Does your mind ever just feel tired from overstimulation?

In the modern age of social media, streaming services, and mobile games, it’s very easy to keep our minds constantly occupied with inane distractions. However, this also means that we are more susceptible to overstimulation. Our brain’s ability to concentrate on something is finite. Once we breach that threshold, we risk falling into attention fatigue. In the same way that physical workouts tire you out, a prolonged state of mental fatigue can impact physical and cognitive functioning.

Recent research shows that practicing “soft fascination” can help replenish and refresh the energy levels of your mind.

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The Dangers of Attention Fatigue

Attention fatigue, sometimes referred to as DAF (Directed Attention Fatigue), occurs when you overuse your brain’s filtering ability. “Directed attention” (or voluntary attention) is the intentional and specific concentration on an object, in contrast to “involuntary attention,” which is attention that requires no effort. Typically, our brain’s filtering ability helps us deal with distractions, in order to maintain attention on a task.

In simple words, attention fatigue is a result of your brain being bombarded with “too much” – too much information, too much stimulation, too much stress, etc. While attention fatigue is not permanent or incurable, it can still impact your day-to-day functioning.

Attention fatigue inhibits various brain processes, such as executive functioning, which usually helps with planning ahead, making decisions, and exercising good judgment. Confusion, restlessness, forgetfulness, and short-tempers are more likely to occur as well. People also report feeling more impulsive, reckless, and unattuned to social cues when experiencing attention fatigue.

If you ever feel like your brain is overloaded, you may be experiencing attention fatigue. In this case, it’s important to let your brain rest and recover. One of the best ways to achieve this is through the practice of soft fascination.

An electronic road sign displaying the words "too busy"
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What is Soft Fascination?

First, let us differentiate between “hard” and “soft” fascination.

  • Hard Fascination: When you focus your attention on an activity that is highly stimulating
  • Soft Fascination: When your attention is maintained by an activity that is less stimulating

Another important distinction between the two is that soft fascination provides the opportunity to reflect and introspect. In contrast, with hard fascination, you are typically too absorbed in the activity to pause and take a breath. In other words, hard fascination helps to entertain and reduce boredom, while soft fascination entails reflecting on and making sense of the activity.

A person watching a visually stimulating video on their phone
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Soft fascination is frequently researched in relation to Attention Restoration Theory (ART), a psychological concept that exposure to nature helps the brain in restoring its ability to focus and concentrate. Spending time out in nature helps relax the brain’s frontal lobe, which alleviates the symptoms of attention fatigue. Nature is ideal for practicing soft fascination because it is just stimulating enough to gently engage the brain without forcing hard concentration. The natural sounds and scenery coax our involuntary attention without requiring any intentional focus. Moreover, ART theorizes that exercising involuntary attention helps restore directed attention and any fatigue it has caused.

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How to Practice Soft Fascination

As mentioned above, the best recommended practice for soft fascination is to go out into nature. Listen to the soft sounds – the chirping birds, the rustling leaves, the murmuring river – to take in the scenery. Notice the different colors, shapes, sounds, and smells. Environments that encourage soft fascination through exploring – such as hiking, or taking a walk in the forest – will gently stimulate your attention. At the same time, it still allows room for introspection and quiet thought. This allows for the opportunity to reflect on personal problems without any distractions that may dominate the attention.

If you don’t have easy access to nature, it is still worthwhile to just listen to the sounds of nature. The internet has various resources for all sorts of nature sounds, such as lightning storms or rainforest ambiance. Try to find something that you like, lie down, and close your eyes.

A woman sitting on a mountainside looking out at the scenery
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Mindfulness in Soft Fascination

If soft fascination still feels like a foreign concept, consider practicing mindfulness first. Mindfulness can help you become more accustomed to the practice of soft fascination, allowing for an experience akin to meditation.

Use Soft Fascination to Your Advantage

Your brain needs some idle time in order to rest and recover. This is especially true if you are constantly overstimulated on a daily basis through smartphones, TVs, and the internet. Sometimes, even reading a book requires too much effort from the brain. Moreover, pushing yourself too hard is never a good idea. Prolonged attention fatigue can cause functional issues that may lead to even more stress and anxiety. It’s important to let your brain rest when it needs a break.

If you ever feel overwhelmed from having too much on your plate, try to find some time to practice soft fascination!

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References:

Ackerman, C. E. (2020, September 11). What is Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory (ART)? Benefits + Criticisms. PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/attention-restoration-theory/

Basu, A., Duvall, J., & Kaplan, R. (2018). Attention Restoration Theory: Exploring the Role of Soft Fascination and Mental Bandwidth. Environment and Behavior, 51(9-10), 1055-1081. doi: 10.1177/0013916518774400

Kaplan, S., & Berman, M. G. (2010). Directed Attention as a Common Resource for Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(1), 43-57. doi: 10.1177/1745691609356784

Ellison, M. A. (2018, March 14). Soft Fascination Allows The Mind To Wander in a Noisy, Urban World. Hiking Research. https://hikingresearch.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/soft-fascination-allows-the-mind-to-wander-in-a-noisy-urban-world/

Heid, M. (2021, June 17). How ‘Soft Fascination’ Helps Restore Your Tired Brain. Elemental. https://elemental.medium.com/how-soft-fascination-helps-restore-your-tired-brain-27669cd0be9d

Jamieson, S. (2019, November 4). Nature Exposure Helps Attention Fatigue – Dr. Susan Jamieson. Dr. Susan Jamieson Integrative Medical Practice. https://www.drsusanjamieson.com/health/attention-fatigue/

About the Author

SELF

As a writer, worked on many medical-related articles based on academic papers. Specializes in articles on mental health and stress care.

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