- Emotional exhaustion is the draining of a person. There is a lot of stress that is pushed down due to events in life, and that pushing down eventually leads to emotional exhaustion.
- Long-term exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed may lead to physical damage to physical as well as mental health.
- The person experiencing this may often feel bored or stuck.
Emotional exhaustion, sometimes understood as burnout, is a state that a person experiences when they feel emotionally spent out and exhausted due to the stress that one experiences.
It is like a mental brain drain that exists that occurs due to the overwhelming and stressful nature of life.
What is Emotional Exhaustion?
Emotional exhaustion comes through when an individual is stressed out and overwhelmed due to life’s circumstances and feels empty or stuck in their life cycle.
Emotional exhaustion actually forms due to a prolonged period of overwhelming stress and avoiding dealing with it. It is also known as being emotionally overextended or burned out.
At any point in time, it can happen to anyone and it can affect the strongest of people. It is an experience that has multiple reasons to exist and will be experienced if care is not taken to deal with it.
Symptoms of Emotional Exhaustion
The symptoms of emotional exhaustion are something that everyone should be on the lookout for. It occurs due to prolonged stress levels. The symptoms range in intensity and vary from one individual to another, so care should be taken while diagnosing.
The symptoms of emotional exhaustion can also be seen in physical aspects, psychological aspects, and also with performance as well. Some of the physiological symptoms include:
Exhaustion occurs due to the stress and duress that the body goes through. The stress being experienced in the body leads to its physical expression of it and it takes a toll on the people experiencing it, thus, leading to exhaustion.
Exhaustion leaves the body and mind of the person feeling emptied out or extremely tired.
Fatigue occurs in a person when there is a lot of stress being experienced. Fatigue sets into the body of tired eyes, low level of concentration, not wanting to move around a lot, and feeling tired. Knocking the wind out of their system would be another way to put it.
Headaches occur when the stress stays in there too much. Worrying, stressing, and getting overwhelmed for a longer period of time leads to the head being cluttered and beginning to feel an ache towards it.
4. Change in appetite
This change can be either eating too much food than one normally would or eating too little from regular meals. These changes can be attributed to feeling too stressed to maintain a proper schedule or diet.
The life they are currently living in right now does not give them a chance to have healthy life habits, as they choose to do their work or anything else over maintaining good eating habits. This leads to weight fluctuations and changes in appetite as well, which becomes a sign of emotional exhaustion.
5. Irrational anger
Because of the overwhelming nature of their daily life, they become easily irritated and have irrational anger toward different situations. The anger stems from the fact that the emotions of the person are not being processed and they start having negative reactions to everything around them due to this same reason.
They tend to be pessimistic due to the exhaustion they feel. As they are out of touch and do not feel in the situations that they are in. Pessimism becomes their normal way of looking at things in life as they feel disconnected from what is happening around them.
7. Difficulty concentrating
Difficulty in concentration occurs when the stress of everyday life and compressing it takes away the energy one has left to do their job. The overwhelming nature of the situations that one goes through makes it difficult for someone to have focus and full concentration on their task.
It also makes it difficult to succeed at multitasking as it feels like too much and can overwhelm a person when there are too many things to take care of.
8. Muscle tension
The stress and displacement that the body feels during the stressful time of their life that is not dealt with leads to muscle tension and pain in various parts of the body due to negligence or going on without taking a break.
The psychological symptoms of emotional exhaustion are far and varied depending on the individual.
As these are a result of avoiding dealing with one’s emotions and feeling drained out due to the stress that they are facing, this leads to people having multiple ways in which they feel the repercussions of this.
Some of the psychological symptoms include:
1. Lack of motivation
Because of the level of exhaustion and overwhelming stress that seems to go nowhere or doesn’t get better with time, people lose their motivation and find it difficult to get it back as their pessimistic worldview also sets in.
2. Trouble sleeping
With the stress and anxiety bubbling up each time, they have trouble sleeping. They stay awake until the point of physical exhaustion to fall asleep or when they try to sleep; they are unable to and their mind keeps racing and they keep worrying about work, life, and other stressors.
