I’ve always been a proponent of the healing properties of nature, and there is evidence that time spent with trees and green plants can definitely help your health. One area where this is true is in the condition known as attention fatigue.
What Is Attention Fatigue?
Directed attention fatigue (DAF) is a condition that results from over-use of your brain’s inhibitory attention mechanisms, the “filters” that help your brain deal with incoming distractions while maintaining attention on a specific task. DAF is not an illness or a permanent condition, but rather a temporary fatigue that can affect your mental processing.
What Are The Brain Processes Affected In DAF?
- Input processes – perceptions may not be accurate, and one is more likely to miss social cues.
- Thinking processes – one may feel confused, restless, forgetful or less aware.
- Executive functioning – it may be more difficult to plan ahead, make decisions, or use good judgement.
- Behaviour regulation – one could feel more impulsive and reckless, and/or might find less ability to respond rather than react.
- Social interactions – feelings of irritability may be heightened, or antisocial feelings could be more frequent.
- Emotions – unpleasant feelings such as being short-tempered might be more common.
I’m sure you can see that none of this sounds like a good place to be when you are trying to nurture relationships or make important decisions.
Do I Have ADHD?
While Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) certainly shares symptoms with attention fatigue, and also shares some treatment suggestions, directed attention fatigue is considered temporary, and not a clinical disorder as ADHD is.
What Triggers Directed Attention Fatigue?
In a couple of words, DAF is triggered by “too much.” Too many decisions, too much multitasking, too much sensory input, too many devices demanding our attention, too much background noise, too much stress, work deadlines, extended periods of focused attention, poor sleep, exams, emergencies… An illness or injury to the brain that inhibits the circuits which maintain attention and inhibit external stimuli can also trigger directed attention fatigue.
Living in a big city such as Hong Kong offers an abundance of external stimuli that might become overwhelming at times. Your health will benefit from mindfully building in relief.
Recovering From DAF
Research suggests that exposure to the natural environment may aid in the reduction of DAF symptoms and the frequency of incidents. Researchers at the University of Michigan devised the Attention restoration theory (ART), which states that a person is better able to maintain focused directed attention after spending time in the natural environment.
Walking in the park, watching birds, tending flowers, and other exposure to nature has been proven to help with various types of mental fatigue, as well as reducing stress, shortening recovery time from surgery, and other positive health outcomes. This conscious choice for relaxation in nature can reduce instances of DAF significantly when you build it into your life regularly.
If you think your fatigue is more physical rather than mental, and attention fatigue doesn’t sound right, see also my series of articles on 10 Causes of Fatigue. Our holistic clinic can help you recover with both physical and psychological support.