You wake up tired. You keep forgetting things. You're cranky all day. You’ve taken more sick days in the past month than you did all of last year! What is going on?
Everybody has easy days and hard days—but your hard days feel like they’re hitting harder and harder.
If you’re feeling psychologically and emotionally drained, emotional exhaustion could be the culprit.
With physical problems, you can point to where it hurts. Mental health problems work a little differently. Your brain is uniquely yours, so it can be difficult to identify what’s triggering your emotional exhaustion. This means that you can’t use anybody else as a gauge for your stress. What comes easily to your co-worker could feel like pulling teeth to you—and vice versa: your walk in the park could be their nightmare. It's all personal.
What we do know is that emotional exhaustion hits when you’re feeling overwhelmed, overworked, or plain ole stressed.
Typically, emotional exhaustion occurs when you feel a lack of control over your life. Some common triggers for emotional exhaustion are:
- Financial stress
- Extra hours at the office
- Too much on your to-do list
- Feeling underqualified
- A big life change (think having a child or experiencing a loss)
What Are The Signs and Symptoms Of Emotional Exhaustion?
While it can be hard to figure out what’s causing your emotional exhaustion, the symptoms are less difficult to spot:
Your Sleep is Weak
Getting out of bed feels a lot harder than it used to. Emotional exhaustion can really throw your sleep schedule out of whack, leaving your energy tank empty for the day. Insomnia and sleep loss are both common signs of emotional exhaustion. Getting a good sleep is crucial to performing your best during the day, so losing sleep over stress isn’t going to do you any favors.
While some people don’t sleep at all when battling emotional exhaustion, others sleep all night and still wake up feeling totally drained. This can lead to over-sleeping, which is almost as bad as not sleeping at all. Over-sleeping leaves fewer hours in the day to accomplish your tasks—making you even more stressed than you were before you got those extra Zs.
You Don't Feel Too Good
Emotional exhaustion creates the perfect climate for disease inside your body: you’re sleeping less, you’re eating less, and your focus is being pulled in ten different directions.
This leaves your immune system compromised, making you more likely to catch that lousy cough going around the office.
Your Attitude is a Badittude
When you’re emotionally exhausted, your attitude suffers. Depending on who you are and how you process emotional exhaustion, you could experience this in different ways—namely over-sensitivity or apathy.
With over-sensitivity, it’s much harder to gauge the importance of situations. Your stress is like a helium pump inflating every inconvenience that crosses your path. Like a balloon, you’re going to pop. This is when emotional outbursts tend to happen.
Apathy occurs when your brain is too tired to experience emotions at all. Things that used to make you happy are just things now. Apathy makes you feel like a robot. This can have a serious impact on your relationships. You have trouble mustering up the energy to empathize with your friends and family members, which could make you feel detached and distant.
Your Brain is Hazy
When your brain is overloaded with tasks, it can have a hard time keeping track of the little things. Your concentration is impaired. You take more time to complete tasks. You’re more prone to small errors and lapses in memory.
So if you start forgetting your home address when you’re on the phone with the pizza delivery guy, emotional exhaustion could be rearing its spacey head.
You Develop Serious Medical Complications
Long-term stress is linked to a whole series of health problems. Stress can raise your blood pressure and mess with your heart’s natural rhythm. This increases your chances of having a stroke or heart attack. It also heightens your risk of developing diabetes.
Emotional exhaustion can take a serious toll on your mental health too. People who experience chronic stress are more prone to developing mental disorders like anxiety and depression. They are also more likely to abuse substances, like drugs or alcohol. While mental health problems can feel secondary to physical health issues, they can be just as dangerous if left untreated. Those facing depression are 50 percent more likely to consider taking their own lives—75 percent if they have a substance addiction to boot. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important that you contact a mental health professional or a prevention center.
What Can You Do If You Experience Emotional Exhaustion?
Luckily for you, emotional exhaustion isn’t an endless cycle of sleepless nights and negativity. There are ways to combat it.
Carve Out “You Time”
The first, and arguably most important, way to keep emotional exhaustion at bay? Self-care. If you can carve out an hour of your day to focus on yourself, you’re going to feel more in control.
Self-care isn’t a one-size-fits-all, so you’re going to need to figure out what works for you. Maybe it’s a bath. Maybe it’s a glass of wine. Maybe it’s movie marathons or eating an entire bowl of mashed potatoes by yourself. In any case, finding your brand of self-care and putting it to use is going to make your life a whole lot easier.
Another way you can combat emotional exhaustion is by getting organized. Organizing your life by keeping checklists or a calendar can make you feel more empowered to confront the obstacles ahead of you. It’s a lot easier to tackle your day when you have a game plan.
Meditation is one of your best weapons in the battle against emotional exhaustion—if you know how to use it. Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to meditate. Sitting with your eyes closed and a billion anxious thoughts running through your brain isn’t going to do anybody any good. Done wrong, meditation can be an itchy practice that wastes time and leaves you feeling more stressed out.
Done right, it can change your whole outlook.
Find a Quiet Place
It’s borderline impossible to meditate in a noisy room. Trying to meditate in a crowded coffee shop or bustling office will likely end in you eavesdropping on the people around you.
That’s why you’re going to need to pick your location carefully. Ideally, you’re going to want to choose an empty room. If you can’t find an empty room, a room with minimal noise will do just fine. If you can hear some horns blaring outside or a passing siren, that’s okay. No room is completely soundproof, and outside sounds are relatively easy to tune out.
What matters most is that there isn’t anybody talking around you.
Get Into a Relaxed (But Not Too Relaxed) Position
Meditating and napping are not the same. When you meditate, you want to get into a relaxed position—but one where you can stay awake. Sitting up in a comfortable chair or on the floor with your legs crossed are two fine positions to take while you meditate. If you find it hard to relax at your desk, you may want to invest in a meditation cushion to sit on.
Contrary to what’s in the movies, you do not have to contort yourself to meditate. Twisting your legs into a flesh pretzel is actually going to make it harder to center yourself and clear your mind. When you meditate, you don’t want to be thinking about anything—least of all tipping over or how badly your knees hurt.
Breathing comfortably is the key to meditating well. Try to breathe deeply and regularly. If you have difficulty breathing deeply, follow the 4-7-8 rule: take a breath in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds, and release it for 8 seconds.
It will take some practice, but breathing deeply can help lower your heart rate and your blood pressure, leaving you calm and focused.
Clear Your Mind
For most people, this is the hardest part of meditation. That’s because we make the mistake of trying to focus on clearing our minds. When you focus on clearing your mind, you’re going to start stressing out about how clear your mind is.
Instead, focus on the last step: your breathing. With each inhale and exhale, focus on how your chest moves. Concentrate on the sound your breath makes. This will help you to flush out your brain and recenter yourself.
If you still have difficulty getting rid of those pesky thoughts, try using an app like HeadSpace to guide you through the steps.
Are You Emotionally Exhausted?
If you find yourself flustered by small tasks or always grumpy, take a hard look inwards and ask yourself if you could be suffering from emotional exhaustion. If you are, it’s time to take the steps necessary to rest and rejuvenate your mind and body.
Kayla is WealthFit’s Associate Editor. She previously worked with Teach For America and is driven by her belief in an equal and excellent financial education for all people.