3. Easily irritated
They get easily irritated by the people or situations around them. As they are running on high-stress levels, they feel easily agitated and may even lash out at people around them because they are not emotionally aligned with themselves.
They feel apathetic to other people around them or the situation they are in. As there is no happiness or satisfaction in the place in their life that they are at, they start to detach and feel apathy towards other people in their life.
As the person is emotionally exhausted and stressed out, they start to become forgetful and also act in a way that is absentminded in nature. They may leave things behind, say something obtuse or not give the correct answers and not care about finding the correct way either.
There is a bit of hopelessness for people suffering from emotional exhaustion as they feel like this might never end. They feel tired and drained out of their life and they speak in a way also that showcases hopelessness or makes plans in a way where they are not bothered about what is going to happen next as they feel hopeless about their future.
As they are feeling overwhelmed and stressed due to their life circumstances, they also feel nervous. Anxiety and stress go together and create the feeling of nervousness when they have to continue to deal with their life situations while they are feeling overwhelmed.
Someone who has been experiencing emotional exhaustion for too long may also show symptoms of depression. Feeling apathy, and hopelessness are all symptoms of depression as well. Emotional stages may become a gateway to depression in extreme cases when left untreated.
9. Sense of dread
A sense of dread sets in on people suffering from emotional exhaustion. They have anxiety and stress in their body and they start to feel dread and feelings of caution when they have to deal with situations they are not prepared for. They may feel dread when they are in situations where they feel boxed in.
10. Inability to connect
Someone with emotional exhaustion loses the ability to connect with people around them. As they are thinking thoughts of pessimism and feeling hopelessness, they also start to detach from the situations they are a part of.
They are present in social and work settings, but they have mentally checked out. They also find it difficult to care for or be involved with other people’s situations and emotions, as they cannot feel anything for themselves as well.
11. Low self-esteem
People suffering from emotional exhaustion also have low self-esteem. They start to believe negative things about themselves and are not confident about their life and the decisions they are making. Their low self-esteem also reflects in their behavior in the workplace as well as in their personal life.
12. Missing deadlines
Someone with emotional exhaustion also tends to play around or actually miss the deadlines that they are given. They are so worn out emotionally and their brain is also exhausted, so they do the bare minimum to meet the deadlines.
Sometimes that may also not be possible and they lose out on opportunities and get a bad reputation for not following deadlines.
13. Social Withdrawal
Because they are emotionally exhausted and also unable to connect with other people, they will socially withdraw from situations. They will mostly avoid big social gatherings, but even if they have been there compulsorily, they may not interact much and try to get out as early as possible.
Because their mind is so taxed with an overload of information and emotions, they may also become forgetful. Their absentminded nature starts to make them forget deadlines, dates, tasks, or events.
They may also forget things and or do certain chores that may even be very important to them that they are also interested in but because they are so overwhelmed, they may never find the time to do it or let it slip out of their memory.
15. Loss of imagination
As they are overwhelmed with work, thoughts, and emotions, they start to feel less and less creative. It becomes very difficult for them to imagine something new or novel or be creative.
They lose the plot and cannot move forward if they have to create something new or begin something in an entirely different way.
Performance Based Symptoms
Emotional exhaustion can also be noticed through the performance that an individual puts out at their workplace. Some of the performance based signs are:
1. Failure to meet deadlines
They tend to miss deadlines by maybe a few minutes or maybe a day. They may always be looking for extensions on their deadlines to complete the work they were assigned.
2. Higher turnover rate
The turnover rate is high as there are changes and moving in and out of companies as they cannot perform to their level best in any company. They do not rise up to the challenges of the job and look to move out of it.
3. More absences
They have comparatively more absences, which becomes a red flag based on how they spend their time in the office and the quality of their work. They may or may not always give a heads up about their leaves as well and are difficult to reach when these leaves are taken.
4. Low commitment
They show low commitment to the job. Based on their performance and involvement in the office, people can notice how committed they are to their job and the company.
