Emotional exhaustion is on the rise. Have you lost your spark or feel that you’re struggling to focus? Perhaps you’re trapped by negative feelings. You could be suffering from emotional exhaustion. In this week’s #MTtalk, we’ll be exploring how to spot the signs, and how to manage it.
Please Join Us!
When: Friday, November 20, 1 p.m. EST (6 p.m. GMT; 11.30 p.m. IST)
About This Week’s Chat
“Exhaustion is not a result of too much time spent on something, but of knowing that in its place, no time is spent on something else.”
Joyce Rachelle, Filipino author
Emotional Exhaustion Is Also Physical
Does emotion really exist or is it just something we make up in our heads and use as an excuse when it suits us?
The first thing we need to understand about emotions is that they are real. They are not just thoughts that exist in our heads and imaginations.
Emotions are actual neurological events (fueled by neurochemicals) that occur in the brain and nervous system. Anything that affects the nervous system has an effect on every organ and cell in your body.
Think what happens when you receive bad news. Say, for example, that you’ve just found out that your partner is cheating on you, or that a loved one was in a serious accident.
Upon hearing the news, you feel it in your body: you might hyperventilate, shiver (even though it’s not cold), get flushed cheeks, experience stomach cramps, get palpitations, a dry mouth, and a weird feeling of weakness in your legs.
The Life Cycle of Emotions
Any emotion has a life cycle – a beginning, a middle and an end. Just after an activating event, negative or positive, you will start feeling an emotion. It’s a chemical reaction and it’s involuntary.
As your mind races with various thoughts and scenarios, these emotions can intensify. Then, as you digest what has happened and start dealing with it in one way or another, they become less intense, and eventually dissipate completely. (The time it takes will likely depend on the severity of the activating event.)
But what happens if you get stuck in the middle (intense part) of the emotion, and can’t seem to move forward?
Remove the Problem and Then…
Many people erroneously believe that if you remove the problem or stressor, the feelings and emotions it caused will also disappear.
Emotions don’t quite work that way. Although the stressor might be gone, the emotion is still in your mind and body, and will remain there until you’ve processed it and worked through it from beginning to end.
When you experience different events and their accompanying emotions one on top of the other (or a very long stressful event such as the pandemic), it’s easy to feel trapped. That’s because you likely don’t have enough emotional energy to process such compounded emotions.
You can also get stuck in an emotion because some of them – like grief, shame, rage and helplessness – are very difficult to work though.
All of these can make you vulnerable to emotional exhaustion.
Emotional Exhaustion and Burnout
Emotional exhaustion is usually one of the first warning signs of burnout – and it’s the element of burnout that is most damaging to our long-term physical and emotional health.
In her 1982 book, “Burnout: The Cost of Caring,” Christina Maslach highlights three components of burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a decreased sense of accomplishment.
Emotional exhaustion also occurs as a result of caring too much, for too long and having no time and no space to take care of yourself.
Women are especially prone to it because there is still the widespread belief or expectation that they are the primary caregivers, putting other people’s needs before their own.
At some point, you become too empty to give, and depersonalization happens: you feel an emotional numbness and a decreased sense of empathy, caring, and compassion.
Eventually you hardly feel any sense of accomplishment and as if nothing you do makes any difference.
The Reality of Emotional Exhaustion
I asked a few people to share what they experienced when they felt emotionally exhausted. I’ve changed their names, but not their experiences:
John said, “I stopped being curious about other people, which really shocked me. That meant I was reading people at face value and making all kinds of assumptions about them, sometimes the worst.
“I also stopped reaching out to help others – it didn’t cross my mind they needed anything, plus I didn’t think I had anything to give anyway. For a while, I didn’t care anyway! All in all, it’s very isolating and alienating.”
My friend Mary told me, “Everything I did seemed to take longer to complete. I was making simple grammatical mistakes when writing, and when I re-read things I was shocked at the mistakes.
I Felt I Had Little Value
“ I felt as if I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything in life, so I simply went through the motions with little enjoyment or joy. I became withdrawn, I self-isolated and did not connect with others.
“I felt as if I had little of value, or interesting, to say or contribute. Sometimes, it felt like just going out to see a friend for a coffee was too much effort – even when I knew it would have done me good.”
My friend Brad blamed some of his emotional exhaustion on his workplace. He said that senior managers don’t appreciate the human cost of working remotely in this stressful time. Where he works, people feel like only numbers matter.
Anne said, “The period following the breakup of my marriage was a tumultuous time. The split was sudden. I was in the midst of completing my Master’s degree and still taking courses while I worked.
“My emotional state was raw. For the first few weeks, I was in a state of deep shock. Then, as time passed, I became numb to the pain. I buried myself in work to keep going.
“But as pressures mounted, the emotional stress grew to a point where I was having trouble thinking. I could barely read a paragraph. I grew distant from family and friends and I became increasingly irritable at work.
“Sadly, I continued on this path for some time. There was no joy in anything I did. Successes didn’t matter. I was just a shell until the inevitable happened – I hit the wall.”
Emotional Exhaustion Twitter Chat
Many common themes emerged from the real-life stories above, and we’re doing to discuss some of them during the #MTtalk Twitter chat this week.
In our poll this week, we asked which phrase best describes how you feel when you experience emotional exhaustion. More than 40 percent of participants said “irritable and moody,” while 30 percent voted for “overwhelmed.” To see all the options and results, please click here.
We’d love you to participate in the chat, and the following questions may spark some thoughts in preparation for it:
- Why do we become emotionally exhausted?
- How do you feel when you are emotionally exhausted?
- How do you react to things when you are feeling emotionally exhausted?
- What sorts of things can you do to avoid becoming emotionally exhausted?
- What actions might help you recover from emotional exhaustion?&
- What external factors make it difficult to overcome emotional exhaustion?
- How can you best support a friend or colleague who is emotionally exhausted? How do you want to be supported?
To help you prepare for the chat, we’ve compiled a list of resources for you to browse.
Dealing With Anxiety
Managing Your Boundaries
How to Relax After a Hard Day
Rest, Relaxation and Sleep
How to Join
Follow us on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the action this Friday! We’ll be tweeting out 10 questions during our hour-long chat.
To participate in the chat, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “Latest” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. You can join the chat by using the hashtag #MTtalk in your responses.