Does it feel like one more responsibility, problem, or negative comment at work might break you? If so, you’re not alone. Research from the Mayo Clinic shows out of 839 executives observed for a stress management consultation, 64.4 percent said their stress was “work-related.” Most commonly, the participants of the study struggled with “sleep, anxiety, energy levels, and diet,” all of which are symptoms of feeling emotionally drained from chronic stress. However, as stated in a study by Ioanna V. Papathanasiou, the top negative impact on a person’s life is the toll it takes on their mental health.
While emotional exhaustion might seem like a problem that could go away after a little time out of the office, properly addressing it is not that simple. In fact, if left unresolved, it can become a continuous issue that negatively impacts a person’s personal and professional life. To protect your well-being, learn more about emotional exhaustion and how to reduce stress and emotional burnout.
What Makes a Person Emotionally Drained?
Emotional exhaustion occurs when a person expends too much mental energy on a particular situation, circumstance, person, thought, or concern. Overstimulation of negative emotions like fear, anger, annoyance, sadness, and worry have serious consequences on a person’s physical, emotional, and mental condition. When the brain spends too much time working and not enough time recovering from rigorous cognitive activity, mental fatigue follows. This results in a loss of physical and mental abilities, delayed responses and reactions, and poor self-management.
Specific causes of feeling drained include:
- Experiencing a lack of cash flow or a financial hardship
- Going through major life changes
- Suffering the loss of a loved one
- Lacking work-life balance
- Poor communication among leaders and coworkers
- Not practicing a time management strategy that prioritizes work
- Being diagnosed or caring for someone with a chronic illness or serious medical condition
- Heavily focusing on the fear of failure
- Feeling too much pressure to perform at a high level
- Getting no fulfillment from your work
- Being up against high-pressure, stressful situations such as business negotiations, conflict at work, or tight deadlines
Signs of Emotional Exhaustion
There are several signs that reveal a person feels emotionally drained. However, these can manifest in many different ways. For example, one person might experience bodily fatigue, while someone else becomes increasingly more irritated or annoyed by others. Find out more about the range of symptoms of emotional exhaustion below.
It’s difficult for those who feel emotionally drained to imagine an outcome where things get better. Instead, they’re trapped in feelings of dread. For example, they might wake up each morning believing the next 365 days will be just as tiring as they’ve been. Their thought pattern becomes fixated on what’s going wrong, rather than what needs to change. As a result, negative thoughts can consume a person’s mind and lead to even more anxiety, distress, and emotional fatigue.
2. Lack of Drive
Emotional burnout often reflects in a person’s self-motivation levels. Those who push themselves the hardest, such as entrepreneurs and leaders, might find this symptom creeping into their lives after a big mistake or a failure. This is because self-starters who set high goals emotionally invest in their dreams. When they don’t work out as planned, these letdowns can be mentally anguishing, leading to emotional exhaustion. Due to this, a person might experience a lack of desire to perform well, challenge themselves, meet deadlines, or learn how to become a greater asset to the business.
3. Mood Swings
Speaking and acting in a manner that lacks emotional intelligence are all signs of emotional exhaustion. This is because the more mental stress a person experiences, the less they’re able to control their emotions. For example, an emotionally drained executive might snap at an employee for an easily fixable mistake. Additionally, those who notice their agitation and moodiness elevating often partner these feelings with social isolation. Being alone is a coping mechanism people use to alleviate the perceived added stress of interacting with others. Lack of emotional control and social isolation comes at a high price. These two negative signs of feeling drained can harm or destroy personal and professional relationships.
4. Cognitive Problems
As mentioned above, a person who feels emotionally drained has limited cognitive abilities due to having an overworked, tired brain. Researchers Dimitri van der Linden and Paul Eling state in a study on mental fatigue: “Focusing of attention is influenced by external features such as the presence of global or local target stimuli, but also by motivation and mood states.” When a person is mentally fatigued, their local processing gets compromised, causing lack of focus, which can also result in attention and behavioral problems. In addition to these issues, an emotionally drained person might also have a poor memory and clouded thinking.
Those who are mentally and emotionally stressed might find themselves sleeping a lot less. When the body is in a state of stress, it releases adrenaline and cortisol, which cause a “fight or flight” response. As a result, these hormones signal to the brain that it needs to stay alert. Lack of sleep has serious effects such as heart disease, strokes, altered moods, mental health problems, and even death. At work, insomnia leads to loss of productivity, low energy, lack of motivation, brain fog, moodiness, and poor performance.
6. Physical Changes
Feeling emotionally drained might also result in bodily changes. When a person’s mind experiences chronic stress, visible changes often occur. For example, this includes weight gain, weight loss, increased signs of aging, and dark bags under the eyes. There are also non-visible signs that happen in the body like headaches, migraines, loss of appetite, increased appetite, and changes in bowel habits.
5 Ways to Stop Feeling Emotionally Drained
Emotional exhaustion is a negative cycle that has the power to consume a person’s life if they let it. However, feeling drained does not have to be an issue that haunts your career, well-being, and happiness. Follow the tips below to start experiencing changes that will help steer you toward the path of recovering from emotional burnout.
