Written by: Amanda Levison, M.S., LMHC, LPC, CCBT
Have you ever gotten to a point where you didn't want to do anything, go anywhere, or even be around anyone? Even the things you love to do seem like the worst ideas ever. You know you have so much to do. However, you don't even have a lot of energy to muster up. This can happen to anyone when they consistently put too much on their list of things to do and give themselves little to no time to wind down, shut off their brain, or always feel over-stressed. It can happen when your brain is overstimulated and over-taxed. Long periods of mental activity can exhaust you.
A term you may be more familiar with is Chronic Stress, a consistent overwhelming feeling of being pressured. Chronic stress due to financial, health, relationship, and work issues can affect your mental state and create mental exhaustion. Suppose you have been experiencing long-term physical fatigue due to long work hours, inadequate or interrupted sleep, and long-term physical pain. These are symptoms that can increase your chances of mental exhaustion.
What is Mental Exhaustion?
Mental exhaustion is a state of emotional, physical, and mental fatigue caused by prolonged exposure to stress, anxiety, and other psychological pressures. It can manifest in many ways, but the most common signs include difficulty concentrating, a lack of Motivation or energy, and increased irritability and frustration. You may notice mental exhaustion if you constantly push yourself too far at work, study too much, or continuously put overwhelming responsibilities on your plate. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's essential to recognize them and take steps to overcome them. Yes, there are ways to both identify and manage mental exhaustion.
Signs of Mental Exhaustion and Tips on Overcoming Them
1. Lacking Motivation
A lack of motivation is one of the most common signs of mental exhaustion. You may feel like you don't want to do anything or don't care about things that generally interest you. This can lead to a loss of productivity, guilt, and self-doubt. What causes this? The brain's inability to function at an optimum level is due to it being overworked for long periods. Imagine yourself not sleeping for days. All you would want to do after that time is sleep. You wouldn't have any energy to talk, work, eat, groom, or anything else. With mental exhaustion, the brain is affecting the rest of the body. It tells you that it needs downtime to recover. Therefore, one must allow their brain to recuperate before one can feel remotely interested in anything other than resting.
To overcome this, it's important to set small achievable goals. This can help you to regain a sense of purpose and accomplishment. You may also want to take a break from your routine and do something different. This can help to re-energize you and give you a fresh perspective.
2. Difficulty Concentrating
Mental exhaustion affects your ability to think, stay alert, solve problems, and process and regulate your emotions. Another sign of mental exhaustion is difficulty concentrating. You may struggle to focus or forget things you would typically remember. This can seriously impact your work and personal life.
Find ways to avoid any additional or unnecessary stress. To overcome this, take frequent breaks and practice mindfulness. Try to focus on the present moment and be mindful of your surroundings. This can help to reduce stress and improve your concentration. You may also want to try doing something that helps you to relax, like yoga or meditation. Quiet time and sleep may also help. Reducing the number of responsibilities will assist. Once you can recover, you may need to sit down and prioritize your schedule to include "downtime" consistently.
3. Experiencing Increased Irritability and Frustration
Feeling irritable and frustrated is another sign of mental exhaustion. You may get angry or upset over minor things or feel impatient with yourself and others. This can lead to conflicts with friends, family, and co-workers. It can create or exacerbate feelings of grief, sadness, anger, anxiety, and loneliness. Recognizing that you are becoming short with others or lashing out can clue you in on whether you need to reign back your workload, take a break, rest, or find ways to clear your head of the negative energy you are feeling.
To overcome this, practice self-care. This means taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental health. Try to get 6-8 hours of sleep, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly. You may also want to talk to a therapist or a trusted friend about what's been bothering you. Doing this will allow you to reduce any stress and anxiety that has been building up throughout the day. It is important to pencil in downtime when you have a hectic daily life. It may be the only way to breathe a little and clear your head. There is a saying that "burnout is optional." If you include your mental well-being in your daily routine, you can help navigate through any stressful day with little to no opportunity to burn out.
4. Experiencing a Decrease in Performance
Decreased performance is another sign of mental exhaustion. You may struggle to keep up with your workload or make mistakes you wouldn't usually make. This can lead to feelings of self-doubt and a loss of confidence.
