Life is full of ups and downs. While we may have seasons of rest, it’s also possible to experience periods of intense stress. During these times, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose control of our mental health. A major contributor to this is adrenaline: a hormone that sends you into high alert. When you’re brimming with adrenaline and encounter a new stressor, it’s difficult to calm down and think rationally. Do you feel like life is throwing you one problem after another without giving you a chance to catch your breath? If so, you may be suffering from emotional exhaustion.
The Definition of Emotional Exhaustion
Emotional exhaustion can be easily compared to other types of fatigue. For example, if you participate in an intense workout class, you probably feel drained afterwards. Maybe you reduce your physical activity and head to bed early. Emotional exhaustion is a similar phenomenon catalyzed by mental activity. Namely, stress and anxiety.
Many people find that their symptoms are triggered by demanding professions, but others face trials in the home or in their relationships. Common causes of emotional exhaustion include:
- High-pressure situations at work or at home
- Living with a chronic condition (pain or illness)
- Serving as a caregiver for an elderly loved one
- Rigorous academic settings
- Lacking control over one’s life
- Raising children
- Financial stress
- Contentious divorce or separation
- Lack of social support
- Loss of a loved one
- Pregnancy and birth
As you can see, stressors don’t have to be work-related. If a person feels like they need to perform all the time – and puts themselves under pressure to do so – they are at risk for this condition.
Signs That Something is Wrong
Like all cases of chronic stress, emotional exhaustion is bad for you in myriad ways. Physically, a person who is at the end of their rope will begin to suffer from a compromised immune system, unexplained aches and pains, and a weariness that isn’t helped by sleeping more. They might begin to underachieve at work, citing confusion and difficulty concentrating as the reasons behind their slip. It’s also easy to identify the mental changes that accompany emotional exhaustion: those in this situation often become pessimistic, irritable, and unmotivated.
Emotional Exhaustion Test
1. Have you begun to call out of work more often?
2. Do you feel tired, even when you’ve had a full night’s sleep?
3. Do you dread getting out of bed in the morning?
4. Are you struggling to connect with others on an emotional level?
5. Do you feel disengaged from your responsibilities?
6. Are you more easily irritated than usual?
7. Have you lost the desire to spend time with friends?
8. Have you noticed any unexplained symptoms (like headaches or muscle tension)?
9. Do you often feel overwhelmed?
10. Are you easily startled, jumpy, or jittery?
11. Has your performance at work (or home) worsened?
12. Have your friends, family, or loved ones mentioned that you seem upset?
13. Do you lack enthusiasm in any area of your life?
14. Have you become less productive than usual?
15. Do you have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep?
If you answered “yes” to more than half of these questions, we recommend that you immediately make plans to address your emotional exhaustion.
How to Treat Exhaustion
It’s easy to find ourselves in this position. Americans are more prone to emotional exhaustion than residents of many other countries, chiefly because of policies like long hours, no paid parental leave, and no legally mandated annual leave. Researchers estimate that these factors combined have led to the United States becoming the most overworked developed nation in the world. Knowing that others are in the same position often provides comfort to those who feel like taking a break would make them “lazy” or “selfish.” Remember that caring for yourself is an important task, and that there are steps you can take to treat emotional exhaustion.
Make a Change
First, try to address the thing that’s stressing you out. At work, you can ask for support from your supervisor or delegate tasks to coworkers. If you’ve tried to change things in the office and haven’t succeeded, it’s always possible to begin the hunt for a new job.
As we’ve explained before, self-care isn’t all bubble baths and pampering. It means eating healthy meals, going to bed at a reasonable time, and going to the doctor if you need medical care.
Learn to Cope
There are plenty of constructive ways to handle life’s challenges. Avoid using drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate. Instead, exercise to release endorphins, vent to a friend, or talk to your healthcare provider about your options.
If you’re willing to let work spill over into your personal life – or vice versa – you’re especially vulnerable to emotional exhaustion. Put your work phone on silent and avoid checking emails after you’ve left the office for the day. Then ask your friends and family to limit their calls and messages until after work hours. This division is an easy way to create a better work-life balance.
Get in Touch with Yourself
It’s tough to manage your feelings if you aren’t quite sure what’s wrong. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and journaling are all excellent avenues to mindfulness.
Make a Routine
Humans love routine. By nature, we’re creatures of habit. Making plans for each day is proven to alleviate stress, improve sleep, boost energy, and promote emotional well-being.
Take a Break
Back in 2019, Allianz Global found that 36% of Americans last took a vacation over two years ago, and over half of them hadn’t taken a trip in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has made these numbers worse. While it can be difficult to get away from a busy workplace, we encourage you to set aside time for rest and relaxation. Even if you don’t travel out of town, a staycation may be just what you need to breathe deeply and de-stress.
Get Professional Help
It can be difficult to make these changes on your own, especially if you’ve always suffered from chronic stress. A qualified therapist can provide the support and structure you need to recover from emotional exhaustion. If you would like to begin an outpatient mental health program, we recommend contacting the Lakeside-Milam admissions team. We are standing by to help you take control of your life.