1. Recognize the Signs of Emotional Exhaustion
When a leader works on elevating their self-awareness, they not only increase their emotional intelligence, they also equip themselves to prevent emotional exhaustion. The body and mind provide plenty of warning signs (like the ones listed above) that let a person know something’s amiss. When someone gains more self-awareness, they’re able to sense and acknowledge the problem before their mind starts spiraling.
To grow self-awareness:
- Do a body, mind, and spirit scan each day and write down how you’re feeling.
- Develop a plan for tackling any problems or negative emotions that arise.
- Learn how to focus on the present moment. Mindfulness practices like journaling, meditating, and doing breathwork all calm the mind and train it to stay in the “here and now.”
2. Talk to Your Support Network
A support network consists of people who help alleviate stressors and negative emotions by providing a listening ear, advice, a shoulder to cry on, and strategies for overcoming mental fatigue. While social isolation is common among those experiencing emotional exhaustion, it’s important to not lose your connection with those who care about you. Research shows there’s a direct correlation between social connection and a person’s happiness and health. If you’re feeling unsure about discussing some of the feelings you’re experiencing, remember that those in your support network do not consider you a burden. In fact, they want to show up for you and help take the load off your shoulders. For this reason, don’t be afraid to reach out.
To establish a strong support network:
- Ask three to five trusted family, friends, or mentors to become a part of your support network.
- Discuss what you need from this relationship. This lets a person evaluate whether or not they can perform this duty.
- Find a licensed mental health professional such as a counselor or therapist to meet with as needed.
- Work with a business coach or life coach on resolving some of the top issues causing stress or anxiety at work.
3. Reconnect with Your Passion
As Steve Jobs famously told Stanford University’s graduating class of 2005, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Too often, high-performers find themselves attempting to live up to other people’s definitions of success. The longer a person does this, the more emotionally taxing it becomes. It’s like standing on the shore of a beach, watching your dream sail off into the horizon, knowing it will likely never return. For this reason, business owners and executive leaders should evaluate on a daily basis whether or not the work they’re doing fulfills their purpose in life.
To get back into alignment doing the work you love:
- Create four columns on a sheet of paper. From left to right, title the columns: “The Work I Love,” “The Work I Dislike,” “The Work I Do,” and “The Work I’m Shifting Toward.”
- Write down the appropriate information under the first three columns. Leave the last column blank.
- Next, take a closer look at “The Work I Do” section. How many jobs listed are ones you don’t enjoy? Circle the ones that you would like to eliminate. On a separate sheet of paper, write down what needs to happen in order for this to occur. For example, who could you delegate this responsibility out to? How would you train them? How long do they need training? Do you need to make additional hires?
- Once working through the above exercise, fill out the “The Work I’m Shifting Toward” column. This will help you prioritize doing the jobs and responsibilities you feel most passionate about.
4. Find Work-Life Balance
Poor work-life balance is one of the greatest challenges a leader faces. On average, the Harvard Business Review reports CEO’s work 62.5 hours per week, which equates to an additional part-time job on top of the work they’re already doing. When a person spends most of their time working, it leaves little time for anything else including relationships, hobbies, community outreach, travel, and other top priorities in a person’s life. For this reason, those in leadership roles must develop a daily routine that creates space and energy for the things in life that matter most.
To work on establishing better work-life balance:
- Define start and stop times for each day.
- Cut yourself off from working at a reasonable time so you establish good sleep hygiene habits like turning off screens an hour before bed and having a consistent bedtime.
- Follow time management best practices for prioritizing jobs and increasing productivity.
- Say “no” to opportunities that don’t serve your goals or fit into your schedule.
- Plan a vacation or take some well-deserved time off.
- Make sure your calendar reflects a well-rounded life. For example, are you only spending time at work, or are you also making time for things like social events and community-building activities?
5. Live a Healthy Lifestyle
When feeling emotionally exhausted, it might seem like your body is on the verge of shutting down. This is why it’s important to develop a consistent routine for healthy eating, physical activity, and self-care. All three have a drastic impact on a person’s mood, energy levels, and well-being. When making a healthy lifestyle a priority, a person begins healing themselves from the inside out.
Even better, you don’t have to drastically change your lifestyle to experience drastic life changes. Making minute adjustments like switching to a healthier breakfast, working out an hour per day, and relaxing at night by diffusing essential oils like lavender, marjoram, frankincense, and ylang-ylang are simple things a person can do to get relief from emotional fatigue.
Don’t Let the Feeling of Emotional Exhaustion Linger
Proactively taking care of emotional burnout is important because it is cyclical in nature. This means it’s not going to just go away on its own even if you do get the mental and physical rest you need. If the cause of the problem isn’t treated, it will eventually return and disrupt your life again. In addition to this, suffering from chronic emotional fatigue takes years off a person’s life. It can raise your blood pressure, cause heart problems, leave you more exposed to infectious diseases, lead to eating disorders, and negatively impact your mental health. While it might seem like a minor issue at first, a person who feels emotionally exhausted should take care of the problem as soon as symptoms arise.
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