Stress manifests itself in different ways and can hamper critical thinking, time management, and your ability to focus. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, know you are not alone. Many of us are currently living with a heightened level of stress—due in-part to the challenges brought about by a global pandemic.
What is the impact of stress on cognitive function? According to neurosurgeon Dr. Allan Hamilton, “we [currently] have a decreased attention span, and our concentration is shot. Our memory isn't working as well, and often, our language function isn't as good.”
The Harvard-trained neuroscientist and best-selling author has more than a decade of experience modeling pandemics and assessing their related emotional and social effects. In December 2020, Dr. Hamilton joined a panel of experts for a Haworth Connect event where they shared their perspectives on the ups and downs of 2020, with insight meant to foster success in 2021.
For Dr. Hamilton, improving mental clarity is the ultimate key to success. If stress is ailing you, there are actions you can take to settle your brain. Try three simple adjustments in your day-to-day to improve mental clarity—take breaks, get more sleep, and reduce multi-tasking.
1. Take Breaks
The first step to reducing stress is to take away pressure—both real and perceived. Give yourself the grace to take more breaks and use more time than normal to finish assigned tasks. Allow yourself the luxury of double-checking your work. Set something aside and schedule time to come back to it later. In times of stress, your memory isn’t as effective, so it is important to allow your brain the time to refocus in order to improve overall mental clarity and well-being.
2. Get More Sleep
Sleep is a great antidote for stress. But stress can also hinder our ability to fall asleep or feel well rested. To improve your sleep cycles, consider finding or creating triggers that help you fall asleep. A soothing song, the gentle hum of a fan, blackout curtains, or a weighted blanket are just a few examples. In order to get a solid night of sleep to recharge your body and your mind, it is vital that you do not bring your work with you to bed. Leave laptop time to the home office, living room, back deck, kitchen, or wherever else you feel the most productive in the heightened
3. Reduce Multi-Tasking
Did you know your brain can only handle 100 bits per second? It takes about 120 seconds for the brain to recalibrate to a new task. This information processing takes work and can leave our brains feeling fatigued—add in the fact that we often go from the computer screen to the phone, from text messages to email, to jotting down scratch notes with a pen. Our do-it-all approach tends to overwhelm our brains. The best thing we can do during a moment or timespan of heighted stress is to simply focus on one thing at a time. Doing so will help you get to a point where you feel content to check off the box for a task completed—or step away for much needed mental break. Other useful tactics include mindfulness, briefly engaging in an activity you enjoy, and acceptance.
To learn more about Dr. Allan Hamilton’s work, read the Spark article: Why Our Brains Fail Us During a Crisis.