Refresh Your Brain – Take a Mental Break

The brain gets fatigued after 60-90 minutes of concentrated effort. (Aren’t we lucky to experience even an hour of concentrated effort in this multi-tasking culture!] Even though we may be pushing to meet a deadline, or we are caught up in hours of creativity and don’t want to interrupt the “flow,” our brain will function better – and for far longer – if we give it a chance to rest and recuperate. I’ll be teaching the Take a Mental Break exercise below at several workshops this spring and summer. If you can’t take a full day or a full weekend to refresh your brain and recover resilience, do try the techniques below to give your brain a breather in your busy day.

Refresh Your Brain – Take a Mental Break

Every 60-90 minutes:

1. Focus your attention on something else (positive is good)

Refresh your brain by briefly focusing your attention on something else, something different, something new. It can be simple – the sky and weather at the moment, a photo of a loved one (and the good memories that evokes), leisurely doing a few dishes or changing the water in your pet’s water bowl. The mental break re-sets your brain and allows you to return to the task at hand with new energy. (You might even return to the task at hand with new ideas or new perspectives.)

Focusing on something positive helps the brain pull out of any contraction it might have been experiencing while focusing on the task at hand into a larger, broader, wider perspective again. The big picture that can inform the return to the task at hand, even inspire us to continue.

2. Talk to someone else (resonant is good)

A brief conversation shifts the brain to use different neural circuits, giving the ones you may have been fatiguing a welcome rest. When you talk with some you feel comfortable with, attuned with, energized by, you’ll pick up the emotional contagion of good feeling and return to your task with new and positive energy.

3. Move-walk somewhere else (nature is good)

Movement – stretching, walking, dancing (you can do a little jig at your desk or in the hallway) – gets the blood flowing to your brain again, new oxygen, new energy. So much research now points to the benefits of walking in nature – 10 minutes walking in a park improves memory and cognitive functioning more than 10 minutes walking downtown or in a shopping mall. Take even a brief break in a park, a garden, on a trail; your brain and soul will thank you for it.

4. Take a nap (restful is good)

A 20 minute nap helps us consolidate the learning we’ve been doing in the day so far, integrating it into our neural circuitry, literally creating room in our brain for more learning. 20 minutes is enough time to experience this consolidation function in the brain without disrupting a full night’s sleep later.

5. Read a post/blog/email (informative is good)

If reading a post like Resources for Recovering Resilience is focusing your attention on something other than what you were doing before, then your brain gets the benefit of a shift.  (Sometimes we need to do something other than sit at our computer to give the brain that shift!)  Take in the good of whatever you’ve just learned, and return to your tasks with a little lift.