It is usually low when someone is dealing with emotional exhaustion. They show this by bare minimum performance, verbal jokes, and comments that are overall negative towards employees or the company.
5. Performing slowly
They perform all their tasks slowly. As they are exhausted and not able to concentrate on their tasks, they perform their tasks and job slowly. They are emotionally and mentally drained out by the stress they experience and they are burned out at work.
6. Lack of enthusiasm at work
It becomes noticeable when they are lacking enthusiasm at the workplace as well as in their personal life. It is noticeable as it is different from their previous habits or interactions. They are unable to be as energetic about their life and the events happening around them.
7. Social withdrawal at the workplace.
They withdraw socially in workplace situations. When there are work events, office-based socializing, and other team-building exercises, they do not seem to participate.
They may just leave early or not be that involved with anything else that is not work-related or something they compulsorily need to be done.
Causes of Emotional Exhaustion
There is no particular cause for emotional exhaustion, as it is not a mental disorder or illness. The causes of emotional exhaustion have more to do with lifestyle choices, career demands and choices, and a combination of all of these things that accumulate stress over time.
1. High-pressure jobs
Having a high-pressure job such as a doctor, police, and anything else which requires focus, dedication, and precision, are all precursors to having burn out and suffering from emotional exhaustion.
In jobs such as these which require a full investment of the individual’s time, emotions, and abilities, it starts to take a toll on them.
High-pressure jobs become the easiest way for people to get emotionally exhausted, as they cannot take frequent breaks from their high-time and energy-demanding jobs. Doing these regularly without any breaks leads to feeling emotionally drained.
2. Intense academic life
When an individual has an intense academic life, they get emotionally exhausted. Academic life can be tense and only focused on dealing with the academic pressure that one faces.
This can be especially tough to deal with if individuals are far away from their homes and have come to a different country to fulfill their academic wishes. When people are focused only on academic deadlines and submissions, they may lose out on other aspects of life and may face emotional exhaustion due to it.
3. Working long hours
Working or doing one thing for long hours may leave individuals vulnerable to emotional exhaustion. Working needs to be done in limited or with breaks in the middle. People that work continuously without giving themselves time for relaxation or a break make themselves vulnerable to emotional exhaustion.
People who have perfectionistic habits and personalities also suffer from emotional exhaustion very easily. People with perfectionism traits and habits, it becomes stressful and heavy on the person to do their tasks and job.
Perfectionism affects the individual so much that it creates stress and emotional exhaustion when they are unable to do things their way or if they have to wait for the results.
Loneliness in the profession or because of it can cause people to experience emotional exhaustion. Loneliness in general also leaves people with debilitating consequences.
Prolonging loneliness and getting a negative view about being alone can lead to someone being emotionally exhausted with their life. This might also lead them into a cycle as they are too emotionally exhausted to be open with new people in their life and hence only aggravating this cycle.
6. Having a baby
Having a baby is an extreme experience in all aspects. It is emotionally, physically, and psychologically draining as well. After being on extreme levels of an emotional rollercoaster leading up to the birth, it might lead to emotional exhaustion because of the various ways in which childcare drains out the energy from people.
7. Raising children
Raising children is a 24×7 job that gets no time off. Being continuously alert and on the edge because you have to take care of children throughout the day can get exhausting very fast.
Raising children is a lifelong journey, and it is especially vibrant from the beginning to the adolescent stage. People can face emotional burnout by the sheer amount of energy, money, and time it takes to raise children in this new world.
8. Financial stress
Facing financial stress is a really draining situation to be a part of. When people are facing financial stress, they may also be emotionally exhausted quickly as they become unsure of their future and constantly have to think about the alternatives if the financial strain is not recovered from.
People also become negative and pessimistic in their worldview, which ultimately enhances their emotional exhaustion.
9. Juggling multiple aspects of life at once
High-pressure jobs and living a lifestyle that is also highly demanding can cause emotional exhaustion. High-pressure jobs leave little time to take breaks or take care of oneself.