To overcome this, it's important to set realistic expectations for yourself. Try breaking down larger projects into smaller manageable tasks. Take mini breaks throughout your day to clear your head and breathe out any accumulated negative energy that may be trapped in your body. Short meditations are amazingly helpful such as breathing in relaxation, calmness, and peace and breathing out tension, stress, and anxiety. Do this three times to experience a significant change in your attitude and stress level. You will feel anxiety drain out of your body and will be better able to focus on the task. You may also want to talk to your supervisor or a trusted colleague about your feelings. They may be able to offer support and guidance, or at the very least, they will know that you are struggling and more easily extend grace rather than judgment.
5. Feeling Physical Symptoms
Mental exhaustion can also manifest itself in physical symptoms. You may experience headaches, stomachaches, or muscle tension. Stress and anxiety often accumulate during your day. You may be experiencing issues falling asleep and maintaining it or feeling constant fatigue. Constant pressure lowers our immune systems, leaving us open to illnesses like the flu or common cold. You may find yourself falling sick more often. These symptoms can be debilitating and impact your daily life when you do not use appropriate ways of eliminating this from your body. As a result, it can manifest itself by causing illness and potential disease.
To overcome this, focus on self-care. Take frequent daily breaks and practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Check in with your body regularly. Our bodies are always telling us something. If you are finding that you are having frequent headaches or other body ailments that traditional remedies do not help, then you need to be on the alert that something needs to be addressed. Ignoring these symptoms will only create further problems. If these symptoms cannot be alleviated, you may want to seek medical attention as your symptoms persist or become more severe.
6. Having Behavioral Symptoms
If you are experiencing a lot of stress and mental exhaustion, you may notice shifts in your behavior. You may suddenly become a chronic procrastinator, putting off work and tasks. You could be zoning out more, as you are losing interest in what you are doing. You may have a more difficult time managing time and appropriately delegating tasks. Maybe you are using substances or drinking alcohol more than you used to or for the first time. You may notice you are calling out "sick," taking personal days more often from work, or wanting to stay home from classes.
To overcome these struggles, try practicing a time management schedule. Buy a planner, break tasks into smaller chunks, and make your daily life easier to manage. If you are overwhelmed at work, discuss with your boss how you feel and what they can do to help you. If you find yourself turning to alcohol or substance use to manage symptoms, seek the help of a mental health professional right away. They can help you find a healthier way to cope and manage stress.
7. Withdrawal from Social Interaction
Withdrawal from social interaction is another sign of mental exhaustion. When you are overwhelmed, the last thing you want to do is be surrounded by people who aren't aware of how you feel. You may find yourself avoiding social situations or not wanting to engage with others. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
To overcome this, try to push yourself to engage in social activities with smaller groups and people you already know. This can help to boost your mood and improve your overall mental health. You may also want to consider joining a support group or talking to a therapist about your feelings. Being surrounded by people who understand what you're going through is a powerful tool for managing a problem.
As you may know, the symptoms of mental exhaustion often appear gradually. Still, when extremely stressed, you may experience it more intensely because you're putting more pressure on your brain to work. It is important to recognize that your brain is as important as the rest of your body and that if it is over-taxed or over-stressed, it will affect every part of your life. Taking special care to include all of the above recommendations to reduce mental exhaustion will also help you manage it and reduce or eliminate the associated symptoms.
Restoring Balance: Recognizing and Addressing Mental Exhaustion
Mental exhaustion is a significant condition that can influence all aspects of your life. If you're encountering any related signs or symptoms, it's crucial to identify them and take appropriate steps to address them. One highly effective method to combat mental exhaustion is through individual counseling, which provides a supportive environment for discussing issues and developing coping strategies tailored to your unique situation.
At Neurofeedback Counseling Center in Pennsylvania, they have a team of trained mental health professionals specializing in providing individual counseling. They utilize a patient-centric approach, ensuring you receive the appropriate support, encouragement, and tools needed to tackle your mental exhaustion. Moreover, Neurofeedback, an evidence-based approach, aids in self-regulating brain functions, which may further alleviate symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety often associated with mental fatigue.
Alongside counseling, integrating other strategies into your daily routine is beneficial. These may include removing stressors, practicing gratitude, journaling your thoughts, setting boundaries, and scheduling downtime to clear your head. Relaxation and focused breathing exercises can boost your motivation, focus, and concentration, enhancing your problem-solving skills, minimizing unnecessary errors, and improving your ability to regulate emotions.