5 Tips To Calm the Brain and Ease Malaise

5 Tips To Calm the Brain and Ease Malaise

If January is a month when many of us resolve to be better at using our brain’s executive functions, February is often a reality check.

Any time we start something new, like a new year, a new class, a new job, or a new planner, our brains are fired up by the novelty. But when reality sets in and things begin to get complicated, difficult, or boring, we can, to quote one of my clients, “Slide into the valley of despair.” Do you know that valley? I certainly do and I see it in my clients, friends and even my neighbors.

A Rooftop Chat

I was taking out the compost the other day when I heard my name called out by a neighbor. I was confused for a moment because I couldn’t see who was calling to me. Then I looked up. He was on his roof, taking down the Christmas lights. While he was squatting on the roof, we ended up chatting about one of his children, a high school senior. Dad was concerned about his young person’s lack of connection and enthusiasm for going to college – or anything else for that matter.

I reassured him that his child’s behavior matches that of many of my clients. The last two years of education under the cloud of the pandemic has made it hard for many students to connect to the joy of learning and the thrill of anticipation for the future.

Frustrated Teen Boy

Many kids and adults alike are experiencing malaise as a result of the last two years

When describing my clients’ lack of “oomph,” I hesitate to use the word depression which is a serious clinical condition. Instead, I like to use the word “malaise”, which signifies the discomfort or uneasiness that can dominate our days. I believe that the stress of living in an ever-changing world has overwhelmed our brains. And we aren’t getting any sustained relief so that our brains can build up resilience for everyday challenges.

It is as though the shock absorbers are gone from your car and every little bump in the road is jarring, an attack on both your car and your body. All this stress can make it hard to sustain energy and engagement for the future. Why bother? The energy required to activate your executive functions and plan for the future can disappear.

I told my neighbor that even I, someone with an above-average drive to do and create, have felt this malaise creep into my soul. My neighbor, now taking notes from our conversation while sitting on his roof, took a deep breath and said, “You know Marydee, I’ve got that malaise too. I am always goal-directed and doing things, but lately, it is hard to push myself.”

Steps to Calm Your Brain and Ease the Malaise

So what can you do to combat that malaise and climb out of the valley of despair? Here are the key points I constantly tell myself, my clients, and even my rooftop neighbor:

  1. Have compassion for those around you and yourself. We are all doing the best we can in stressful situations, with over-taxed brains lacking shock absorbers.
  2. Adjust expectations. Set smaller, tiny goals and celebrate every little accomplishment, no matter how small. Positive momentum builds on positive feelings and our brain chemistry changes accordingly.
  3. Create something, anything concrete, using your hands and your mind. This is about getting out of your emotional brain and into your sensory system. In addition, creation activates the problem-solving aspect of executive function. When you make something you have solid proof of accomplishment. You feel good. What can you create?
  4. Share your progress, your successes. Ask people to be your cheerleaders and celebrate with you. Last week I asked a family on Zoom to give me a hand for having gotten outside to run two days in a row. They all clapped and cheered, including the fifteen-year-old guy who started the session deep in malaise. A cool side effect is that they all looked more energized after cheering. (It’s a brain chemistry thing.)
  5. Set up a positive mindset with positive self-talk. To combat the atypical malaise I felt on January 1st, I am now getting out of bed and announcing out loud: “I am going to have the best day possible.” I got this idea from BJ Fogg’s book, Tiny Habits. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.

May you have the best day, month and year possible!


About the Author Marydee Sklar

Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program® and the Set Up Success and Seeing My Time® planners. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.

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