Ever have days when it feels like your brain is working overtime? It might behoove you (and actually boost productivity) to give it a rest. If you’re like most nonprofit employees, you wear a lot of hats, which can take a mental toll. Sometimes a break is just what your brain needs, even if it’s in the middle of the workday.
The brain is much more active and more likely to tire than any other muscle or organ. Research shows that your brain cycles from highest attention to lowest attention every 90 minutes in what’s called an ultradian rhythm. You can only maintain focus for 90 to 120 minutes before it needs to rest. Honoring your brain’s natural rhythm and taking mental breaks throughout the workday can make you more productive, creative and innovative.
Here are eight ways to recharge, refocus and preserve your sanity, even before you hit your evening commute.
1. Get outside. Being outdoors activates different brain regions than sitting inside. Take a walk around the block, eat lunch outdoors, stroll to a park—enjoy Mother Nature a bit in order to fully wake up your brain.
2. Be physically active. Exercise is good for your mental health. If you can’t get in a full workout during the day, don’t worry—stretching for five minutes, taking the stairs, doing a little yoga over your lunch break or even standing at your desk makes small changes that can spur creativity and recharge your batteries.
3. Take a power nap. In a typical office environment, this is tough—but if you can swing a catnap when it’s possible, the benefits are big. Much of what happens in the brain during sleep is still unknown, but this much is certain: People perform better in terms of memory and concentration after a nap, even if it’s only 10 minutes.
4. Do nothing. If a snooze isn’t possible, then simply sit in a quiet place and allow yourself to relax and let your mind wander for 10 minutes. Just as when sleeping, important mental processes occur during daydreams.
5. Engage all your senses. Use colored pens. Experiment with peppermint, lemon or cinnamon aromatherapy. Try playing background music. Work is more interesting for your brain when you engage as many of your senses as possible.
6. Meditate. Science has determined that meditation stimulates the regions of the left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with positive emotions, while decreasing activity in parts of the brain related to negative emotions. You can find podcasts and apps that will aid you in guided meditation if that’s something you want to explore.
7. Take a mental holiday. You might not be able to hop a plane to Hawaii over your lunch hour, but you can let your brain go. As opposed to letting your mind just wander, hone in on mental images that make you relaxed and happy. The thoughts and pictures that run through your mind have physiological consequences for your body. In your brain, there’s not a lot of difference between actually being at the beach and visualizing it.
8. Laugh. Watch last night’s late show monologues or a silly video on YouTube or go chat with a funny coworker. Why? Here’s the scientific explanation: The act of laughter increases endorphins, sending dopamine to the brain to provide a sense of pleasure and reward. That, in turn, makes the immune system work better and changes brain wave activity towards what is called a “gamma frequency,” amping up memory and recall. In short, laughter makes your brain work better.
One last tip: Snack well. Your mind runs best when your neurons signal one another quickly. Eating brain-boosting foods daily like avocados, salmon, blueberries, nuts and seeds to help your neurons communicate efficiently and keep you mentally sharp.
Do you know what else will help your mental capacity? Delegating. You can only do so much before your brain is overwhelmed, no matter how many breaks you take. You wear a lot of hats—but so do our websites. We can show you how you could potentially delegate some of your tasks to your website (yes, your website) if you have the right tools and software in place. Request a free look at how a Firespring website can alleviate stress and make your life easier.