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 anyone else as a gauge for your stress. What feels easy to your co-workers could feel like pulling teeth to you—and vice versa: your walk in the park could be their nightmare.
What we do know is that emotional exhaustion hits when you’re feeling overwhelmed, overworked, or plain ole stressed.
While the old entrepreneur mindset of taking no time off used to reign in the business world, it’s quickly falling out of vogue.
Companies are discovering that healthy, rested employees do better work. Some of them even let you nap on the job. Google, the Huffington Post, and even NASA have energy pods for sleepy employees.
For example, firefighters are notoriously sleep-deprived. Measures are now being implemented to ensure these first responders are properly rested and ready for action.
Across the country, fire departments are teaming up with medical professionals to design special sleep-hygiene training for their squads. If the tough guys need it, we all do.
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 Of Emotional Exhaustion?
While it can be hard to figure out what’s causing your emotional exhaustion, the symptoms are less difficult to spot:
Not Enough Sleep
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 good sleep is crucial to performing your best during the day, so losing sleep over stress isn’t going to do you any favors.
We’ve all heard that you should aim for eight hours of sleep a night, but how much do you actually need?
According to Harvard Health, people aged 18-64 should aim to get between 7 and 9 hours a night, and people over age 64 should aim for 7 to 8 hours.
But that’s the average: experiment with sleeping for different lengths of time to see what works best for your body.
Most importantly, be strategic with your sleep. Today, we are cognizant of what we eat and how we take care of our bodies — we should be paying just as much attention, if not more, to our sleep cycles.
Are You Sleeping Too Much?
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.
The general consensus is that over nine hours is too much sleep.
Again, be strategic about your sleep: try using an app like SleepScore or Sleep Cycle to monitor your sleep time and quality.
If you want data even more tailored to your body, wearables like Fitbit and Apple Watch have sleep tracking capabilities.
You’re Taking Sick Days
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.
While there's no magic remedy to prevent all illnesses, there are a number of ways you can mitigate your risk of getting the office bug.
To prevent getting sick, take extra care to listen to your body. If you feel your body lagging, rest — taking one sick day and getting over a virus is much better than working through it and having to take more time off. Also, be sure to incorporate vitamins into your daily routine.
This can’t be said enough: wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer after touching door handles or shaking hands.
Stay extra hydrated—and, no—coffee doesn’t count.
You can boost your immune system by relieving stress. Maybe it's finally time to schedule that massage you've been wanting. Go ahead — consider it an investment that will reap dividends in the form of good health.
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.
Brain fog happens when you're trying to do too much at once. With your phone buzzing, emails rolling in, and endless Twitter notifications, there's no wonder you can't focus on your work.
To alleviate the insanity, focus on one task at a time. Break tasks into bite-sized chunks that don’t look intimidating.
Separate yourself from the distraction toys. If you sit down to write an invoice, leave your phone across the room. If you need to return work calls, face your chair away from the computer and don’t turn around until you’re done.
If staying away from your devices is a no-go, it's time to minimize the damage.
Set social media limits on your phone that don't allow you to access certain apps for long periods of time. Otherwise, it may be time for a technology cleanse over the weekend.
Still, emotional exhaustion is a fickle beast that can be hard to identify.
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.
How Much Does Emotional Exhaustion Cost?
The truth is that emotional exhaustion can cost — a lot.
Let’s look at it this way: if you drive a car for years and years without ever servicing it, it will eventually break down — it’s only a matter of time. The damage caused is likely much more expensive than the money it would have taken to keep it tuned up.
Health problems caused by emotional exhaustion can start to lead to sick days and lost working hours.
Lack of productivity reduces your work output ability, and you run the risk of burnout.
More than just a few lost working hours, emotional exhaustion could have serious long term consequences.
Falling asleep while commuting or even collapsing at your desk are a few ways emotional exhaustion can be dangerous, or even deadly.
Here’s something you may not know: some cultures even have a word for it — karoshi in Japanese and guolaosi in Chinese — meaning death from overwork.
Burnout is not good for anyone.
Check with your health care professional if you experience symptoms related to emotional exhaustion that could be putting your health at risk.
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 means sitting in a ”lotus” position and chanting “ohm” over and over, right?
Not quite. Simply put, meditation is a set of techniques used to reach a heightened state of awareness and a calm mental state.
Though it takes on different forms like moving or guided meditations, meditation in its most basic expression is simply focusing on the present moment.
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.
How To Meditate In 4 Steps
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.
Alternatively, pick a place in nature. Meditation was designed for nature. It’s a great venue to fully relax.
Leave your phone at home and sit in some soft grass or next to a gurgling stream. Let the sounds of birds and the breeze soothe your mind as you draw your attention inward.
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 thing. 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: breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and release that breath 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.