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Fatigued Brain: Sneaky Consequences of Information Overload

By ANNA KARLOVA - November 18 2023
Fatigued Brain: Sneaky Consequences of Information Overload

In the current era, individuals find themselves inundated with information. “Rebooting” oneself and one’s brain is now a more frequent necessity than ever before in history. Imagine the volumes of informational clutter we encounter daily. Our memory is burdened with passwords, news feeds, and social media. Simultaneously, even a brief interruption of the information flow immediately triggers feelings of fatigue, boredom, and the painful sensation of wasted time.

While reflective contemplation used to constitute a significant part of life, it has now become a luxury for only the most spiritually advanced individuals, akin to meditation. Simple listening or experiencing has become challenging. Allowing emptiness to settle in our minds, permitting ourselves not to think about anything, has become difficult. The common belief that “the best rest is a change of activity” turns out to be less effective than assumed. Exhausted from one task, we switch to another – watch a movie, read a book, or engage in something useful. However, it all turns out differently.

A Change of Activity is Not Rest

The discovery of the default mode network of the brain, first formulated in 2001, shed light on the reality of how things work. It became clear that with active and purposeful information intake (regardless of the content) and active, purposeful physical activities, our brain does not rest; it keeps working.

Our brain can be in one of three modes:

  • Information intake mode
  • Digesting already received information (default mode network)
  • Creating a plan of action to solve a task or achieve a goal (executive brain function mode)

Most regrettably, this work is detrimental to the brain itself. If the brain spends too much time in the mode of receiving and the primary processing of incoming information and too little in the mode of genuine mental rest, its ability to devise the best plan of action for us dwindles to zero.

The problem is that without quality information processing, it is very challenging for the brain to give us an effective action plan. Overloaded with endless nonsense, it becomes sluggish, lags, and freezes up at the most inconvenient moments. As a result, a person learns, works, and solves serious tasks with only half of their potential. The executive function of the brain atrophies. And as a result, it’s easy for us to be busy, but being productive is challenging.

This phenomenon even has a name coined by psychologist David Lewis in the 1990s: Information Fatigue Syndrome (IFS). Symptoms may include poor concentration, stress-related health issues, fatigue, and even hostility.

Proper Rest: How It Should Be 

To avoid being in an unconsciously slowed-down state all the time, it is crucial to take control. Specifically, start consciously slowing down to later speed up and become filled with energy.

It’s essential to understand that our brain does not rest when we read something, scroll through Instagram or Facebook feeds, watch movies or series, view videos on YouTube or TV, or listen to an audiobook or music. The brain doesn’t rest when we are forced to purposefully absorb any information and process it.

Similarly, your brain does not rest when you engage in purposeful physical activity (training for achievements, running, sports). Although, to be fair, in this case, it is not as “loaded” as with series, books, audio, and so on.

The ideal form of relaxation is an aimless walk, where there’s no need to hurry, and you simply enjoy wandering through the city or the forest. Your mind works on autopilot, without visualizations and plans. There’s no need to run somewhere, read, or watch. Take out the headphones with the audiobook and just walk, look around, and be silent. Just wander both externally and internally.

Meditation is also an effective way to break free from the chaos. It creates space in the brain where we can regain control. We can decide what to focus on and what is essential, thus making conscious decisions in our lives. Similar to organizing a closet, we need to clear our minds of unnecessary thoughts to organize it. At that moment, we often discover what seemed lost before.

Then, like enlightenment and clear understanding, a plan of action comes – personal and individual. Such a plan is the most reliable because it arises from mindfulness and inner peace.

How Much Rest is Needed

You don’t need to escape somewhere for a long time and put your life on a serious pause because it won’t require much time. Sometimes, during the day, your brain independently switches you to “brake,” as if hinting that it doesn’t need your special permission for it. Therefore, the more often you do it yourself consciously (slow down, be sluggish, be silent, focus), the better your brain will work during active periods.

Rest properly, and then you won’t have to be disappointed with your lack of focus or sluggishness. They are only signals that it’s time for you to slow down, or they will do it without your permission at the most inconvenient time. Don’t wait for this; do it yourself as needed!

This article was written by Anna Karlova, who loves learning throughout her life and
has a strong passion for Data Analytics.

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