How to treat Emotional and Mental Exhaustion

Stress is more dangerous and takes a bigger toll on one’s overall health than most people can imagine – especially if it accumulates or becomes chronic. If

  • you are feeling like you are worn-out or running on empty
  • you find yourself utterly depleted even though you’ve only made it halfway through your day
  • are you dreading having to get up in the morning
  • simple tasks feel overwhelming
  • everyday life feels like a struggle to you

you may suffer from emotional and mental exhaustion. These often go hand-in-hand and the symptoms are various and very similar (you’ll find an extensive list further down). Yet, the causes for each of them tend to be rooted in different areas of one’s life.

Emotional and mental exhaustion can majorly affect your physical and psychological health and should therefore not be underestimated or brushed aside. In this blog post, we explore what emotional and mental exhaustion is, talk about early red flags and symptoms that may indicate that you or someone you love is heading down that road or suffering from it and look at different treatment options.

Before we dive into the topic, we want to reassure you that you are not weak or failing at life nor is there anything inherently wrong with you if you are experiencing emotional or mental exhaustion. It can hit anyone at any point in life and oftentimes it sneaks up on you. It’s never too late, though, to course-correct or ask for help if you find yourself entirely overwhelmed and can’t see a way out of your situation.

What is Emotional Exhaustion?

Emotional exhaustion slowly builds up over time. You are emotionally exhausted when you feel drained, worn-out and overwhelmed to a point where you can’t even imagine bouncing back from this state of being by yourself anymore. This is caused by long-term stress that can stem from from your work or personal life or a combination of both. Oftentimes, people who go through a major change or face a big challenge in life can become emotionally exhausted. The latter might involve becoming a parent, losing a close loved-one, severe illness, financial difficulties, … – the list is endless. Most people who experience emotional exhaustion feel trapped, helpless or stuck and like they have no control or power over what is happening in their life. This further intensifies the stress they are already experiencing. If nothing changes, the emotional exhaustion will eventually affect all areas of your life and puts you at risk of severe physical and psychological health issues. It is therefore important to tackle this as soon as you notice the first red flags.

What is Mental Exhaustion?

Mental exhaustion refers more to your cognitive abilities like memory, thinking, problem-solving skills or decision-making. Intense mental activity over a long period of time can wear you out to a point where you feel like you exist in a constant state of brain-fog, like you can’t think clearly anymore and/or struggle to process simple information that normally wouldn’t have posed a problem at all. This may be caused by

  • studying or working for long hours without breaks
  • spending a lot of time and energy on ruminating and worrying
  • living with mental health struggles like anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, etc. or a chronic illness
  • having to deal with overwhelming responsibilities on a daily basis (like caring for a loved one who is ill or has special needs)
  • facing financial stress
  • lack of emotional support

The factors that cause mental exhaustion can be personal or professional in nature and may vary from person to person. Generally speaking, though, your brain is on high alert, maintains an intense level of activity and/or is exposed to too much stimulation for too long without getting sufficient rest. This will lead to emotional, physical and behavioural symptoms that eventually affect all areas of your life. People who generally struggle with setting boundaries and/or work in a job or are going through a period in life that requires selflessness, putting everyone else’s needs first and going the extra mile are particularily at risk of becoming mentally exhausted.

Differences between Mental and Emotional Exhaustion

Mental and emotional exhaustion are very similar and, as mentioned above, often go hand-in-hand. The latter usually stems from becoming overwhelmed by difficult emotions such as loneliness, sadness, anger, grief or anxiety, whereas the former tends to initially stem from mental stressors. Both leave you feeling as if whatever you are facing that lead to your mental or emotional exhaustion is impossible to overcome and devoid of hope or motivation to even try. You may have gotten to a point that’s almost beyond caring.

22 Signs of Mental & Emotional Exhaustion

Mental and emotional exhaustion creep up on you. Both build up gradually. And that’s good news! It means that you can catch it early if you are aware of the signs and symptoms and address them straight away. This way, you can prevent a major breakdown or complete burnout.

Generally symptoms include but are not limited to:

Physical symptoms

  • Lack of energy, constantly feeling exhausted/physically fatigued
  • Sleep problems – difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, oversleeping and/or dreading getting out of bed
  • Sore muscles/muscle tension
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Change in appetite and/or digestion issues
  • Confusion, forgetfulness, memory loss and/or lack of imagination

Emotional symptoms

  • Lack of motivation
  • Self-doubt and sense of failure; low self-esteem
  • Every day is a bad day
  • Feeling alone in the world
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feeling defeated, helpless, hopeless and/or trapped
  • Feeling frustrated, disillusioned, cynical and/or numb
  • Apathy

Behavioural symptoms

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities/distancing yourself from work 
  • Isolating/detaching yourself from others – difficulties to interact with and struggling to feel connected to other people
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating/abesentmindedness
  • Irrational anger
  • Nervousness

You may not be aware what exactly is causing how you feel. That’s ok. Your experience is valid regardless of you fully understanding it or not. It is much more important to become aware of the signs and symptoms and acknowledge to yourself what’s happening. If you find yourself in fight-or-flight mode and stressed out to the max most hours of most days and don’t do anything about it, you are risking permanent damage to your health. That’s why you want to act or ask for help as early on as possible.

Mental and Emotional Exhaustion Treatment

Recognising what’s happening is the first step. You want to change course before you suffer any further damage from mental and emotional exhaustion. Listen to your body. Ideally, you can identify one or several reasons and minimize or eliminate the stressors as much as you can. If you struggle with this, ask a trusted friend or loved one for help or consider seeking professional support.

Minimising or eliminating a stressor can look like:

  • moving house (e.g. if you’re feeling unsafe where you live, have unresolvable issues with the neighbours, or need to be closer to your workplace or other family members to reduce commuting)
  • changing your job or work-pattern (is working from home or working part-time an option?) or asking to be assigned to a different project or team
  • asking (family and friends) for or hiring help (e.g. if you are caring for a loved one)
  • reaching out to authorities and organisations to find out what types of (financial) support you are eligible for
  • learning to set firm boundaries with colleagues, family members and/or friends

You can’t pour from an empty cup. That’s why it’s more important than ever to prioritise self-care and establish routines that support this when you recognise signs and symptoms of mental and emotional exhaustion.

Self-care practices can include:

  • Starting a gratitude journal
  • Turning your phone off for certain periods of time
  • Making sure you eat healthily and regularily
  • Scheduling enough time for sleep at night (seven to nine hours) as well as breaks/resting periods throughout the day
  • Exercising
  • Spending time in nature (e.g. going for a walk, forest bathing, etc.)
  • Taking a bath, reading a book, playing music, dancing, …
  • Connecting with people (e.g. friends, group or community activities or through volunteering)
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Practice mindfulness through meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong or breathing techniques to focus on the present moment and the things that are within your control (so many things are outside our control; how we respond to them is within our power, though.)
  • Talk to a professional – this can be a counsellor, life coach or therapist

Our mission at New Life Portugal is to support anyone who wants to cultivate sustainable wellbeing for themselves. To help you achieve this we operate at the intersection of counselling, life coaching, mindfulness, engaged community living, physical self-care, compassion and nature. A hand-picked team of experts who bring real life experiences, empathy and understanding to their work, will guide you on your journey to heal emotional and mental exhaustion, burnout, depression or anxiety. You will get to explore a wide range of therapeutic elements that are rarely found all in one place – all of this in the tranquil and peaceful setting of the Serra Da Estrela.

If you are interested to press the pause button and reset your life, have a look at our program and its three different paths:

Each of them can be tailored to your individual needs. Should you have any further questions or require more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.