Why does my brain feel fried?
August 15, 2017 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I was just in a business meeting for an hour and a half and I had trouble focusing or being able to think coherently towards the end. I am very tired and I feel like I need a nap. I did have enough sleep last night. I still feel overstimulated and somewhat overwhelmed. How can I expand my attention span and reduce my sensitivity?

I also work as a cashier and I find that when there are too many customers in a line I feel exhausted and end up making too many mistakes. I also tend to get overwhelmed when I am in a crowd. If it's too warm and humid outside and I'm in a really noisy, crowded area my brain will shut down. I've always been like this and I do want to change. I feel like I need more downtime and alone time than a normal person. I'm not really sure how that's going to benefit me career wise.

Any advice would be appreciated.
posted by sheepishchiffon to Human Relations (15 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
How much caffeine do you consume?
posted by thelonius at 10:25 AM on August 15, 2017

Response by poster: I consume very little caffeine
posted by sheepishchiffon at 10:26 AM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'll be watching with interest. I have the same experience with business meetings, and especially with business travel.

This sounds like a normal aspect of introversion. As you said, in a really noisy, crowded area my brain will shut down.... I feel like I need more downtime and alone time than a normal person. Probably not anything you can change.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:33 AM on August 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

So many people are like this; please don't feel like you're abnormal in any way. I don't know what work you can do on yourself, except to increase your awareness of what does and does not work for you. Change your career, not your natural tolerance for stimuli. Finding your ideal job match might be a search for a quiet job with more tasks that can be performed alone.

If you feel you have some kind of attention deficit or processing or anxiety disorder then there is professional help to be had, but honestly, all your dislikes sound in the range of normal to me.

(An hour and a half is too long for most business meetings, btw. My whole team--blend of introverts/extroverts-- would be cranky after that and most of them would be checked out after 40 mins.)
posted by kapers at 11:28 AM on August 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, it sounds like you have two jobs? Or two demanding aspects of one job? No wonder you're depleted.
posted by kapers at 11:32 AM on August 15, 2017

Low blood sugar?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:39 AM on August 15, 2017

I'm exactly exactly like this! I used to wish I could change it, but then I realized that it's pretty normal. It's called being introverted! You need alone time to recharge and are overstimulated by crowded environments, excessive heat/humidity, and too much hustle and bustle. Over time as you get older you realize that these are just physical aspects of how your body works, and you can't change them and it's a waste of time to want to, plus there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Susan Cain's Introvert book (which I am not 100% a fan of, but anyway) makes the point that we should give introverts places to work where they can thrive, and encourages us to seek out workplaces, activities and vocations that make us feel like we're in the "sweet spot." I also used to work as a cashier as a student and felt similarly overstimulated and exhausted. And I've found that other jobs have made me feel that way too, such as being a receptionist or working in an open-office space. The key thing to figure out is whether this is making you unhappy, or merely that you're worried about your performance. Susan Cain emphasizes the fact that these personality traits don't determine what career you are capable/incapable of, in fact she argues that when we are involved in tasks and activities that constitute "core personal projects" that are very meaningful and important to us, that we can overcome those aspects of sensitivity that can make certain things seem too scary or overwhelming (ie public speaking). If, however, your current environment is physically overwhelming and making you unhappy, it's worth it to seek out a quieter, calmer environment or try to incorporate relaxing activities into your day to day work schedule.
posted by winterportage at 12:22 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have this problem, no official anything but from extensive reading (see: username) seems to be a mild auditory or sensory processing disorder that's interacting with my officially diagnosed ADHD.

There's a certain kind of din that is unfortunately common in lecture halls and bars that will literally put me to sleep. I have to work very hard to follow conversations, which is exhausting, and if it's too noisy or dark or confusing to focus, it's like my brain just gives up and wanders off. I'm actually pretty good in crowds though because then it's all just background noise that I don't need to pay attention to.

Things that have helped:
- ADHD medication
- Accepting that certain environments just don't work for me and making appropriate accommodations (choosing well-lit bars and smaller groups, stepping outside for a bit of quiet when I need to, etc)
- Trying to sleep better in general for focus and alertness
- Letting myself take as much time as I need to recharge so that I'm in peak form when I want to interact with people (I'm an introvert who can fake extroversion pretty well but not for very long.)

I agree that a lot of this is well within the normal range of human behavior, I mean, hot muggy noisy environments are awful for everyone, but also keep in mind a lot of the definitions of "disorder" eventually come down to "is it bad enough to be disrupting your life?" I myself have not felt the need to get professional help for this particular quirk but reading up on sensory disorders has helped me get a better sense of how different inputs affect my brain.
posted by Dr. Sock, WebMD at 12:23 PM on August 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nothing you've said sounds abnormal to me! Sometimes my work gets overwhelming to me, particularly when there are many stakeholders/customers with high expectations of me and I have little to no time to process my thoughts in quiet (requiring me to expend extra energy thinking on my feet while maintaining a professional, cheerful demeanor).

