Emotional exhaustion

Reviewed by our psychologist : Nine Gramberg

Do you feel like you’re emotionally exhausted? It’s important to listen to your body to avoid making things worse, no matter how much you’ve got on your plate. What exactly does emotional exhaustion mean, what are the causes of emotional exhaustion, how can you recognize it in yourself and what can you do about it? This article has the answers.

What is emotional exhaustion?

Emotional exhaustion occurs when you’re under too much pressure and you start to feel out of control and trapped in your present situation. You experience various symptoms of stress, including fatigue, trouble sleeping and crying. You find yourself struggling to carry out daily activities at home and at work. Things you wouldn’t usually think twice about suddenly seem like major tasks. You feel completely overwhelmed.

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Why am I emotionally exhausted?

Pressures, big events and personal problems can create stress and tension. This could be a heavy workload, family drama, work conflicts, renovations, or the death of a loved one. But positive events, such as marriage, getting a new job or having a baby can also cause extra stress.

How can you tell if you’re emotionally exhausted?

If you’re emotionally exhausted, you may recognize the following characteristics in yourself:

  • You’re struggling to perform daily activities
  • You don’t feel in control of your life
  • You’re experiencing symptoms of stress

What are the symptoms of emotional exhaustion?

How can you tell if you’re emotionally exhausted? You’ll suffer from at least three of the following symptoms. 

Psychological symptoms

The psychological symptoms of emotional exhaustion are:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Feeling uncomfortable in crowds
  • Restlessness/Trouble sleeping
  • Excessive worrying
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating and poor memory
  • Feeling anxious
  • Emotional instability, suddenly bursting into tears for no reason
  • Increased medication use, smoking and drinking

Physical symptoms

You may experience physical symptoms of emotional exhaustion, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness and tingling
  • Heart palpations
  • Hyperventilation
  • Tinnitus
  • Stomach ache and upset stomach
  • Physical fatigue, feeling like each step requires a massive amount of effort

How do you become emotionally exhausted, what are the causes?

Emotional exhaustion occurs when you experience too much pressure and stress, but don’t manage to deal with it in a healthy way. We all experience stress and pressure at some point or another. This can have positive consequences, powering us to do and achieve the things we want in life. But when you overload yourself, you may experience emotional exhaustion. Examples of situations that might cause emotional exhaustion:

  • Excessive workload
  • Having a baby
  • Financial concerns
  • Relationship problems
  • Getting married
  • Renovations
  • A new job
  • Lack of social support

What are the effects of emotional exhaustion?

Emotional exhaustion is, unfortunately, quite common. Society demands a lot of us, but more than anything, we demand a lot of ourselves. High-pressure jobs, hectic personal lives, problematic relationships, financial worries: it’s no wonder it all gets a bit much sometimes. Taking on too much can have major consequences. If you don’t listen to your body’s signals, your emotional exhaustion could develop into burnout. And burnout can last for a long time – being out of the running for two years is not unheard of.

What is the difference between emotional exhaustion and burnout?

Burnout is not the same emotional exhaustion. When you’re emotionally exhausted, you can still perform daily activities, it will just require a little more effort than usual. You should view symptoms of stress and mental exhaustion as pre-stages of burnout. So, take it seriously, emotional exhaustion is your warning to put on the brakes before it’s too late.

Who can help you when you’re emotionally exhausted?

If you can tell that you’re experiencing symptoms of stress, then it’s important to listen to these signals from your body, no matter how difficult that might seem. Schedule an appointment with your physician to discuss the situation. Your physician will usually ask you a list of questions to determine if you’re emotionally exhausted. 

You should also discuss the situation at home with friends and family members, or at work with HR, for example. The support and understanding from those around you will help to reduce some of that pressure. Getting professional help from a psychologist will also help you to detect any problems or patterns, as well as possible causes. A psychologist can teach you to develop better ways of managing whatever is going on in your life. 

How can you recover from emotional exhaustion?

You’re emotionally exhausted. Now what? It’s important to take these signs and symptoms seriously – the last thing you want is to have a full breakdown. If you listen to your body’s signals, chances are you’ll soon be able to pick up where you left off in terms of your work and personal life. Most people who are emotionally exhausted can recover within two to six months. If you ignore the symptoms, you run the risk of burnout.

Recovering from emotional exhaustion involves three different phases:

  1. Acceptance and rest
    This is often the hardest part of any path to recovery: acceptance. Are you emotionally exhausted? It’s time to sound the alarm and hit the brakes. Work out which activities you can still do and what you need to put on hold for a while. It’s time to take some rest and listen to your body. You might prefer to push through it, but know that taking it easy is the only way you’re going to recover.
  2. Insights and solutions
    Figure out which challenges in your life are creating extra pressure and tension. How can you manage these? Is there a different and better way you could be doing things? Which traps do you keep falling into and how can you avoid them? A psychologist can help you to get a good handle on this.
  3. Routine and action
    Now it’s time to put your insights and solutions into practice. You need to manage these various situations differently so that you no longer feel overwhelmed. Build this up slowly. You’ll start to find that you can take on more and more, both at work and at home.

Not sure if you’re emotionally exhausted or looking for a bit more help?

Contact one of our psychologists today to talk about your symptoms and get some advice about appropriate treatment programs – no obligation involved.

GZ-Psychologist : Nine Gramberg

“The moment you tell yourself to 'stop whining' and to keep going, it is good to check whether that is really helping you.“

Would you rather have the support of a professional?

Contact one of our psychologists today without obligation. You can talk about your feelings and symptoms and get information about a suitable treatment programme for you.