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How daily ‘brain breaks’ can boost your mental stamina

Neuroscience of leadership and performance expert Vannessa McCamley explains how to support your brain health with everyday exercises.

How daily ‘brain breaks’ can boost your mental stamina

The brain — it’s our biggest asset. But how much do we really know about it?

Sure, it’s made of around 100 billion neurons that control everything from your speech to movement and even your personality. But have you ever felt like you walk around on ‘autopilot’ some days? How can you best tap into this incredible, complex organ? And why should achieving good brain health be top of your ‘to do list’?

Living and working in the digital age can pose many challenges; dealing with constant change, information overload, fixed mindsets, doing more with less, loss of focus and fatigue. We are fried on an overwhelming diet of immediacy that is eating away at critical thinking. No wonder many of us feel like we’re drowning.

Thankfully, there is a growing acknowledgement in the importance of slowing down and working to your own beat.

Why you need to take brain breaks throughout the day

The latest in brain research shows us that our best work is done when the focus isn’t on the ’traditional working day’ but on effectiveness and efficiency. By turning to neuroscience, we can learn to recognise when we are working at our optimal productivity and when we need to take a moment for an essential brain break.

There are a few simple things we can do to unleash our brain’s potential, and ultimately improve our quality of life. When consuming large amounts of information or running at pace, our brain often sends signals needing a moment to stop and recharge i.e. yawning, loss of focus and being distracted easily.

One of the most effective ways to rev up your work day is to plan out your brain breaks. I suggest every hour, taking five to fifteen minutes to stop what you are doing and increase your oxygen to your brain.

The goal of brain breaks is to help your brain shift focus. It also reduces stress and anxiety, making it easier to focus on crucial tasks. A quick brain break restores mood and elevates vigilance, and you should schedule them into your work day, as you would plan a meeting. I often finish a task and get up to stretch to get the blood flow moving and walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water to restore and hydrate.

This is important as our brain is a supercomputer and requires a lot of energy to operate effectively. It is impossible to be super charged with productivity for long amounts of time.

Build it into your day

That’s why planning the structure of your day is imperative. Consider the time of day when you work best. When are you most creative and can generate new ideas or solve problems easily? Or have in-depth meetings with colleagues?

Alternatively, can you recognise when you start to feel sluggish? Or when your energy levels start to wane, becoming easily distracted or literally run out of gas? How can you set your brain up for success and organise your daily structure based on when you do your best thinking?

The key to utilising your brain is to normalise brain breaks, even when you have a lot on. In addition, the importance of diet, movement, sleep, connection, gratitude and mindfulness, are simple but impactful actions that can positively influence good brain health.

Your time is precious and making it count is important for both professional and personal matters. Communicate with others and your manager about when you do your deep thinking, to be in your peak performance flow. Often people may have not considered the importance of taking a moment to mentally recharge, so removing the stigma is imperative.

So what can a brain break look like?

  • Move away from your desk, or even head outside. Stand up and stretch, go for a quick walk.

  • Exercise. This helps to increase blood flow, which improves our focus and keeps us alert. Research has also shown that we learn more quickly after we have exercised.

  • Seek social connection. A brain break can be more restorative if you have somebody join you. But avoid talking about work! Take a moment to turn off devices, messaging sounds and pop-up messages. If you can, actually switch off. Going from screen to screen isn’t as restorative as it may feel.

  • Close your eyes for five minutes, and take deep breaths. If the environment permits, perhaps even take a quick nap to really recharge your brain.

The brain is constantly building new connections, meaning everyone has the ability to rewire their thinking, create new behaviours and improve their happiness and health. When enabled to succeed our brains can build new and lasting behaviours that improve wellbeing and performance regardless of age.

Vannessa McCamley is a Founder, Principal Consultant, Coach, Facilitator, Keynote Speaker and now, author. She has recently written her first book, REWIRE for SUCCESS; a digestible simplification of neuroscience designed to help everyone get the most from their brains. The book is available now for pre-order and officially launches on October 12. 

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