Having a lifestyle and habits that are not helpful in the long run also causes high stress and emotional exhaustion. Trying to juggle both life and work at the same can get stressful and may lead to people feeling drained out and feeling like they are failing in one place or the other.
10. Being a caregiver
Being a caregiver to anyone takes a lot of emotional involvement and attachment. Caregivers can feel emotional exhaustion after doing their job one after another without any breaks and recovery from the previous job.
The nature of their job is to give and take care and to be emotionally invested. This may lead to feeling drained, as they have their personal life as well, where they are expected to show the same level of caregiving and attachment.
11. Never settling court proceedings
Legal troubles and court proceedings are also emotionally exhausting. Having to go through personal affairs in an impersonal and clinical way may lead to feeling exhausted mentally and physically as well.
The toll of a legal procedure can be extreme depending on the personal investment of the people involved. It is never an easy process and it can only get worse for the individual if they start to feel too drained to care about what is happening, and they only want to get it over with.
12. Death of a loved one
Grief can make someone feel emotionally exhausted and drained out. Grief is about feeling the loss of someone and it can be too big or make someone feel like they do not feel anything about others at all.
The process of grief is always complicated and unique. The extreme nature of events and feelings felt through events such as legal things to do after the death of a loved one, the funeral process, etc. can lead to emotional exhaustion.
13. Living with an illness
Having a chronic illness or a lifelong illness can make people feel jaded and pessimistic about their life and about the people around them. They might get emotionally exhausted by the financial, emotional, psychological, and lifestyle keep-up they have to do to manage their illness.
They cannot just get up and do something without causing trouble for themselves or others and that can become a taxing weight to carry all the time. These types of difficult situations lead to emotional exhaustion.
Emotional Exhaustion and Burnout are the Same?
Emotional exhaustion and burnout are not one and the same thing. Burnout does not have a specific definition but is used to refer to people being extremely stressed out chronically.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact definition, the following are the symptoms of burnout:
- Emotional Exhaustion: The chronic stress that one faces that leaves them physically and mentally exhausted.
- Reduced Performance: Burnout decreases the quality of performance of an individual and makes them pessimistic regarding their life/ work.
- Distancing in work activities: As they feel emotionally exhausted and feel a reduction in their quality of performance, they start distancing themselves in the work setting. They may feel less committed to the company and their community.
How to Deal with Emotional Exhaustion
Emotional exhaustion is a reaction to a hectic lifestyle and avoidance of dealing with the stress and emotional aspects of its life. Fortunately, getting a therapist can help you with such a complex situation.
A trained mental health professional will diagnose and help you differentiate between emotional exhaustion and other mental health disorders and give you the proper help required.
The following coping ways are self-help care post and during therapy. Do not take these coping skills as a replacement for therapy.
1. Eliminate Stressors
Stressors are any thought, situation, event, or place that triggers your stress reaction. Stressors can be job-related, lifestyle-related, or anything and everything else. These are called stressors, as they cause significant distress to the person as their thoughts and reactions get triggered.
As stated previously, dealing with overwhelming stress leads to emotional exhaustion, so to deal with this preemptively, people have to identify and eliminate the stressors. These stressors can be identified with physical as well as psychological signs.
When people start to overthink, get anxious, or be overwhelmed when they are about to do something, this might mean that task or the root of it is a stressor. Someone can sweat and be unable to focus based on the task or event they are around. Finding stressors requires you to think about your actions and thought processes.
2. Healthy diet
Healthy lifestyle and diet are required so that you take care of yourself and do not feel the physical toll that emotional exhaustion can take. Having a healthy diet can build up your daily life and schedule to get proper sleep and food intake.
A proper diet and regular intake of food make it possible to get the nutrients required and follow a routine that is helpful for better managing tasks and emotions.
3. Maintain work-life balance
Maintaining a work-life balance is important as it is the key to not being emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed by different aspects of the job and lifestyle that you are a part of.
Maintaining proper work hours that are dedicated only to the work and then maintaining a work boundary after the working hours are finished is a good way to start off a work-life balance situation.
