| by Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed., TPT Teaching and Coaching, 8/4/2021|
Have you ever wondered why you still feel quite fatigued even if you spend the majority of your Saturday catching up on your favorite shows on your couch and not doing anything particularly physically strenuous? To begin with, our energy is a finite resource. There are two types of energy: physical and mental. Excessive use of one can drain the other out. Despite for entertainment purposes only, lavish television watching is extensive use of mental energy because you still use your vision and cognitive faculty to understand the shows, too much of it can exhaust you physically. Body and mind are intricately linked. Or, if you just played four hours of soccer on the field, that may feel great physically, but it is unlikely you will have any mental energy left to do homework after that. Even if you do, your cognitive power will not perform at its highest level. Like most things in life, balance is key. However, a breakthrough research done by Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California and her co-authors presented the compelling argument that idleness in the brain is a misconception because our brain needs downtime not to rest but to perform deep, mental formations such as cementing new information you recently learned, developing new understandings, and strengthening other vital mental processes when you allow your brain to take a break from the lightning-paced world in which we live in (Scientific American). So no, surfing our routined social media accounts after homework completion does not count as giving our brain a break (just because one is not engaged in academic work doesn't equate an automatic vacation for the brain). In fact, tech demands so much more of our mental energy than we realize because of its endless features and functions when comparing to reading a hard copy book with just your naked eyes and the organic page (there's less to manage both physically and mentally when we are offline). So where does this leave us? If you want to not feel tired during or after Zoom, you have to protect your mental energy by not splurging it on trivial tasks. Based on the aforementioned research and our organic, everyday experiences, the ultimate solution to reduce Zoom fatigue and elevate our mental energy throughout the day is to give our brain more pure, uninterrupted downtime. You should be able to feel the difference right away if you follow the proposed steps below. I believe students will also benefit plentiful if parents can get them accustomed to the following concepts:
-Be conservative with your mental energy budget
Remember that your energy is limited, so use it wisely. Allocate the majority of your energy on meaningful tasks like academics, career, and anything else that requires a huge bulk of your cognitive prowess and propel you toward a healthy future. Also, your energy has an expiration date as it wanes by the end of the day, so complete your high priority tasks earlier in the day when you feel fresh mentally and physically. Everything else can wait since your mental energy is far too precious to share around without discretion. It is recommended that 80% of mental energy should be allocated to academics, and the remaining 20% should be for self-care and entertainment. But be judicious since most daily living activities take place online nowadays, so mix it up with some offline time to reserve your energy tank.
-Replenish with 8-10 hours of sleep nightly
Sleep is the miracle of life. If you have ever just completed on an over-exhausted, huge project on a tight deadline and you just do yourself a favor by taking a long nap afterwards, you will wake up feeling completely replenished inside and out like you are a brand new person. Quality sleep is the magic elixir of getting that naturally high-octane, super sharp mental alertness that makes your brain exhales with a smile. This is the type of mental energy that one needs for high-caliber academic performance or professional obligations without feeling the sting of extreme fatigue. However, this result only comes to those who establish a consistent routine in high-quality sleep.
-Take moderately long naps to cure mental drains
If you cannot squeeze in 8-10 hours of sleep nightly, then you can take your energy to new heights with a booster nap during the day. The caveat is you will feel an elevation of energy after the nap, but you must ensure that you will use the newfound energy towards important academic work or professional projects. Otherwise, that energy pint will also run out if you decide to go on Facebook or play video games for two hours, then there won't be much energy left after to light your way home to that wonderful AP History study session. Prioritize your energy use.
-Snack on fruits and fresh juice and eat meals on time
As we always feel what we put into our body, choose healthy snacks, fresh juice, and water. By the way, the brain is made of 80% of water, so keep your brain well hydrated to optimize cognitive functions. A healthy diet and nutritious food of choice will also increase your energy internally and thereby help you feel better so you can perform efficiently and successfully in school and all areas of your life. Also, avoid studying on an empty stomach. You have to put fuel in your engine.
-Space out study/homework sessions whenever possible
Just like us, our brain can only handle so much at a time. Take a 15 minute break for every hour you study, then resume to complete the next academic task. Remember: it is better to do one thing well at a time rather than do five to six things at once and none of them are accurate.
-Mix low-tech with high-tech
This is by far will be one of the major ways to mitigate Zoom burnout. Mix high-tech with low-tech. Let's say you have to submit a long essay online. Who says you can't work some of it offline to reduce the computer glare and blue light? A more balanced approach is, you outline your entire essay using traditional pen and paper away from the computer. After you feel your outline is solidified, you can type your essay on the computer using that paper outline. Going this route, you will spend 2 hours on the computer instead of 5 or 6 hours if you skip the traditional pen and paper. But you see, mixing tradition with modernity will be better for our brain and overall well-being.
-Pump fresh air into your system
You know that feeling when you stand in front of the water to catch that ocean breeze. Your lung feels great; your head feels tons lighter. It is like the whole universe just lifted your being up in the atmosphere. So when you feel mentally lethargic, go out and breathe some fresh air into your lungs and clear your head. Go for a walk, take a swim in your back yard, do a quick run, meditate in the garden etc. Nature heals, and it also replenishes.
-Build In Multiple No-Tech Breaks Throughout The Day
I save the best strategy for last, but we must build in some "nothing time" for your brain. Basically, every single thing we do throughout the day requires your brain to command the body to accomplish it. That's a lot of work for both the easy and complex tasks. Your brain needs downtime just like you need downtime physically to avoid wearing yourself out fast. Otherwise, you will experience burnout, frustration, or some form of energy depletion that will hinder you from performing at your best level.
From science to daily living, the truth sprawls out in front of us is, our brain needs downtime to fuel creativity, productivity, and cognitive power as well as balance. So when you feel a mental heaviness seeping into your brain and probing towards your forehead, it may be a signal that your brain is full. It needs a break. Also, if there's tech involved, it is not a break. You need a real break. That is why sometimes I have to intentionally discipline myself to limit my social media time in the morning because I can literally feel my mental energy is being drained (I'm tired before I even start working) and I take some of it back by putting the phone down to get a healthy breakfast to reinvigorate my physical energy and while I am at it, I eat without watching anything so my brain gets to a pure state of a brain break (it's very hard at times because my heart is screaming my favorite shows, but alas discipline thyself), so that by the time I am done with breakfast, my brain is properly recharged and I am ready for more emails, long articles to write and rewrite, and finish complex projects. I will feel less tired because my energy reserve tank is decently full, and I can power through my day. Yes, the human mind and body do have their limits, but when you nurture them the natural way, it is a magnificent beauty that exceeds all wonders of the earth.
Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed.
I am a licensed professional educator, executive function expert, former tenured high school teacher and college instructor with 16 years experience. I am also a student success designer. I enjoy recognizing the missing puzzle in the student's learning and personalizing that solution in a language that is unique to that student. I love the creative challenge of inventing a new language for every child.