Brain Breaks

[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]

Something happened to me last week that has only happened to me a couple of times before.

After many days of 10+ straight hours of deep mental work, my brain just collapsed from exhaustion. I tried to push through it. I drank more coffee. I drank so much coffee. I worked on the less intellectually-demanding tasks while I waited for my brain health gauge to replenish, but the truth was that I had overdone it. The inner-workings of my mind resembled what my house looks like on weeks that I have multiple events at school: absolute disarray. The longer I delayed taking a break, the worse the mess got and the more difficult even the simplest tasks became.

It’s a vicious and inefficient cycle, really. I work slower and less efficiently instead of taking a break, which makes me even slower and less efficient. On and on it goes until the pace is really more like standing still. The time and work would have been better off if I had just stared at the wall for thirty minutes, or better yet – watched some 30 Rock.

We’ve talked before about how learning new information and processes creates and repaves your neurological pathways. The more new information you are taking in, the more “paving” work your brain is doing. As you are paving and repaving these neural pathways, your brain is simultaneously engaged in sorting and organizing all of the new information to relate to the pre-existing information. The more you repeat those same processes and that same information, the more well-trod those pathways become, but only to a point.

Why?

Because brains, like bodies, get tired. We all know this from our primary school days, right? Eat a healthy diet to give your brain energy. Exercise regularly to give your brain energy. Get enough sleep to give your brain energy.

Here’s the law school addition to that: give your brain breaks so that it can do all of that work without turning into a puddle of mush. I am finding that this is harder work than I care to admit. Even when I am not doing school work, my brain is still in on mode – somewhere in my mind I am rehearsing the definition of proximate cause. I am afraid that if I stop rehearsing it to myself, I will lose it.

In a sense, that’s true.

But if I give my brain actual breaks, it will take the definition of proximate cause and organize it. And I might lose it for a bit. But then when I find it again, I will be able to see what folder my brain put it in and then finding it will be that much easier next time.

This is especially important with exams coming up when the temptation to cram study is very high. We study more, sleep less, and retain less.

It’s very difficult for me to take real brain breaks, but here’s what I have found that helps me: boxing, running, and cycling; listening to really loud, fun music; watching trashy sitcoms; reading an engrossing novel; going on a hike with my camera; eating really good food without any other distractions.

I’d love to hear what you do to give your brain a break! Reach out on twitter and Instagram @the1lLife!