Mental Exhaustion: What It Is and How To Deal With It

CoachHub · 10 October 2022 · 11 min read

The brain is one of the body’s greatest assets, but sometimes it gets to a point where it feels like it’s saying, “I’ve had enough!” When you’re at this point, it seems like you’re struggling to get things done, finding it difficult to be yourself and be at your best, and worst of all, even the slightest thing now irritates you. Now that’s mental exhaustion setting in.

Naturally, there’s a limit to the amount of stress the body can take, like a machine, it would often need rest times, lubricating, and continuous servicing. Now, when the mind is ravaged by various tasking situations that constantly puts you under continuous stress, you’re likely to face mental exhaustion, especially if you don’t engage in activities that help you rejuvenate.

Anyone can face mental exhaustion and it doesn’t have to be work-related; it could come from other areas like unexpected life events, relationships, and commitments, amongst other things. Hence, it’s time to look into what mental exhaustion entails and help you discover relevant ways to manage and prevent it.

What is mental exhaustion and how does it occur?

Mental exhaustion is different from a lot of other challenges associated with mental health and that’s why it’s important to clearly define it and how it occurs.

It’s a fog-like effect in the mind that makes it difficult to think clearly and make rational decisions like you normally would. Some may even consider it a brain failure, especially when they find it difficult to get the best productive use of their time and effort like they usually would.

It occurs as a result of compounded stress that comes from a lot of life factors. For instance, an employee who is under pressure to meet weekly targets on the job may be mentally exhausted after week-in-week-out stress on the mind. The individual may soon find themselves feeling numb in the mind and experiencing a dullness in clarity and decision-making. A mompreneur, who does the kid’s school runs and manages her business from home, may face mental tiredness from having to juggle all of the demands on her time. While it seems like she’s the one with more time to rest, it is obvious her schedule may take a toll on her mental health, if she’s not deliberate about self-care.

mental exhaustion

Signs of mental exhaustion

How do I know I am mentally exhausted or someone around me is? You might wonder.

Since mental exhaustion takes on various forms and could tell on you in different ways which could be; physical, emotional, or behavioral. It’s easy to note through a change in attitude, response to situations, and/or a decline in a person’s quality of health.

Here are a few physical symptoms that could indicate you’re mentally exhausted:

  • Heart palpitations: You may realize your heart palpitates faster than it usually does.
  • Another sign could be continuous muscle pain. This could be in the chest area or a throbbing backache.
  • An incessant loss of sleep, or inability to sleep soundly.
  • Deteriorating health can be a sign of mental exhaustion, especially when you’re facing low immunity levels and are susceptible to various infections.

Here are a few emotional symptoms that could indicate mental exhaustion:

  • Finding yourself depressed for no traceable reason, or you’re anxious about things unlike your normal relaxed or happy self.
  • You may find that you’re facing an unusual lack of motivation toward things that would normally interest you.
  • It could also be that you feel overwhelmed by everything and feel helpless in life.
  • You may be finding it difficult to stay optimistic about your outcomes and feel less confident at acing anything.

Here are a few behavioral symptoms that could indicate you’re mentally exhausted:

  • Someone facing a mental downtime could find themselves irritable and short-tempered.
  • They may also experience a lack of interest in spending time with people around them.

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What are the effects of mental exhaustion?

What happens when an individual experiences mental exhaustion?

A lot of issues can spring up in a person’s personal and professional life due to mental exhaustion. The following experiences are common when experiencing mental fatigue.

  • Great work performances may decline to average or even become abysmal over time.
  • The person is often likely to feel disconnected from family, work, and everything going on around them.
  • Relationships may suffer neglect as a result.
  • Ineffectiveness in decision-making and an irrational approach to life.
  • It may take a toll on the person’s physical health.
  • Mental exhaustion can lead to clinical depression.
  • Unexpected breakdown in cognitive abilities to deal with challenges and complex situations.
  • There’s a high chance that they may miss out on opportunities that comes to them in that phase.
  • It may be difficult to carry out important projects and deliver excellently on existing ones.
  • Difficulty in managing negative emotions and an overall collapse of emotional resilience.

Common causes of mental exhaustion

Now that you know what mental exhaustion is and the symptoms underlying it, it’s necessary to identify the key areas of your life that continuously contribute to prolonged stress for you. Life can be demanding for a lot of people and various areas may contribute to stress for them.

  • Work is a key area that contributes to mental exhaustion and the stressors could include the following instances:
    • Disputes over wages and employment benefits may lead to prolonged stress that could translate to mental exhaustion.
    • Also, if a person is at risk of being laid off, mental fatigue may set in
    • Excessively demanding work, with tight deadlines and a demanding schedule, could get people under mental fatigue.
  • Relationships are another significant area of stress for most people:
    • People who have their loved ones far away from them may be susceptible to stress from loneliness and isolation.
    • A person who had recently broken off a relationship, either romantic or platonic may face mental exhaustion over time.
    • Additionally, someone who is responsible for a sick family member may feel overwhelmed by the unending demand on them and experience mental exhaustion.
  • People who feel uncertain about their life or are experiencing a lack of sense of purpose may experience mental tiredness.
  • Another significant cause of mental fatigue may be due to constant neglect of self-care. Some people may seem to have legitimate excuses to ignore their self-care, blaming it on a lack of time or the need to focus on what’s important. Continuously pushing the limits may eventually lead to mental exhaustion.

How mental exhaustion differs from stress, physical exhaustion, and others

Various physical conditions have similar symptoms to mental exhaustion. You must know which one you’re dealing with. It helps you to be sure of how to deal with each condition, instead of mistaking one for the other. You’re about to discover the key differences between these conditions and how to identify them.

