give your brain a breakWhen I was first learning how to be a responsible adult, my wife was flabbergasted that I didn’t know that I was supposed to take the car in regularly for an oil change. In my naivete, I thought skimping on oil changes was a perfectly reasonable way to cut costs.

Well, since then, I’ve learned two things. First, oil changes must be done regularly if you want your car to live beyond the life of its loan. Second, the brain is kind of like that car. You can’t just run it into the ground without any thought for its maintenance and upkeep. Or it will stop working.

The most important organ for any college student is their brain. So why do we, as students, tend to push our brains to perform without properly maintaining them? Whether you’re busy or not, these wonderful organs in our heads need a break. Here are five simple ways to make sure you give your brain a breather so it can work for you when you need it:

1. Get a full night’s rest

Studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to impaired memory and impaired ability to perform math calculations.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explains, “Some experts believe sleep gives neurons used while we are awake a chance to shut down and repair themselves. Without sleep, neurons may become so depleted in energy or so polluted with byproducts of normal cellular activities that they begin to malfunction.”

If that didn’t send a shiver down your spine and send you running for your pillow, I don’t know what would.

Think of your brain like your computer. If you keep too many applications on at the same time and never shut your system down properly, your computer starts to slow down, gradually becoming more and more inept at its tasks. Your brain needs to sleep, too, for eight hours–long enough to slip into REM sleep and put everything in its rightful place.

2. Do something creative

Often the strain on your brain takes place in the left (or logical) side of your brain, since that tends to be our default in school or work. Switching over to a creative task can often take the burden off of your left side so it can take a breather.

Some experts recommend taking time to daydream or to paint a picture as a way to switch on the right side of your brain. As a writer, when I’ve been doing technical writing all day, I like to take some time to write a short, fictional story. After less than an hour, I walk away feeling reinvigorated and ready to get back to more logical tasks.

3. Go to your happy place.

Stress management specialists often counsel their clients to think of a time and place that they associate with peace, joy, and contentedness. This exercise takes the brain out of its current warzone and places it temporarily in an imagined setting where it can let its guard down and get some R and R.

So what is your happy place? For some, it may be associated with a particular childhood memory, like Christmas morning or going sailing with a parent. For others, it may be a place the individual’s never been to but still holds a strong emotional resonance, like watching waves lap up on the shore on an empty beach or laying under a star-filled night sky in the middle of the desert.

Take a minute to imagine what this place would be for you, and store it away in your memory. This way, the next time your brain needs a quick getaway, you’ll know exactly where you want to go.

4. Dump in a diary.

Going back to the example of the computer with too many applications open, you can gain some peace of mind by saving some files and closing some windows. Journals or diaries, whichever name you prefer, can be a great place to sort out your thoughts, put them down in a manageable form, and then figuratively “close” them out.

With these thoughts safely packaged and put away, your tired brain can rest a bit from trying to manage them all at once.

5. Grab some quiet time.

Call it whatever you prefer–meditation, prayer, introspection–your brain needs a little time without stimulation to hear and sort out its own thoughts and feelings. You just can’t do this when people are constantly talking to you, you are rocking out to your “Death Metal Mania” playlist, or the TV is blasting in your ear and bombarding your eyes with lightning quick images. Eventually, your brain has to stop taking stuff and start making sense of it all.

It’s not always possible to create your own meditation garden to take a drive to quiet locale, but, even at school or the workplace, you can find a quiet spot. As a stressed out MBA, I used to check out a study room for myself, turn off the lights, shut the door, and listen to some low-key instrumental music. Outdoor areas like parks can also offer quiet places to sit and think. Even your car can become your fortress of solitude if you just close your eyes (but not while driving, of course).

Remember to be good to your brain and it will be good to you. So what are your secrets for giving your brain a break? Share in the comments!

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