Mental and emotional exhaustion is the result of prolonged periods of stress, pressure or anxiety – and it’s extremely common for those experiencing burnout. You may experience a high degree of mental exhaustion when you have too much on your plate, you’re working toward a deadline, you’re in an emotionally taxing environment (like a high-pressure job), or simply from overextending yourself for too long.
Mental fatigue is more than just feeling worn out or run down. It’s a state of exhaustion that can have serious consequences if not addressed. In this guide, we’ll cover the symptoms and causes of mental fatigue, along with 8 tips to help you recharge.
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Signs and Symptoms of Mental Exhaustion
Signs and symptoms of mental exhaustion can vary from person to person, but some common ones include:
- Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy (physical fatigue)
- Feeling anxious and stressed even when resting
- Losing interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- It can also impact your physical health with conditions such as headaches and stomach aches
Causes of Mental Exhaustion
Mental exhaustion often comes from prolonged periods of chronic stress, usually due to issues in the workplace or with a higher-than-normal workload. However, it can also be caused by personal factors such as caring for a sick loved one or dealing with a major life event. Sometimes, just feeling overwhelmed for long periods of time can cause us to experience mental fatigue.
8 Things to Try if You’re Mentally Exhausted
Mental exhaustion can usually be managed with small changes in your day-to-day routine that will leave you feeling energised and excited about what’s next instead of drained and dreading tomorrow. Here are 8 things to try if you’re feeling emotionally exhausted.
1. Track your time and habits
When you feel like you have too much on your plate, the first step to fighting mental exhaustion is to look at your current habits and where your time is going. One of the best ways to do this is by using a good old-fashioned paper calendar or journal. These days, it’s all too easy to get sucked into a black hole of digital calendars and apps. However, we process a lot more when we put pen to paper!
It might feel like a bit of a step back, but it’s a great way to track your habits and visualise where your time goes. When you’ve got a visual representation of your time, you can start to see patterns emerging and maybe find areas that could be tweaked. For example, you might notice that you’re spending an hour doom-scrolling on social media or you’re numbing with Netflix. When you’re overwhelmed, it’s common to want to do any kind of activity that numbs you, but this might just be adding to the overwhelm.
Look through your current habits and routines and see if there’s anything that’s actually making you feel more exhausted as opposed to well-rested!
2. Make little bits of time for self-care
Once you know where your time is going, it’s a good idea to see if any of these habits can be replaced with some form of self-care instead. When you feel like you’re constantly running at 100 miles per hour and have too much on your plate, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. You might find yourself putting off self-care right until the last minute and then rushing through it out of guilt.
When you’re experiencing mental exhaustion, it’s even more important to carve out time for self-care. Make sure you’re not waiting until you’re feeling like you’re at your lowest point to take care of yourself. This doesn’t have to be a time-consuming activity, there are little ways you can fit more self-care into your days. Try picking from one of these 6 self-care ideas you can incorporate into everyday life – even when you’re short on time!
Fitting small bursts of relaxation into a busy day is key if you’re already feeling tired and rundown. Trying to turn it into a whole event can often make it more stressful and overwhelming.
3. Know your limits and don’t be afraid to say no
We’re in an era of overwhelm. Many people have a never-ending to-do list and regularly feel like they are falling behind and letting people down. However, this can often be avoided with one simple (but often hard-to-say) word. When you’re feeling mentally exhausted and your to-do list is growing at a rapid rate, it can be tempting to just tack on another item to the end of the list if someone asks you for something.
But before you add another item to your ever-growing to-do list, it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Will taking on this extra project or task really benefit anyone or will it just make you feel more overwhelmed? Is there anything else you could be doing right now that would make you less likely to burn out? If the answer is yes, put the brakes on the extra project or task and don’t be afraid to say no to things you don’t have the capacity to take on. If you struggle with this, here’s a guide on how to say no without feeling guilty.
You may need to say no at work, at home, or even to friends who ask too much from you. The key is to practice setting your boundaries and ensuring you’re not taking on too much. You can’t pour from an empty cup!
4. Celebrate the small wins
When you’re tackling a big project or never-ending to-do list, it can be all too easy to get lost in the details, lose sight of the big picture and get stuck in a cycle of mental exhaustion or anxiety. But it’s important to take regular breaks from your to-do list and celebrate the small wins you make along the way. When you’re tackling a big project, those small wins are the difference between staying motivated and feeling like you’re making progress, and getting caught in a cycle of emotional exhaustion or anxiety.
