What is mental exhaustion?
Imagine you are driving a car across the country. At some point, your car is going to run out of gas. Usually, we fill our gas tanks before it gets to empty. But every once in a while, we push it out as long as we can. What do you do when your gas is empty? Do you keep driving? No, you cannot. Eventually, your car will stop moving, until you refuel it. Your mind is just like your car. It needs to be refueled constantly. If you push your mind too far, it too will stop functioning properly.
Mental exhaustion is a form of burnout. This burnout is brought on by experiencing long periods of stress. And it can happen to anyone. We are all vulnerable to burnout, especially when we feel extremely overwhelmed. It is important to remember that stress is not the same thing as burnout. Stress is a normal reaction to new situations, both positive and negative. Thus, it can actually be healthy for the body. Burnout, on the other hand, is stress for an extended period of time. Burnout can affect your physical, emotional, and mental health.
Burnout can make you feel emotionally drained. Everything may start to seem impossible and lead to detachment. Luckily, you can overcome mental exhaustion.
Am I mentally exhausted?
Here are some warning signs that you may be mentally exhausted:
- Experiencing symptoms of depression and / or anxiety.
- Feeling detached from reality or apathy (not caring).
- Low energy levels and / or lack of motivation and / or fatigue.
- Difficulty focusing / concentrating.
- Feeling irritable and / or angry.
- Experiencing headaches.
- Changes in appetite and / or fluctuation in weight (gain or loss).
- Weakened immune system.
How do I cope with mental exhaustion?
Mental exhaustion is different for everyone. As we know, everyone’s body is different. Some of us display more physical or emotional symptoms than others. Therefore, different coping mechanisms may work better for different people. If the first few coping mechanisms you try do not work for you, do not worry. It can take time to find the best tools for you.
When I feel mentally exhausted, I do three things:
- I take a step back and try to pinpoint my stressors. Where is my stress coming from? Once I pinpoint my stressor, I create a plan to help reduce the impact. For example, a few months ago, I faced burnout. I realized that I had been putting too much on my plate with tight self-imposed deadlines for over a year. I was spending upwards of 12 hours a day working. And I was taking time away from sleep to workout and maintain a social life.
- Next, I give myself time and space. After, I identified where my key areas for improvement were, I gave myself 3 days off of work to catch up on cleaning, get quality sleep, read for fun, and meal prep. These 3 days were also filled with coping mechanisms, like meditation, long walks, and journaling. After 3 days, I felt a tad better and I was ready to start over. I knew if I had taken any more time off, I would feel even more stressed; therefore, 3 days became my rule of thumb.
- Then, I reorganize my priorities. When I started working again, I created lists of between 3 and 5 things I had to accomplish each day. The tasks could be as simple as laundry or as complex as completing a workbook for publication. The shorter list allowed me to feel accomplished each day without putting too much on my plate day after day. I noticed that without overwhelming myself, by the end of the week, I was still accomplishing a lot.
We all need rest. When we ignore the warning signs and push self-care to the back burner, we often are faced with mental exhaustion. It is normal to experience mental exhaustion every once in a while. As humans, we often put a lot on our plates. It is okay to burnout, but there are tools you can use to not only avoid burnout but also help you if you do get to that point.
Today, I make ample time for self-care. I created boundaries on work hours. I set aside 1 hour to workout, walk, or sit outside every day. Also, I make time to fuel my body with the right foods and supplements. Furthermore, I practice mindful eating rather than eating on the go. Small things make a big difference in our overall health.
I will leave you with this question, proposed to me by a friend. Would you rather take 20 minutes a day away from work for self-care or would you rather take 3 days away from work from mental exhaustion?