Emotional exhaustion is a state of feeling emotionally worn-out and drained due to stress from your personal or work lives, or a combination. In fact, emotional exhaustion is considered as one of the signs of burnout, while people experiencing emotional exhaustion often feel like they have no power or control over what happens in life.
What is emotional exhaustion?
motional exhaustion is kind of like physical tiredness, except it is the mind instead of the muscles that suffers. It tends to show up when we focus on a mentally tough task for a while.
During this time, we might also feel this kind of brain drain if we are always on alert or stressed out. Our job, caring for children or aging parents, and other things can lead to mental exhaustion.
Under this aspect, lack of energy, poor sleep, and decreased motivation can make it difficult to address emotional exhaustion. Over time, this state can cause permanent damage to anyone’s health.
Emotional exhaustion signs
#1 Emotional signs: One major sign of mental exhaustion is feeling far less alert than usual and find it challenging to focus, even when it comes to everyday or routine tasks. Other common signs include:
- Feelings of depression, including a persistent sad, low, or hopeless mood
- Lingering feelings of anxiety
- Difficulty caring about anything
- A sense of detachment, cynicism, or pessimism
- Anger or irritability
- Difficulty processing and managing emotions
- A sense of dread
- A decline in motivation or productivity
- Feeling lethargic or slowed down in movements or responses
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering information, putting thoughts together, or completing work correctly
#2 Physical signs: Mental exhaustion can extend to our physical health too, contributing to symptoms that do not have a clear cause. We might notice:
- Head and body aches
- Upset stomach
- Sleep issues, including chronic fatigue, drowsiness, and insomnia
- changes in appetite and weight
- frequent illnesses, such as colds and flu
- A general sense of unwellness
#3 Behavioral signs: Mental exhaustion can begin to affect your everyday activities and behavior. We might:
- Find yourself constantly putting off tasks at school, work, or around the house
- Notice a decline in your performance at work or school
- Drink alcohol or use other substances to help manage symptoms
- Start to avoid people you’d usually enjoy spending time with
- Feel irritable or distracted around others and have trouble paying attention during interactions
- Have trouble managing responsibilities or keeping personal or work commitments
- Find yourself calling out of work or school more often
Mental vs. emotional exhaustion
Generally speaking, “mental” tends to refer to cognitive skills, like thinking, memory, decision-making, and problem-solving. “Emotional,” on the other hand, has to do with feelings, including your ability to identify, process, and express them.
Someone might notice emotional exhaustion when navigating difficult, painful, or unwanted feelings, such as:
Both mental and emotional exhaustion can leave us feeling detached, unmotivated, apathetic, and trapped. The challenges we are facing might seem impossible to overcome, and we might feel too drained to keep trying.
If burnout comes to mind, we on the right track, as burnout can come from emotional and mental fatigue.
Addressing mental exhaustion
There are a number of things we can do to help ease mental exhaustion. Making some lifestyle changes can help us address it at the source, while coping strategies can help take steps to feel more rested and renewed when facing challenges that cause significant life stress.
#1 Remove the stressor: It is not always possible to eliminate the triggers of stress and fatigue, but this typically does offer one of the best ways to relieve stress. Feeling overwhelmed at work? Having difficulty keeping up with household responsibilities or caregiving? If we find the stressor the eliminating it becomes much easier.
#2 Exercise: Regular physical activity can have a positive impact on your mood, energy levels, and brain function, not to mention overall physical well-being. It is not necessary to engage in a complex or high intensity activity to reap the benefits, either. If you are able to, moderate exercise, like a brisk half-hour walk, can still make a difference in the mood and help feel calmer and more relaxed.
#3 Get professional support: As said above, mental exhaustion can have serious consequences for the physical and emotional health. Ongoing fatigue can slow our reaction time and contribute to dangerous errors at high risk jobs, such as seafaring.
As a matter of fact, a recent MARTHA Fatigue Report revealed that fatigue has safety and long-term physical and mental health implications and long tours of duty (over 6 months) may lead to increased sleepiness, loss of sleep quality, reduced motivation which could contribute to ‘near-misses’ and accidents onboard.
If you have noticed any of the signs and symptoms, consider connecting with a therapist. Mental health professionals can offer support with:
- Identifying causes and triggers
- Exploring treatment options
- Learning helpful ways to cope with stress and demanding responsibilities
A doctor or other healthcare professional might also be able to offer support, especially if there is physical fatigue and other health symptoms.
#4 Take a break: Without a doubt, today’s world requires everyone to live in an extremely fast paced world. To make matters worse, when we need that we have to break, we feel guilty not to leave all of our responsibilities on hold for a few days.
However, time to rest and recharge can go a long way toward easing feelings of mental exhaustion.
A break might mean any of the following:
- Clearing your schedule of nonessential tasks for a few days
- Taking an extended vacation
- Booking an hour of time for yourself each day
- Leaving your office during lunch and taking a full hour for a leisurely meal, walk, or other nonwork activity
- Setting aside an evening or 2 each week to have dinner or watch a movie with friends