Celebrating your small wins can take many forms. It could be taking regular breaks from your work, celebrating your progress or going out of your way to find little things to be grateful for. You may even want to set milestones along the way with a small reward for completing each one. Breaking projects and big to-do lists down into manageable chunks makes overwhelm and mental exhaustion far less likely.
Grab a pen and paper and write down 10 things you’re proud of right now! Now give yourself a pat on the back and celebrate how far you’ve come.
5. Move your body
Exercise has long been touted as one of the most effective ways to reduce stress. But it doesn’t just reduce stress – it can also help you overcome mental exhaustion. Physical activity is proven to help reduce mental fatigue, increase focus and make people happier. Exercise doesn’t have to mean a trip to the gym and, for some people, going to the gym can just make them feel more stressed. Instead, find a way to move your body that feels good for you.
A brisk walk around the block, some yoga poses or a quick game of squash all count as exercise. Regular exercise can help to reduce mental exhaustion by releasing endorphins in your brain. These feel-good chemicals improve your mood, reduce stress and boost your energy levels. We get an even bigger boost of happy hormones when we find a type of movement that lights us up too.
Gentle movement before bed can also help you get a better night’s sleep. The better quality sleep we get, the happier and healthier we feel the next day – and the less mental fatigue we experience. Movement is a win-win!
6. Protect your alone time
Many of us may feel constantly busy and are rarely, if ever, alone with our thoughts. But for those who are feeling mentally exhausted, this can actually be detrimental. Being constantly busy can lead to feelings of overwhelm and a heightened sense of anxiety. When you’re feeling mentally tired, it’s important to carve out some alone time. Take some time out from your regular routine and get some distance from the things that are constantly eating away at your attention.
You can do this by going for a walk without your phone, taking a break from social media, practising mindfulness, or simply closing your laptop and stepping away from your desk. Whilst it’s important we feel connected and have a strong social support network to reduce the risk of burnout, it’s also important that we strike a good balance. If you feel as though everyone wants something from you right now, make sure you step away and protect your own mental health in the process.
7. Savour your mornings
Some simple changes to your daily routine can make a big difference to your state of mind, especially if you start the day the right way. When you first wake up, instead of rushing through your morning routine without thinking, try bringing your attention to the whole experience. Sip on a cup of tea, have a little mindful moment during your morning shower, do some gentle movement, or fuel your body with a nutritious breakfast.
The right morning routine can make a big difference as to how you feel throughout the day, especially if you’re experiencing mental exhaustion. Even if time is limited in the mornings, try building out a morning routine that works for you. This guide has some hints and tips for ways to build the best morning routine for you.
You don’t need a lot of extra time in the mornings to bring more mindful moments into your day. Even just a few small changes can make a big difference to physical and mental exhaustion.
8. And wind down in the evenings
Having a good morning routine is helpful, but it’s even better when you have a good evening routine too! If you’re feeling mentally exhausted then you may be struggling to get a proper night’s sleep. The right bedtime routine can really help improve your quality of sleep and make it easier to drift off too. This guide walks you through how to make the best evening routine for you.
To improve your sleep and fight mental exhaustion, try putting down your phone earlier, preparing for the next day, journaling, breath work or meditation, and swapping out any afternoon caffeine with a decaf version instead. Winding down properly in the evening will help you wake up feeling more refreshed and ready for the day ahead, without feeling exhausted.
Again, you don’t need hours before bed for a whole evening routine, but some simple swaps and changes can make a big difference.
Final Tip: Professional Support
Finally, if you are struggling with burnout, mental exhaustion, constantly feeling overwhelmed, or any other concerns about your mental wellbeing, please do reach out to someone. This may be a doctor or GP, or a mental health professional or therapist. Mental exhaustion can make you feel low and isolated, so it’s important that you get the right professional support if and when you need it.
Mental exhaustion is a real problem that lots of people are facing in today’s busy and burnt out world. There are many different causes and the impact of mental fatigue can be debilitating for many. If you feel like you’re experiencing mental exhaustion, it’s essential to identify why it’s happening for you and put steps in place to combat it. Remember, if you are seriously struggling with any mental health symptoms or physical symptoms of exhaustion, please do reach out to a medical professional.