What is cognitive fatigue?

What is Cognitive Fatigue and How Can we Overcome it?

After brain injury, many individuals experience what is called cognitive fatigue; a concept all too familiar but often difficult to put into words. To put it simply, cognitive fatigue describes the difficulties associated with remaining focused or attentive to one or more tasks. For example, you’re trying to organize the ingredients for your favorite soup, or maybe you’re trying to measure out a section of your backyard to plant a few flowers, but suddenly, you get “stuck.” You lose track of what you’re doing or simply put, you reach a point where you just feel too tired to complete what you started. You feel drained and the enjoyment you used to feel with cooking soup or gardening is now gone. This mental exhaustion affects the “attentional network.”

Our attentional network is responsible for three processes: orienting to situations, remaining alert in situations, and the executive functions during situations. In a nutshell, these executive functions refer to our ability to make decisions. When cognitive fatigue takes over, this ability becomes compromised, causing us to get “stuck.” One way to minimize these difficulties and improve our performance is to become more self-aware of our environment, our emotions and feelings, and our abilities. These may change from day to day, and even hour to hour. However, by successfully learning how and when our abilities to perform certain activities are at their best, we can begin to regain control of our lives one small step at a time.