistry as “Chem-Is-Try”! The more you try, the more you will pick up skills along the way to understand the concepts. Never give up. Pick yourself up even after you got a question wrong, look at the question again and ask why it is so and how to do it. Practice makes perfect. It is not just for mathematics. It is for chemistry too! We just have to pick up where we left off and continue to try and attempt the questions again.
Probably, you are at a stage where you are keen to start reviewing the concepts which you have trouble with but each question makes little sense. The key is to work with questions via a skill-based approach. For example, when we learn the topic of electrolysis and its complex application of electroplating gold onto a flower, we firstly have to understand what conducts electricity, and the changes that happen to these substances when they conduct electricity. We address this as skill-based learning. We cannot run unless we learn how to walk. We got to build a good base before we proceed with more difficult questions.
Imagine you are playing Jenga. If our base of the Jenga blocks is not stable what will happen if we continue to stack more bricks to the tower? It will get more unstable and collapse. We have to make sure our foundation is grounded and hence use the keys from the foundational level of understanding to apply to more complex questions. It is like playing Super Mario, or for a game you you are more familiar with: Minecraft. After you build a house, you move on to build a good base and proceed to build more complex fortresses to survive, even an onslaught of a zombie apocalypse!
Apply skills-based learning next time when you are reviewing concepts. Start off with the level 1s of each chapter and review before you progress to the application questions. You can do it.
Thirdly, seek consultation. Sometimes when Chemistry seems like a maze, we look for help! Don’t be shy to ask for help. You can consult your seniors and friends if you feel shy about consulting your teacher! 2 heads are better than one and you would never know if through the discussion you suddenly go, “Eureka! I know how to solve it!” Moreover, the teachers are a text away. We are always here to cheer you on.
Discipline yourself to work on the practice. Sometimes when you don’t feel like getting any work done, set an achievable goal and work towards it. How do we make sure we steer clear of distractions and complete the tasks at hand? Set a reward after you have accomplished the task! It will make it more enjoyable. Now, make sure you have an achievable goal so it is a task which you can complete. You can also spin some non-lyrical instrumental music on Spotify if audial aids work to help you focus.
My last advice for you is to look for Chemistry in our every day. Saw a choked pipe at home? We can use acid-carbonate reactions to remove the choke through effervescence and mechanical action to rid the choke. Why do we cry when we cut onions? Diffusion! And why do we not tear as much when cutting onions in colder weather? I did It when I was in London and it was because the temperature was colder so particles diffuse more slowly! Look out for chemistry applications all around you and you will be amazed to see it coming alive in our lives. When we appreciate chemistry in our lives, it will help us to pick up more complex questions with a curiosity to command it better!
Remember, Chemistry is “Chem-Is-Try”! Start off somewhere and every step you take gets you a little further than where you had been. You got this in you and you can do it.
Reference: Cotman. C.W, Berchtold.N.C,(2002). Exercise: a Behavioral intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity TRENDS in Neurosciences Vol.25 No.6. https://www.cell.com/action Salamone J.D, Correa M (2012). The Mysterious Motivational Functions of Mesolimbic Dopamine. Neuron, 76 (3): 470. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12758062/ DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.10.021 Rasch.B, Born.J,(2013) About Sleep’s Role in Memory , Physiol Rev. Apr; 93(2): 681–766. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768102, doi: 10.1152/physrev.00032.2012: 10.1152/physrev.00032.2012 Mental Fatique, University of Gottenberg. https://mf.gu.se/english/research/our-explanation-for-the-origin-of-mental-fatigue-at-a-cellular-level What is the purpose of sleep, https://www.healthline.com/health/why-do-we-sleep Drinking water boost your brain’s reaction time. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263648#1