How to Care For Your Cognitive Health at Work
Cognitive health refers to our brain’s ability to function. Of course, our brain has a huge range of abilities, but some of its core functions are memory, processing, language, attention, planning, reasoning, social cognition, and visual-spatial skills. We use these skills every day, and every job requires utilizing our cognition. Our cognitive health is closely linked to our mental health, which refers to our psychological and emotional well-being. Our cognitive functions can affect our mental health, and vice versa. As concern for mental health in the workplace has become an increasingly important topic, we should also look at how we can look after our cognitive health at work. It’s important to understand how to care for both. A balance of good cognitive and mental health means that we can function well and feel good about our time at work.
Let’s explore some methods to help you care for your cognitive health at work!
Budget your time
Breaking down your day into manageable chunks before you jump into your workday can help you perform your best. It may make it easier to pay attention to each task at hand and plan well so that you’ll be able to finish projects on time. Staying on track with our workload is good for our mental health so that we don’t become anxious, and good for our cognitive health so that we don’t overwhelm our memory or attention skills and miss important details.
Planning out your day requires the use of executive function skills. As you use a cognitive skill, you exercise that skill and may get even better at using it. (That’s kind of what we’re all about!) So if you struggle with planning and problem-solving, working on planning your day out in the morning may get easier over time and help you improve those skills.
Keeping your space organized can help organize your thoughts. Research shows that staying organized can help improve our working memory. Organizing can also help to avoid feelings of overwhelm and stress, which is healthy for our cognition and mental health.
Evaluate your work conditions
Work shouldn’t necessarily be a walk in the park, because problem-solving our way through challenges is great for our cognition! Depending on the type of work you do, solving challenges will exercise various cognitive skills. A teacher may exercise their social cognition, memory, and executive function skills in their job, while a construction worker might exercise their visual-spatial and reasoning skills at work.
But work shouldn’t completely overwhelm us either. Being overworked and highly stressed can lead to bad results for our mental health, including feeling depressed or anxious. Being highly stressed is also bad for our cognitive health, potentially leading to detriments in our executive function skills such as decision-making, and social cognition skills such as emotion regulation.
Ideally, work should be something that we enjoy enough that it doesn’t wear us down, but at the same time, it should provide some challenge. If you find that your job is way too easy or way too overwhelming and stressful, you may want to speak with a manager to see if adjustments can be made. Or, if possible, you may want to consider pursuing a new path.
Interact with others
Being friendly with coworkers can make your job feel more comfortable and fun, and it’s also good for your cognitive health. Research tells us that social interaction is good for our memory, attention, and social cognition skills. Additionally, having a friendly rapport with the people around us can make us feel happy, calm, and appreciated.
Moderate your stress
Even if you have a job that you enjoy, there are bound to be stressful moments. If you do have a stressful day at work, try some techniques to calm yourself down. This can include mindfulness exercises, taking a short break, or going for a walk during lunch. Cortisol, the hormone released when we’re stressed, not only makes us feel on edge but can also affect our memory and attention skills. Moderating your stress levels can help you stay cognitively sharp throughout the day.
Move your body
Incorporating some exercise into your day, whether it’s hitting the gym after work or taking a walk during your lunch break, can have benefits for your cognition. Studies have shown that physical activity may improve our social cognition skills, as well as memory skills. It may even help to prevent cognitive decline in the future.
Get enough sleep
Studies show that not getting enough sleep negatively affects our executive function skills. This means that our abilities to plan, problem-solve, make decisions, and control impulsive behaviors can become weakened. This can have an unfortunate domino effect on our workday. Feeling tired and being less able to problem solve and make decisions can lead to falling behind in the workday, potentially leading to lower confidence and higher stress.
Our mental health and cognitive health are intertwined. Both play a huge part in our work lives. Learning how to care for our cognitive health at work can improve how we feel about work and make us more effective at our jobs. As you incorporate habits into your workday that are healthy for your cognition, your days may become easier as you begin to notice the benefits!