Upholding boundaries at the workplace and not overwhelming yourself with too much work is the key to work-life balance. If you start to feel overwhelmed at work, it might be a good option to see the office counselor or talk it out with a trusted team member.
Exercise is required so that your body gets rid of the adrenaline, stress, and anxiety it has built up within itself. Exercising on a day filled with stress also gives you an outlet for working out the stresses and gaining healthier coping habits.
Working on yourself also just might make you feel better about yourself and give you insight into balancing things in life.
Yoga is an important way to release the tension that one feels. Yoga also helps in giving the body and the mind the release it needs to feel better and centered.
Yoga works out the body in a healthier manner and gives you the best health benefit while doing it. It increases the concentration and the breathing capacity of the individuals, which can help long-term in dealing with anxiety and stress.
6. Limit consumption of alcohol
Alcohol is dangerous and negative for someone who is going through emotional exhaustion. It also affects your body negatively. Too much consumption of alcohol can affect your immune system, liver, and heart as well.
7. Getting proper sleep
Proper schedule is ideal to manage the stresses that one faces during their daily life. Not having a proper sleep schedule and sleeping too little or too much may cause damage to your brain.
It also hinders the way your body may ideally function. Uninterrupted sleep is needed to perform the next day effectively and not lose focus.
Journaling is an effective way to let out your thoughts and feelings. If you feel like you cannot tell others or it is too complicated for you to express it to anyone else, try journaling. Journaling every day will clear out your head and won’t let the thoughts clog your mind and body.
9. Breathing exercises
Breathing exercises help individuals in their daily life. Learning breathing exercises will help you out in real-time as you are experiencing stress and anxiety. Breathing exercises let you center your mind and calm down in an overwhelming situation.
Doing meditation is a simple solution for overwhelming thoughts and actions and the stress that one has to go through in their life. Meditation gives you a mental break from all the stress and overthinking and it also gives you a space to refocus on what is important.
11. Walking in nature
Being in nature is a relaxation of its own. Being in nature also gives you a chance to be one with your thoughts and makes you reflective. Witnessing a beautiful or scenic route decreases your daily stress level.
Going for a nature walk daily isn’t plausible for most people but you can try to manage one walk a month or on weekends in the morning. Getting that source of appreciation for nature might also lower the pessimistic view that people hold about their daily life.
12. Take a break
When you are constantly working and it is a stressful job, you can take a break when you realize you have hit your limit. Take a couple of days off work, travel or just be without responsibilities for those days.
Any way you relax is needed in those days. Taking a break essentially gives way to having the restarting ability with your mind and replenishing your body and mind for the upcoming days again.
Do not travel if it stresses you out or the planning of it stress you out. You can pre-plan your holidays and travels around other holidays and then take a big break and enjoy your time off.
Give yourself time to relax always, with the activities you enjoy, and do not feel guilty about it either. Maintaining that work-life balance also counts here.
13. Meet a friend
Meeting with a friend or a social group that is trusted and alleviates your stress after being with them is a wonderful way to destress. Meeting a trusted friend also gives you a place to air out your grievances and worries and feel your emotions as you go through them.
Generally, hanging out with friends and people you like automatically fulfills your soul and makes you feel energized when you meet them. Remember to meet like-minded people and high-energy people, and not someone who drains your energy after hanging out with them.
Emotional exhaustion is a result of a stressful and overwhelming life, which means that this is treatable. After realizing that one is suffering from emotional exhaustion, it is important to take the steps required to get better and make lifestyle changes that do not leave you stressed out most of the time.
Getting professional help is the most effective way of dealing with it. And preventing it is what you can do if you realize you are on the verge of experiencing it. Stress-management tools and techniques are the most effective way to manage stress and anxiety before it becomes emotional exhaustion.
Passionate about both writing and psychology. A Counseling psychologist by profession and a writer by desire. Her aim has always been to combine the two wherever she can. You can always catch her updating her reading list and reflecting on the world around us. Empathetic to a fault and hoping to help people enough to leave a positive impact.