Health Knowledge

Cognitive Performance and Mental Health: The Connection and How to Improve Both

When you think of mental health, your cognitive abilities might not be the first thing that comes to mind. After all, your mental health is much more than your ability to remember or process new information. It includes the overall well-being of your emotions, relationships, and day-to-day life. That being said, there is a definite connection between cognitive performance and mental health — if you improve one, you’ll likely see an improvement in the other. Today we’re going to explore this connection and discuss how to improve both your cognitive performance and mental health.

Defining Cognitive Performance and Mental Health

First, let’s take a closer look at what each of these terms means and how they relate to one another. Cognitive performance refers to your ability to think, learn, and remember things. This includes how well you can concentrate, process information quickly, and stay on task. It’s what helps you make decisions and complete tasks efficiently.

On the other hand, mental health refers to the overall state of your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. This includes factors like stress levels, moods, relationships with others, self-esteem, and more. Mental health is closely linked with physical health — if one is off balance, it can impact the other.

The Connection between Cognitive Performance and Mental Health

Now that we know each term’s meaning, let’s discuss their connection. Your mental health directly affects your cognitive abilities — when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it’s much harder to stay on task and focus your attention. Anxiety can also impair cognitive performance by making it difficult to recall information or solve problems.

But let’s say you’re in a good mental state. Then, you might find your cognitive processes are enhanced — you could be able to concentrate better, process information faster, and problem-solve more efficiently. In fact, research has shown that physical exercise can help improve both mental health and cognitive performance.

Before we discuss how to improve your mental health and cognitive abilities, let’s cover some factors that can affect them.

Factors that Affect Mental Health and Cognitive Performance

Many factors can impact your mental health and cognitive performance, but we’ll cover seven of the most notable today.

1. Diet

What you eat plays a significant part in both your mental health and cognitive abilities. Eating a balanced diet can help boost your mood and improve your focus, while unhealthy foods can lead to problems like depression or difficulty concentrating.

2. Lack of vagal tone

When the vagus nerve lacks tone, it can lead to depression, anxiety, and mental fatigue. This is because the vagus nerve helps regulate mood and cognitive performance. It also affects digestion and many other critical functions in the body.

3. Stress

High stress levels can take a toll on your mental health and cognitive abilities — it causes distraction, reduces focus, drains energy levels, and impairs decision-making skills.

4. Genetics

Your genes play an important role in many aspects of your life, including your mental health and cognitive performance.

5. Sleep

The quality of your sleep affects both your physical and mental health. Not getting adequate rest can cause fatigue, impair memory, and even lead to an increased risk of depression or anxiety.

6. Exercise

Physical exercise releases endorphins which can positively affect mood and stress levels — leading to improved cognitive performance as well. It also helps enhance the connection between nerve cells which is crucial for learning new information or recalling past memories.

7. Environment

Understandably, the environment in which you spend most of your time will impact how you feel. But unfortunately, many people overlook this connection and fail to recognize how their environment affects them.

How to Improve Both Mental Health and Cognitive Performance

Now that you’re aware of the various factors affecting your mental health and cognitive performance, let’s discuss some simple things you can do to improve both.

Vagus nerve stimulation

Not only can vagus nerve stimulation provide mood-boosting effects, but it has also been shown to have cognitive benefits as well. For example, stimulating the vagus nerve can help improve memory and learning, increase focus and attention, and reduce anxiety.

In terms of cognition and memory performance, this 2019 study reports:

“Vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) is known as an effective method of treatment in a number of neurological disorders. The low risk of side effects also makes it useful in clinical trials in other diseases. Branches of the vagal nerve innervate the anatomical structures known to be involved in memory processing. That is why it seems justified that several studies emphasize the impact of VNS on the cognitive and memory function in both healthy volunteers and patients with epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. Results have shown that VNS can modulate different types of memory depending on the protocol of stimulation in non-demented patients after both short term and chronic VNS application. Transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation (tVNS), which is a non-invasive method of VNS, opens up new perspectives for different clinical applications.”

Adequate sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential for proper cognitive functioning — it helps process information faster, increases alertness, enhances concentration, and boosts creativity. Aim to get 7-9 hours of good sleep each night to reap the full benefits.


As we mentioned before, physical activity releases endorphins which can help improve mood and reduce stress levels — leading to enhanced cognitive abilities. Exercise also has many other health benefits, such as maintaining a healthy weight or reducing your risk of developing certain diseases.

Healthy diet

Eating a balanced diet ensures you get all the vital nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. It also plays a role in improving your mental health and cognitive performance. A diet focusing on whole-grain carbs, lean proteins, and healthy fats is crucial for maintaining good physical and mental health.

Stress management techniques

Learning how to effectively manage stress can help keep your mind sharp and focused — allowing you to perform better mentally. Some examples of stress-management techniques include meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, or mindfulness activities like coloring or jigsaw puzzles. Vagus nerve stimulation with a device like Xen by Neuvana can help with this too!

Ultimately, understanding the connection between mental health and cognitive performance can help you make informed decisions regarding caring for yourself physically and mentally. Implementing lifestyle changes such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and managing stress are all powerful ways to optimize both your mental health and cognitive performance.

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