In something of a blah or dull mood? Finding it difficult to focus on your work, get started on your chores, or even string thoughts together in a logical way? Feel as if someone has wrapped your brain in a heavy blanket?
If you’ve noticed some of the signs above, your mental fuel tank could be running low.
Mental energy doesn’t have a solid definition. But it generally describes your ability to participate in cognitive work — any task that involves thinking, in other words.
For example, mental energy can play a part in your ability to:
- plan and make decisions
- pay attention
- absorb, process, and evaluate details
- remember information
- manage your emotions
Some experts describe mental energy as a mood state where you feel productive, motivated, and prepared to get things done. A lack of mental energy, then, might mean you don’t feel capable of much at all. Even when you aren’t physically tired, your thoughts might drift along like a snail in slow motion.
Low mental energy can easily translate to a drop in physical energy, too. Physical movement might not involve the same level of cognition as, say, solving a math problem or preparing a report. Still, it requires brainpower. If your brain feels utterly drained and depleted, your body might also have little to offer in the way of “get up and go.”
If you’re finding it tough to muster up enough energy to unwrap the wool muffling your brain, the eight tips below can help you recharge your mental batteries.
Your brain draws energy from the food you eat, just like the rest of your body does.
That’s why not getting enough of the right nutrients can have a pretty big impact on both mental and physical energy, not to mention your overall mood.
So-called “brain foods” really can make a difference. If you consistently feel low on brainpower, try adding some of the following foods to your meals each day:
- fatty fish like tuna, trout, and salmon
- nuts, particularly walnuts
- leafy dark green vegetables, such as arugula, bok choy, spinach, kale, and Swiss chard
- kiwis and citrus fruits
- whole grain cereals and breads
- eggs, yogurt, and cheese
- lean protein like chicken, turkey, and soy meat products
Regularly eating a balanced diet can help you meet your nutritional needs. This can go a long way toward maintaining your mental energy, instead of simply providing a short-term boost.
Still, a quick snack can often provide a mental pick-me-up. Try:
A healthcare professional or dietitian can offer more guidance on creating a meal plan that fits your dietary needs.
Don’t forget to grab a glass of water. Your brain also needs water to function, so staying hydrated could have a noticeable impact on mental energy.
If you’re trying to shift your brain into gear, a low to moderate dose of caffeine could help boost mental energy.
According to 2016 research exploring the effects of caffeine on cognitive, physical, and workplace performance, between about 40 and 300 milligrams of caffeine can help improve:
- attention and alertness
- reaction time
Caffeine might also help improve judgment, memory, and decision-making abilities, but these effects may be somewhat less consistent.
How much caffeine is in your favorite beverage? It varies, depending on brewing strength and other factors. According to a
- An 8-ounce cup of coffee (brewed or instant) can contain anywhere from 27 to 200 milligrams of caffeine.
- An 8-ounce cup of tea (green, black, or yerba mate) can contain anywhere from 25 to 130 milligrams of caffeine.
- An 8-ounce energy drink contains between 72 and 80 milligrams of caffeine.
Just keep in mind that drinking caffeine doesn’t “cure” sleep deprivation. What’s more, drinking caffeine in the afternoon or evening could disrupt your sleep, especially if you’re particularly sensitive to its effects.
Brain lagging a bit? Some physical activity could do the trick.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), evidence consistently suggests that exercise benefits your mind as well as your body. Beyond helping promote physical health, regular exercise can do a lot to improve:
- memory and thought processes
- overall mental and emotional well-being
According to 2018 research, exercise can factor into plenty of long-term brain benefits, too, including:
- increased gray matter
- greater brain plasticity
- less risk of age-related cognitive decline
Exercise may help boost memory, attention, and other brain functions because it helps:
- increase blood flow to your brain
- improve your ability to stay on task
- prompt the release of important brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine
Plus, a short walk, jog, or bike ride can take you to a new environment, which could help provide a mental reset that further stimulates your brain — more on that below.
Certain supplements might also help increase mental energy and lead to improvements in memory, thinking, and attention.
A few supplements linked to heightened mental energy and brainpower include:
Just keep in mind that supplements may offer more in the way of long-term benefits. You’ll generally only notice these effects when taking a regular dose.
Remember, too, that you’ll always want to check with a healthcare professional before trying any new supplements, especially if you take any medications or have any existing health or mental health conditions.
Adding a regular meditation practice to your day could make it easier to mentally recharge and refocus — which can, in turn, help renew energy in the mind and body.
The potential benefits of meditation can include:
- increased awareness
- greater ability to focus on the present
- improved mood
- heightened attention
- increased blood flow to the brain
In short, meditation can help create a mentally “quiet” space for your brain to rest and refresh, improving mental energy alongside overall well-being.
New to meditation? These tips can help you get started.
Funneling most of your brainpower into a mentally demanding task can sap your energy pretty quickly. When you feel drained and unfocused no matter how hard you try to concentrate, try giving your brain a break for “recess.”
Take 20 to 30 minutes (or more, if you can spare it) and shift your location.
Ideally, aim to visit a place you find soothing and restoring, such as:
- your garden, backyard, or a nearby green space
- a park, nature preserve, or somewhere you can see and hear birds and other wildlife
- a beach, lake, or other waterfront
Time in nature can offer plenty of brain benefits, according to the APA, including improved mood and mental energy.
Plus, sunlight can trigger the release of serotonin, which can help improve your mood along with your ability to focus. Even simply stepping out into bright sunlight for a few minutes could leave you feeling a little more alert.
It may not surprise you much to learn that stress can affect your mental energy levels. Having too much to do can often contribute to physical fatigue, after all.
Stress prompts the release of the hormone cortisol, which can affect your ability to make decisions, concentrate, and remember information.
Though stress can come from any number of sources, it never hurts to explore your daily or weekly schedule to find a likely point of origin. You might not be able to ignore every task, of course. But consider setting aside some less urgent responsibilities. When you try to take on more tasks than you have the time or energy to handle, you’ll eventually find yourself running dry.
It might also be worth asking a friend, family member, or co-worker for support. Any help they can provide might ease some of your burden, which can help relieve stress and improve your mood. As a result, you might feel recharged enough to manage the rest.
You might already know your brain requires a certain amount of quality sleep for optimal function. But do you know how much sleep you actually need?
Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night, though your specific sleep needs can vary.
The right amount of sleep isn’t just important for physical health. Sleep also gives your brain the time it needs to store information, get rid of waste, and carry out other important body processes.
Mental energy can quickly begin to dwindle when you don’t get enough sleep. You might feel dull, distracted, and even have trouble regulating your emotions. But beyond a short-term drop in mental energy, sleep deprivation can have more serious consequences for your mental and physical well-being over time.
Have trouble getting enough sleep on a regular basis? Try these ideas:
- Create a restful sleep environment.
- Avoid blue light in the evening hours.
- Develop a nightly bedtime routine.
- Practice good sleep hygiene.
- Get some exercise each day.
You might not think much about mental energy — until you begin to run low.
The tips above can offer a starting place to replenish your tank before that needle hits “E.” That said, talking with a therapist may be a good next step if you notice ongoing difficulties finding and maintaining enough energy to stay focused and complete tasks.
A consistent lack of mental energy can sometimes suggest an underlying mental health concern, like depression. Professional support can make it easier to identify potential reasons for low mental energy and begin exploring solutions.
Crystal Raypole writes for Healthline and Psych Central. Her fields of interest include Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health, along with books, books, and more books. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues. She lives in Washington with her son and a lovably recalcitrant cat.