Our ancestors did not take vacations. Breaks maybe, we hope for them. But sleeping, celebrating, and changing challenges on occasion seemed to be enough. However, after a pandemic, wars, as well as an economic, social and family roller coaster, fatigue and the need for rest seem to be on the rise.
Physical fatigue is familiar to us, but we are less aware of other types of fatigue or wear and tear that can undermine our drive and performance. Lack of sleep and other disturbances (exercise, diet, social contacts) produce cumulative changes in our brain, wear and tear on our metabolism. For example, every waking hour, we build up adenosine in our brain which eventually reduces our urge to be active.
Effort fatigue is due to the stress of our challenges and our attempts to solve them. Every day, we choose more or less ambitious goals and steps to achieve them, we try to concentrate, to execute actions and check them, to prepare for the unexpected, to endure difficulties and to control ourselves emotionally. .
All of this effort produces a small rush of adrenaline in our body and brain. This adrenaline is used to mobilize, but in the long term, it wears down the machine that reacts to it. The circuits of our frontal lobe (our cerebral Google) light up less and less optimally, we search longer for information in our memory, we hesitate longer in our decisions and our intuitions are less rich and more gloomy. Even our immune cells function less well when they have been mobilized by adrenaline too often.
Emotional fatigue can catch up with us when we have been too exposed to current events, dramas (illnesses, conflicts, disasters) or challenges. Our empathy and the reactions it mobilizes such as compassion, indignation or fear run out of steam over time. We become more focused on our individual needs, our shortcomings. We can become more demanding, irritable or depressed.
Emotions often tire us more than our physical efforts, even if we realize it less.
All of these types of fatigue diminish our sensitivity to the value of our efforts. Why are we doing all this already? In addition, they increase our sensitivity to the costs of our efforts, to daily irritants or obstacles.
Breaks are restorative because they provide a change of scenery; to forget our worries, to see other realities.
Our harmful conditionings become less sensitive. Our reactions become less exaggerated. We can laugh at traffic in another city a few days after it enraged us at home.
Breaks also help to repair our social instincts.
We increase our sensitivity to the pleasant aspects of others (looks, joie de vivre), we reduce our distrust, we laugh more often. We comfort ourselves and therefore we secrete more endorphins which reassure us. We relearn to appreciate our interactions because they are less rushed and less utilitarian (ex: “I need this for yesterday!” compared to “What does this cloud remind you of?”).
Finally, breaks often allow us to regain a little of the value or the meaning that we give to our major issues (family, work, society).
Our intuitions change on the good side. Our brain circuits associated with judgment and the value of things are literally repairing themselves. We find landmarks that remind us of who we are or what makes us feel good. Our ideas and thoughts about the future increase. Our benevolence and our wisdom too. We find reasons to hope (to improve our lot or to see the glass fuller), to regain our motivation and our commitment.
So, above all, do not hesitate to take a break despite the pressure or guilt.
Dr. François Richer has conducted mental health research on the brain, cognitive functions and emotional control with teams in Quebec, France and the United States.