What is emotional exhaustion?
Exhaustion refers to a state of feeling completely and utterly worn out. It’s easy to assume that this unusual level of tiredness is due to a rough few days and poor quality sleep. But after a while, you just have to admit that you’re perpetually exhausted no matter what you do. Not only are you physically tired but you’re mentally and even emotionally frayed. The result? Emotional exhaustion.
Emotional exhaustion is the result of chronic stress from a variety of different sources. It can be due to your job, home life, or both, but quite often it’s a symptom of a much bigger issue known as burn out. Those experiencing emotional exhaustion can feel like they have little to no control over their own lives. They can feel trapped and even smothered by wave after wave of everyday problems. Eventually, even the smallest things can trigger the biggest meltdown.
What’s worse? A lack of sleep, poor appetite, and a lack of motivation can make us feel trapped in an endless cycle of exhaustion without the ability to overcome it. In time this can lead to chronic health conditions and can cause permanent damage to both our bodies and minds.
Eight Key Signs of Emotional Exhaustion
Fatigue isn’t as simple as feeling tired. You can feel tired after a day at work or a late night, but it often goes away with some much needed rest. But fatigue never goes away, no matter how much sleep we get or coffee we drink. You could sleep for twenty hours and still wake up feeling just as exhausted as ever. Fatigue can even make us feel physically heavier and like we’re carrying a weight on our shoulders. It’s not only exhausting feeling so, well, exhausted, but it can also leave us feeling depressed and unmotivated.
You find yourself unable to sleep, or remain asleep
Sleep was always something that proved a challenge for me. I was still that person who saw every waking hour as it ticked by. The later it got, the more anxious I would become, the less likely I was to get a good quality kip. Next thing I knew it was six AM and time to rise for another long, difficult day. Eventually medication was the only thing that would help, and even then it left me drowsy.
The thing is it doesn’t matter that you’re perpetually exhausted, your thoughts keep you awake. Yes, you might catch a couple of minutes here and there, but there’s nothing like sleeping through the night. Not only do you feel mentally and emotionally exhausted, but physically too. All of this accumulates and exacerbates your physical and mental symptoms, which really doesn’t help matters, does it?
You might be prone to fits of tears for no apparent reason
I can vividly recall a time when the slightest thing would set me off. It could be the first few notes of a sad song, a slightly raised voice, or even the most minor of inconveniences. Then there were the days when all my manager had to do was look at me and I would burst into tears. It wasn’t that he was being particularly nasty or angry in any way, it was just that I was so burnt out that I could barely maintain composure.
If you’re at the point where even a hint of inconvenience has you hysterically weeping, then chances are your suffering from some sort of exhaustion. Being that drained plays on us physically and mentally, and we lose all ability to cope with difficult situations, no matter how small. Don’t be ashamed if you’ve found yourself crying in front of strangers, family, friends, and colleagues. Instead, take it as a warning sign that you need to take a step back and slow down.
Apathy. Empty. Void. There are so many words to describe detachment and yet nothing comes close to how it actually feels. Although you might feel overwhelmed and cry at the drop of a hat, there are occasions where nothing affects you. You feel neither good nor bad, and instead, it’s almost as if you’re a shell in the shape of a human being. You’ve become drained to the point of emptiness. Although it might feel like depression, there isn’t the same weight as one might feel when depressed.
At the time I felt as if I were looking out from the inside of a glass bottle. I was able to see and hear everything that was being said, but I couldn’t join in. The feeling of climbing out of the bottle made me terrified and more exhausted than I already was. So I sat in my bottle, watching the world go by and occasionally feeling something akin to sadness, but never anything else. Not even a glimmer of hope.
Physical illness and symptoms of emotional exhaustion
Quite often mental illness and exhaustion can manifest physically. Physical symptoms of stress can be things such as heart palpitations, issues with the gut, headaches, joint pain, dizziness, hives and mouth ulcers. Personally speaking I experience major disruptions to my digestion system and crippling headaches, both of which are a sure sign that I’m burning the candle at both ends.
If you’re experiencing an accumulation of symptoms that can’t be explained by any other source or illness, it could be your body’s way of asking you to slow down.
Easily irritated and quick to anger
The smallest thing will either make you cry or irritate you to the point of anger. It’s at this point that your wick has been burnt too far and you feel like you’re about to explode! Unfortunately when we reach the stage of irritation it’s often the ones we love that suffer the most. It’s only after the outrage that we feel the shame, the guilt and, finally, hopelessness.
Lack of motivation
It’s your day off work and all you want to do is sleep. You can’t even motivate yourself to lift a book, a pen or the latest video game. Calling a friend? Forget about it. I’ll do it tomorrow. Except you won’t because you simply can’t bring yourself to do it. It’s easier to stay in bed or on the couch and ignore the world until you have to get up. The goals that once kept you on track don’t work anymore, which can be especially detrimental if you’re in school or work. All of the things you need to get done begin to accumulate and suddenly you’re overwhelmed by everything you’ve left behind.
A lack of motivation is one of the worst feelings and yet it’s all too common when it comes to mental and emotional exhaustion.
Feeling anxious or on edge
Finally there’s the perpetual feelings of anxiety. With everything accumulating and your feelings of detachment increasing, your stress levels begin to increase. Anxiety attacks become a common occurance and you start to overthink every little detail. This in turn begins to affect your sleep, your stress levels and before you know it the cycle starts all over again.
“I’m no stranger to the impacts of emotional exhaustion.”
Prior to 2019 I was in a well respected job after years of endless studying. I’d been working since I was fourteen, studying throughout and had finally landed my big break! And for a while things were good. I was well paid, learning new things and I was convinced that my future was laid out. But after a series of unfortunate events, diagnoses and over two years of a highly stressful environment, I suffered from a relapse in my mental health. Everything from my ability to sleep to my ability to use the bathroom was affected. Eventually I was asked to take time off to recover, and it was at this time that I lost both my grandmother and grandfather. It was only then that I decided that enough was enough, and if I really wanted to get better I would have to sacrifice the one thing I held dear; My job.
Since then I’ve worked on resting myself emotionally, physically and mentally. I’ve taken the time to breathe and reintroduce myself to the things that make me, me. I went from contemplating suicide on a daily basis to waking up with a spring in my step, and all because I took the time to slow down. Life isn’t a race. It’s not about your paycheck or where you are in regards to others. And the sooner we realise the sooner we start to live.
If you’d like to read more about stress, burnout and emotional exhaustion, check out any of the following:
Nyxie’s Nook is a blog focusing on mental health awareness, eating disorder recovery, wellness, and self-development. The blog was started in March 2019 in a bid to raise awareness for mental illness such as Anorexia Nervosa and Anxiety, two such disorders I suffer from. However, what started out as a hobby, quickly turned into something much, much more!
Nyxie’s Nook has become a place to talk about all mental health issues and the struggles that come along with recovery. I cover a variety of subjects ranging from general wellness right up to more specific recovery related content. I not only aim to cater to those in recovery but to people in all walks of life.