Stress Relief: How to Give Your Brain a Vacation
By: Bulletproof Staff
August 17, 2015
One of the primary goals of Bulletproof is high brain performance – to live with energy, balance, and focus.
We talk a lot about performance here, but the other side of the coin is just as important: knowing when and how to give your brain a break. Working too much can stress you out, and prolonged stress correlates with anxiety, depression, weight gain, heart disease, memory loss, impaired cognitive function and more. [1, 2] When it comes to happiness, a little R&R is key.
But it can be tough to find time to relax, especially if you live in a work-centric country like America. The average American works eight more hours per week than the average Brit does. That’s an entire day of work.  Only one in four Americans will get a paid vacation this year in contrast to our European Union counterparts, who are legally promised at least 20 paid vacation days per year. 
On top of that, a 2011 UC study revealed that we take in the about 174 newspapers’ worth of information daily. That’s five times more information than we were exposed to in 1986.  We’re constantly bombarded with texts, tweets, updates, reminders, and all kinds of other distractions that demand our attention.
Bulletproof is all about optimizing your body so it functions best, and giving yourself time to relax and enjoy yourself is an essential part of that. Read on to learn about what happens to your brain when you overwork it – and how you can hack your habits to increase your productivity and decrease your stress.
Your brain doesn’t work when it’s overloaded
Studies suggest that different parts of your brain work when you’re giving your full attention and when you’re daydreaming.  It can seem like your brain does all the heavy lifting when you’re focused, but when you let your mind wander and your creativity and introspection thrive. When you’re resting your brain is still hard at work processing new information, resolving tensions or stressful situations, affirming your identities and ethics, and to giving you a deeper understanding of your behavior.  That’s why you may feel like inspiration hits when you’re daydreaming or zoning out.
One reason constant work and distractions can burn you out is the tax they place on your insula, a part of your brain that regulates attention. The insula activates when you switch your attention from one task to another – checking your phone in the middle of a meeting, for example. If you’re working too hard, or attending to too many tasks at once, your insula burns out. It can’t regulate your attention well, and you have trouble focusing. Studies at Stanford and McGill suggest that the massive flow of inconsequential information you take in every day taxes your insula and leaves you struggling to focus. 
How to make your rest more efficient
Slowing down now and then gives your brain a rest, and building down time into your day can actually help you get more done than you would if you were overworking yourself. Relaxing can:
- Boost productivity
- Build creativity
- Sharpen memory
- Improve reaction time
- Foster happiness
Check out my top hacks for daily brain renewal:
Take a nap
A 7- to 10-minute nap can improve your alertness for up to 3 hours, and the short duration means the nap won’t interfere with your sleep.  Anything longer than 20-30 minutes can just make you more tired, though, so stick to a quick snooze. For even better results try a Bulletproof coffee nap.
Let your mind wander
Jonathan Schooler, a pioneer researcher of daydreams and mind wandering at UC, Santa Barbara, has shown that people who daydream do better on tests and that daydreaming increases creativity.  Schooler takes “dream walks” regularly: for 20 minutes, two times per week, he takes a walk and allows himself to daydream. You can try it too. Walk around lost in your thoughts now and then. Let your mind wander – you might be surprised by what it brings you. Albert Einstein envisioned himself running along a light wave—a dream that led to his theory of relativity.
Meditation decreases excessive brain activity.  It also increases alpha brain waves that are associated with creativity and relaxation.
- Regular meditation calms down signaling between your medial prefrontal cortex and insula, relieving feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress and allowing you to address them from a more rational perspective. 
- At the same time, meditation strengthens the connection between the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the insula, increasing your empathy and facilitating positive interaction with those around you. 
Take a walk in nature
An interesting new study on the physical and mental effects of the brain being in nature reveals the positive benefits of walking in nature, even if it’s a city park. The study volunteers found that they did not dwell on the negative aspects of their lives.  Try walking among the trees if you’re feeling worn out. Bonus points if you daydream on the walk, too.
Upgrade your sleep
Quality sleep is one of the most fundamental means to improve brain function. Forty-eight percent of American report that they’re sleep deprived.  Improved sleep is one of the most Bulletproof biohacks. Check out detailed posts on sleep hacks here and here, as well as this popular podcast around the art and science of sleeping.
Try listening to your ultradian rhythm cycle
The late physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman, who discovered REM (the progression from light to deep sleep every 90 minutes), also found a parallel rhythm during your time awake. Many people go from an alert state to a less optimal one every 90 minutes. It’s in that less optimal state that your body sends you signals from hunger, loss of focus, drowsiness to restlessness. Rather than using willpower to overcome those moments, take a short break to reset the cycle. You can even use a “take a break app” like Awareness, Time Out Free, or Break Time to remind you to relax.
Upgrade your nutrition and supplements
Your mind runs well when your neurons signal one another quickly. Getting high quality fats from foods like MCT oil, avocado, chocolate, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught fish can help your neurons communicate efficiently,  and avoiding foods that promote inflammation or harbor toxins can protect you from mental fatigue. For more about nutrition that boosts your performance check out the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap.
Supplements like vitamin D can also upgrade your brain. Here’s our list of top Bulletproof supplements (including dosages and brands we recommend).
When it comes to work, less can be more. If you feel tired all day and your work quality is suffering, try taking some time for yourself. You might find that you get more done and stress yourself out less.
Any hacks you use to replenish your brain? Leave it in the comments, and stay Bulletproof!