Entrepreneurs and other driven people are familiar with “the grind.” It’s become a huge part of business culture. It’s the toxic belief that the more you sacrifice yourself, the more likely you are to be successful. For every one real mentor telling you how to run a business in a healthy, sustainable way, there are 25 “business insiders” on social media and YouTube telling you to never stop running at top speed, otherwise, you’ll fail. This immense pressure to perform at the highest level 24/7 causes many leaders to become mentally exhausted, resulting in work burnout, loss of passion, and serious health problems.
Driven people, especially leaders, are intrinsically motivated to work hard and push the limits. However, because of this, they also need to be careful not to drive themselves off a cliff. Research from the University of Cincinnati Law Review found CEOs are twice more likely to develop depression, while another study by the National Institute of Mental Health uncovered 72 percent of entrepreneurs are more likely to directly or indirectly suffer from mental health problems.
Pushing yourself plus getting adequate rest is what actually allows growth to occur. Without it, you’re looking at a mental injury that could take months to come back from.
In this article, you’ll learn what mental exhaustion is, what it looks like, and how to build a routine that reduces stress and beats it.
What Causes Mental Exhaustion
Mental exhaustion occurs when a person experiences long-term mental stress. This might look like a prolonged period of time where external factors like the demands of a job wear on a person for months on end. This means it is different than simply being tired after work one day. It should also be noted that without rest, symptoms of mental fatigue will worsen.
Mental Exhaustion Symptoms
While the name might suggest that mental exhaustion only affects the mind, it also has an impact on your body and your emotions. Find out how it manifests in many different ways, below.
- Being disengaged or uninterested in jobs or activities you normally love.
- Feeling increased anxiety, worry, or stress.
- Thinking things will never change or get better.
- Not caring about the results of your actions or inactions.
- Cutting off feelings and emotions (dissociating).
- Jumping to negative conclusions.
- Seeming more short-tempered and snappy than usual.
- Experiencing physical fatigue.
- Noticing significant weight gain or loss.
- Having trouble with sleep (insomnia).
- Feeling new aches, pains, or stomach discomfort.
- Getting sick more often than usual (weak immune system).
- Being physically ill or unable to get out of bed.
If any of these mental exhaustion symptoms persist and disrupt your everyday life, please seek medical advice from a health professional such as a mental health counselor or therapist.
Top 3 Warning Signs of Mental Exhaustion
One of the top ways mental exhaustion surfaces is through behavioral changes. If you feel like you might be mentally exhausted, check out the section below for more identifiable behavioral symptoms.
1. You Go Into Survival Mode
When you wake up, do you dread thinking about how your day will unfold? What about when you get home? Do you feel so worn out that you’re ready to go to bed as soon as you park your car in the garage?
If this sounds familiar, you’re in survival mode.
When you lack the mental energy to be the best version of yourself, you become a shell of yourself that seems like it is barely able to go through the motions.
But here’s the kicker—you can’t lead when you’re just trying to survive.
As Jeff Bezos once said, “We can’t be in survival mode, we have to be in growth mode.” Growth mode doesn’t come from wearing yourself too thin, though. You can only grow when you give yourself space to rest and recuperate from all the hard work you’re doing.
2. You Don’t Seem Like Yourself
Do you find yourself not caring about excelling at your job when it was something you used to take pride in? Are you constantly dragging yourself out of bed every morning? Has your family complained that your temper seems to flare up at the smallest inconveniences?
Deep down, you know something is wrong, and so do others around you. You might get feedback like:
- “You seem to have lost your passion . . .”
- “Your fuse has been really short lately.”
- “Are you sure you’re okay? You look really tired.”
- “What happened? You always used to crush your deadlines!”
Basically, the more mentally exhausted you are, the more you’ll physically wear how you’re feeling. When people start letting you know, stop and listen. If you don’t, your relationships with others will begin to break down.
3. Focusing Feels Nearly Impossible
Are you unable to concentrate on your work? Do you notice a significant drop in your productivity because of this problem? Have you tried motivating yourself, but your focus seems to keep drifting away?
Constant stress wears on a person’s mind and body. It also contributes to a lack of sleep, which makes matters worse if you’re already feeling mentally exhausted.
It’s important to stop the vicious cycle of racing thoughts and little rest. For instance, not solving the problem will only create an influx of issues in your life that will produce even more mental exhaustion.
How to Treat Mental Exhaustion
Feeling mentally drained can drastically impact your health, well-being, and performance at work. If you let it go on too long, it can also begin causing conflict in your personal life. You won’t have the energy to properly care for others since you aren’t properly caring for yourself.
Start taking your self-care seriously with the relaxation techniques suggested below.
1. Create a Routine for a Good Night’s Sleep
According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), people who don’t sleep eight hours a night are more likely to report feeling:
- Irritable or more angry
- Less motivated and disinterested
- Impatient (toward their children)
- Impatient (toward their partner)
- Less likely to exercise
- An increase of stress
To battle mental exhaustion caused by a lack of sleep, try:
- Using blue light blocking glasses at night. Blue light emitted from cell phones or computer screens can confuse your body’s natural circadian rhythm, causing problems when it’s time to sleep.
- Turning off all screens and electronic devices at least one hour before going to sleep.
- Setting a regular bedtime (before 10:00 p.m. if possible).
- Eliminating any distractions that keep you from sleeping. For instance, use an alarm clock and sleep with your phone in a different room.