When this happens I feel almost like I can sense my neural networks overheating. It feels like thoughts and words are literally bouncing around in my skull! Sometimes I'll just spin out and have to space out or stare at the wall to get it all to quiet down. I think this is normal.

I've also noticed that it follows a similar pattern to physical exhaustion, a but like over exertion at the gym. If my brain gets overtaxed to the point where I get that overwhelmed, recovery time takes longer.

I find recharging with a 10 minute session with the headspace app can speed up my regen time. Or even just a non -guided meditation, sitting someplace quiet, focusing on my breathing and watching all the chaotic thoughts floating by like I'm a scientist observing their migration pattern, no one thought more important than the other.
posted by pazazygeek at 12:52 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I feel you. I have this problem also. I have adhd and anxiety. I think, for me, that my experience of this problem and my diagnoses are interrelated. But knowing that doesn't solve the problem and the meds don't really address this particular issue very well. I suspect its about sensory overload. What I've found works the best for me is to keep items with me that sooth me. My everyday carries are lavender hand lotion, lip stuff, mints, and a hairbrush. I suspect the types of things that sooth you are different but I'd bet they all related to your senses. What tastes, smells and sensations are calming or grounding for you?

Also: alone time. I do much better when I've scheduled myself some down time.

Also: feeding and watering myself regularly does wonders for my endurance and attention span.

But whatever the answer is for you, please don't think there's anything wrong with you. The world is a loud overbearing place to many people. I think that most of the time when things like this are hard for us, it's actually a perfectly normal response to an unnatural amount of bullshit happening around us. I don't think we evolved to live well in the world we've created.
posted by dchrssyr at 1:12 PM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Mindfulness could help (as they say, even in this thread). Taking a break and watching a little Youtube or playing a quick mindless computer game could help. A handful of grapes could help. This is normal though. Most people aren't listening through the whole meeting. Evolution designed our brains to get bored by repetitive stimuli. You are fighting nature (successfully!). (You have a job now. Wow!!). Big meetings are often very draining and little meetings can be too, if you haven't developed the skill of holding your face in an interested position while zoning out. For everyone. Every person there.

If you are feeling tight in the facial area, you may need to open your mouth and shrug your shoulders to stretch your neck. You are also probably more dehydrated than you think. But if your brain is tired, congratulations, it's because you're working hard. You should be taking breaks to stand if you are sitting and sit if you are standing too.

It will get much more comfortable with time because it will be a routine. You have a lot to feel proud about, so don't worry too much. Jobs are often very ergonomically exhausting when they are new.

Why not designate a day this week and go through your workflow, identifying physically uncomfortable or mentally draining situations, and trying to figure out if you could find a way to relax in them? This could be one of your most important projects.
posted by benadryl at 1:35 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sounds like normal introvert feels.

Doodling, taking creative notes, writing down my questions and asking them, or just stepping out of a meeting if I'm not actively participating help me in long business meetings. Also just standing up and stretching legs in a meeting can help. I really don't like meetings.
posted by watrlily at 5:28 PM on August 15, 2017

Try to schedule some charge-up time for yourself prior to meetings. Have some chocolate on hand to munch, because the brain loves sugar. Bring some to share and you'll be the master champion at made-everybody's-meeting-less-sucky. Before you go in, do some light movement to get your blood flowing. This helps with alertness.

Suggestions to draw and doodle are good. Also, be the boss of you as much as possible. Engage. Talk, ask questions; if this is seen as unwelcome, politely suggest you skip the meetings: if you aren't there to engage, you don't need to be there, and can be back-briefed later.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:16 PM on August 15, 2017

*raises hand*

I'm an extrovert and I experience this, too! Possibly not as often as introverts (I have no idea) but it is super normal. Your brain can only handle so much, and other factors (GAD/ADHD/etc) also play a role.

Truth is, sometimes you just need to ESCAPE the madness for a while.

Things that work for me:

- Guided meditation. I use the free UCLA recordings (link)
- Vigorous walks alone
- Noise app and headphones
- Playing piano
- Drawing
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:20 PM on August 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have exactly this experience. I am an introvert with a very demanding job that involves a lot of decision-making and contact with people. I leave at the end of the day in a stupor and can't even decide what to eat for dinner.

Things that help when I'm already in that state: walking outside; looking at the sky/buildings/things in the distance; not looking at my phone or scrolling the internet; time alone; having a shower; soft lighting; mindfulness exercises.

Things that help preventing that state: taking regular breaks when I can, including going for a walk; eating enough throughout the day; getting enough sleep; standing up to stretch; making a conscious effort to relax my muscles and jaw.

What you're experiencing sounds within the range of normal for overstimulation and stress.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 2:40 AM on August 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

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