How Emotional Exhaustion Creeps Into Your Life Without Realizing It

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Have you heard of emotional exhaustion? The term “emotional exhaustion” describes a constellation of physical and mental symptoms that arise when you’ve exhausted your emotional reserves.

Chances are, even if you’ve never heard the term before, you’ve experienced this condition. Keep reading to learn the tell-tale signs of emotional exhaustion, as well as the best ways to prevent and recover from it.

Identifying Emotional Exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion is a progressive condition. It doesn’t descend on you all it once, instead, it creeps up on you. Before you know it, you may find that your emotional energy reserves have been totally drained.

People experiencing emotional exhaustion often report a combination of the following physical and mental symptoms:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Heightened need for sleep, often paired with fitful sleep
  • Low capacity to tolerate stress
  • Inattentiveness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Chest pain and heart palpitations
  • Increased irritability
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Difficulty experiencing happiness or excitement

How to Ward Off Emotional Exhaustion

If you recognize the signs of emotional exhaustion early enough, there are steps you can take to rebalance your physical and mental states. Boundary-setting is a key element of emotional wellbeing.  Be aware of the emotional demands made of you, and be sure not to give more energy than you have. Going into emotional debt will negatively affect not only you but those close to you, too.

Learning to say no goes hand in hand with setting appropriate boundaries. When we take on too many commitments, we will inevitably end up overwhelmed. Direct your time and energy into the things that matter most to you, doing this will improve the quality of your work…your relationships … and your life.

Making time for relaxation and practicing mindfulness can also help you prevent emotional exhaustion. For some, a formal mediation practice can be a wonderful way to achieve this. Offers prefer to remind themselves to stay in the moment, or to take things one step at a time. Try out different techniques and see what works best for you!

What to Do When You Experience Emotional Exhaustion

But what if you’re already in the throes of emotional exhaustion? When you’re completely depleted, you may need more active approaches to restore yourself. If you can identify the stress-causing source of your emotional exhaustion, and can eliminate it from your life, that’s an important first step toward reestablishing wellbeing. It’s not always possible—or desirable—to do this, for instance, if you have a high-stress job that you also love and find to be rewarding. In this case, you’ll want to build recharging rituals into your daily life.

Francine Masters, a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 hours of experience treating clients, recommends these 5 methods for recovering from emotional exhaustion:

  1. Work it out: If you’re feeling psychologically stuck, you may be able to physically shake yourself free. Physical exercise releases endorphins, which can help relieve feelings of anxiety and depression, and increase your enjoyment of life.
  2. Refocus on what you love: Emotional exhaustion takes away your zeal for life, but by engaging with activities that you love, you can reclaim that zest. If your favorite activities tend to be high-energy, and you’re feeling utterly exhausted, use this as an opportunity to find a low-key pursuit that also brings you joy.
  3. Change your environment: Re-set your mental state by spending time in a place outside your typical sphere. If you live in a city, drive out into nature, and vice versa. Try something totally unfamiliar, maybe even something that scares you, like skydiving.
  4. Reconnect with others: Whether this means strengthening existing bonds, building new ones, or both, connecting to other people will help you refill your drained emotional reserves. Share your struggles with people you trust, and allow them to support you and sustain you. Be careful not to overextend yourself, however, especially if you tend to be introverted.
  5. Check your attitude: Do you hold yourself to excessively high standards? Do you find it difficult to ask for what you want and need? Certain attitudes can make you prone to cyclical emotional exhaustion. To effectively control and manage stress, you must set reasonable expectations for yourself and for others.

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