1. Key difference between stress and mental exhaustion:

How do you know when you’re simply facing stress as a coping mechanism induced by your body and not mental exhaustion since the symptoms are often similar?

Stress is the body’s coping mechanism to demanding situations, and is a feeling of being emotionally or physically tensed. It occurs when a situation is demanding an unusual amount of physical energy, mental or emotional exertion from you. When stress is not managed effectively and spans over an extended period it could then translate to becoming mentally drained. Before you can become mentally drained, stress must first take place. Mental exhaustion is not the cause of stress, the reverse is the situation.

2. Key difference between mental exhaustion and depression:

Is mental exhaustion the same as depression?

Absolutely not! One may feel depressed when experiencing mental tiredness and a depressed person may also feel mentally tired but they’re not the same thing. Depression is a medical condition that deals with a person’s mood, and impacts how the person feels, think, and act negatively (American Psychiatry society). Depression and mental exhaustion may share similar symptoms but the former is more severe than the latter. However, a severe case of mental exhaustion may eventually result in depression. While medication may be required to manage depression, major lifestyle changes can help to deal with mental exhaustion.

3. Key difference between mental exhaustion and burnout:

Is burnout the same thing as mental exhaustion?

Burnout is similar to mental exhaustion and the only difference is that it’s induced by an excessive workload. 77% of respondents in a survey indicated that they have experienced burnout in their current jobs (Deloitte Survey). The symptoms for both conditions are similar and burnout is essentially from stress associated with work rather than other aspects of life. According to the 11th revision of the international classification of diseases, it is not a medical condition but rather classified as an occupational phenomenon (WHO 2019). In the case of mental exhaustion, the causes are all-encompassing and transcend work-related stress.

4. Key differences between mental exhaustion and physical exhaustion:

At one point or the other, you’re likely to have experienced physical exhaustion from stressing your muscles probably from physical exercise or engaging in tasking chores around your home. It may leave you collapsing into your bed, or too weak to do any other thing. Unlike mental exhaustion, physical exhaustion doesn’t leave your mind clogged nor does it impede your cognitive abilities. It may be due to insufficient sleep, or as a result of ill health. Mental exhaustion is within the realm of your mind, while physical exhaustion occurs simply in the body.

Solutions to overcoming mental exhaustion

How do you deal with mental exhaustion when you’re faced with it? The good thing is that various approaches can be applied to dealing with mental exhaustion, which may not necessarily require you to use medications. Consciously following these steps can help you to deal with mental fatigue and help to prevent it from reoccurring over time.

1. Discover the principal stressor and eliminate it:

Since extended stress is the root cause of mental fatigue, you need to identify the underlying actions that contribute to your stress. It might require you to deliberately break up tasks that stress you mentally instead of carrying them out at a stretch. You may consider outsourcing or delegating certain stressful tasks as long as it wouldn’t make any difference if someone else did it.

If your attention to a needy family member is getting you mentally worked up, you might consider working out new caregiving arrangements to save yourself the extended stress and help you to be at your best.

2. Maintain a perfect balance between life and work:

90% of workers who have flexible schedules that support work-life balance recorded benefits such as increased productivity and increased morale (Zippia 2022). This is important if work is the reason why you constantly experience mental exhaustion. It shows you’re committing too much of your time to your work and you need to find ways to reschedule your activities, such that other things that fuel your mental energy can become a priority alongside your work. This will significantly improve your mental resilience and help you to pull through tough phases in your work.

3. Minimize the amount of time spent in front of digital screens:

If you’re not conscious about reducing the amount of time you spend on your phone or laptop, you might be missing out on an opportunity to manage a stressor. Digital devices are our means to connect to the world, and sometimes having them buzz with notifications throughout the day, may get you mentally worked up unknown to you. Consciously minimizing the attention you pay to your devices will help to save your energy for important things.

4. Enlist the help of a coach:

The best way to get answers to certain questions is to ask an expert. Just as a coach can guide you to handle burnout, you might want to save yourself time, trying to discover the root cause of your mental tiredness. With a coach’s help, you will not only learn the source of your mental tiredness, but you’d also receive professional help in managing your stressors, and discover what to do to avoid getting mentally and physically exhausted.

Unlike when you DIY your way through recovering from mental exhaustion, a coach uses proven frameworks customized to your lifestyle to help you uncover relevant stressors to address that you might not be aware of.

5. Practice self-care:

There’s a lot you can do to break the stress cycle if you’ll just pay some attention to yourself. For instance, setting a timer that allows you to take breaks to do what you love can help you rejuvenate.  Engage in meditation and timed stretches, that take the focus off every other thing and allow you to focus on yourself.

6. Other important areas to consider:

Decluttering can also help to bring order to your space and can be a simple form of self-care that you didn’t know you could use. Eating healthy can also significantly contribute to your self-care and help to keep you refreshed. You may also want to consider taking in some sunlight or spending time in a well-ventilated garden, doing something you care about, or just enjoying the beauty that nature has to offer.

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In conclusion

The effects of mental exhaustion can be costly and may even lead to irreparable damage to your work and relationships. It’s best to master the symptoms so you know when it’s creeping in or happening to someone around you. You can handle mental exhaustion in various ways, however, getting professional help from a coach to help you figure things out will yield more effective and long-lasting results than all other DIY methods put together.

Samuel Olawole
Samuel Olawole is a freelance copywriter and content writer who specializes in creating exciting content across a wide range of topics and industries. When he’s not writing, you can find him traveling or listening to good music.

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