- Exposing yourself to sunlight during the morning hours. Phototherapy is a great way to fix circadian rhythm imbalances, increase human growth hormone, and keep your immune system strong.
2. Switch to a Nutrient-Dense Diet
According to Jillian Levy, a certified holistic health coach, there are several ways a person can naturally relieve their mental exhaustion with food.
In an article for DrAxe.com, she advises eating foods that contain:
- A high level of B vitamins (raw or cultured dairy products, wild-caught fish, cage-free eggs, and leafy greens).
- A lot of calcium and magnesium (beans, legumes, broccoli, avocados, nuts, organic yogurt, and organic salmon).
- Protein and amino acids (grass-fed beef, organic chicken breast, protein powder, bone broth, black beans, raw cheeses, lamb, and more).
- Healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids (olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, wild-caught fish, and sardines).
3. Make Exercise a Non-Negotiable Part of Your Day
One of the best ways to fight mental exhaustion is ensuring you get a daily workout in. The APA reports that 30 percent of people feel less stressed after physical activity. Yet, only 17 percent of adults work out daily.
Whether you start your day with an hour-long workout or spend 30-minutes hitting the gym during your lunch break, make it a goal to do something physical to relieve your mental stress—otherwise you’ll keep feeling mentally drained.
Other ideas for working out include:
- Finding a form of physical activity you enjoy and want to do every day. For instance, don’t pick up boxing if you don’t naturally enjoy doing it.
- Having an accountability partner who will hold you accountable to the fitness goals you set.
- Incorporating your family or friends into your physical fitness activities. This might look like taking 30-minute walks after dinner, going for weekend hikes, and attending yoga or CrossFit classes together.
- Knowing that working out for this purpose isn’t about getting in peak physical condition. It’s about connecting your mind and body so you are less mentally tired.
4. Set Boundaries with Your Stressor(s)
As leadership expert Brené Brown says, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”
While setting boundaries can be intimidating, you must reclaim control over your life if you want to stop feeling mentally drained.
Get started by:
- Pressing pause and making a list of everything stressing you out right now.
- Circling the top three things that are giving you the most grief.
- Giving yourself permission to spend at least 24 hours away from it. (This might be a person, a situation, a project, or any other thing causing you to feel mentally exhausted.) If this is a work situation and you are not in the position to do this, inform your boss that you need one day to reset and rethink how you want to tackle a problem.
- Using some of your time away to clear your head and find the root of the stress.
- Defining ways to stop the problem from occurring.
- Communicating your strategy to the people who need to hear it.
5. Get Rid of Tasks That are Non-Essential
There are no awards for multi-tasking 1,000 jobs and working yourself to the brink of mental exhaustion. Staying busy and constantly “grinding” doesn’t equate to making progress on goals that matter in your business and life.
In an interview with NPR, Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University said, “People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted . . . They’re even terrible at multitasking. When we ask them to multitask, they’re actually worse at it. So they’re pretty much mental wrecks.”
One of the best ways to fight mental exhaustion is to become an Essentialist. This means eliminating all work, tasks, and responsibilities that are non-essential in your life.
Start making changes by:
- Recognizing your ability to choose exists. You always have the option to slow down and make changes to become more focused and intentional about what work you do.
- Get clear on your priority, or the most important job you need to get done in the moment.
- Make time for play and looking at the world through the eyes of a child. It might seem silly, but it opens you up to new experiences, opportunities, and creative ideas.
- Eliminate work that is unnecessary or can be delegated to another person.
- Learn how to say “no” to work that will not move the needle and achieve your top goals.
Learn more about essentialism.
6. Take a Real Vacation
Denying yourself time off when you’re mentally tired will only make the problem grow worse. As mentioned above, mental exhaustion is a vicious cycle that must be broken.
Give yourself permission to take time away to heal from the mental injury you sustained. It will help. For instance, research shows vacations reduce stress and help people fight depression. Another study conducted in Japan found “nature therapy” or exposure to nature and green spaces has a significant therapeutic effect on people. So much so, the researchers feel it will become a leading preventative care treatment in the future.
Fight mental exhaustion in nature by:
- Choosing a vacation in a tropical climate so you can be outdoors most of the time.
- Researching ideas will get you excited about the trip ahead. Create a loose itinerary of things you want to do and see.
- Pre-booking hikes and fun adventures.
7. Seek Advice From a Mentor
Receiving advice from someone who lived what you’re going through is one of the best ways to create a blueprint to less stress. Whether you want suggestions for better work-life balance or just need to vent, a mentor in your field will be able to help you successfully navigate your responsibilities as a leader. With their guidance, your mental exhaustion should lessen over time.
If you don’t have a mentor, get one by:
- Asking leaders you personally know, admire, and respect if they’d be interested in meeting with you once or twice a month to provide mentorship.
- Reaching out to your professional network for mentor recommendations.
- Using a free service from SCORE to find a local mentor.
- Setting a goal to read at least five leadership books a quarter.
Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to a Mental Health Professional
Sometimes, a Google search on how to beat mental exhaustion isn’t enough, and there should be no shame in that. If the idea of practicing these tips makes you still feel hopeless, schedule a session with a licensed mental health professional. They will be able to work with you one-on-one. During sessions, they will help you pinpoint where your stress originates and how to better handle it.
Want more information on mental exhaustion? Find out more with this article on being emotionally drained.