“In times of life crisis, whether wildfires or smouldering stress, the first thing I do is go back to basics … am I eating right, am I getting enough sleep, am I getting some physical and mental exercise every day?” Edward Albert

Emotional fatigue builds up over time. 

Feeling emotionally exhausted is not something new I have encountered in my psychotherapy practice when talking with clients. 

Most of the time, we experience emotional exhaustion when we cannot change the stressors, causing us to feel we don’t have control over external circumstances. As a result, we feel that our only option is to endure.

When several stressors and challenging events accumulate, and we feel they keep coming, we feel emotionally worn out and drained. Fatigue affects us psychologically and physically, affecting our capacity to perform daily activities and relationships. 

Sources of stress vary from grief, dealing with a family member’s mental health issues or chronic illness, demanding jobs, working from home, juggling multiple things at the same time, raising young children, separation or divorce, financial struggles, racism, sexism, raising a child with disabilities, etc.

How does emotional fatigue manifest?

Emotional exhaustion can lead to experiences of anger, irritability, apathy, a sense of failure and lack of motivation, hopelessness and pessimism. Many times, it can be confused or overlap with symptoms of depression, ADHD or anxiety. Sleep disturbances are prevalent, leading to experiencing low mood, attention and concentration issues, and brain fog.

In couples, it can cause arguments that escalate to feeling unable to resolve complex issues or repair after a fight or stone-walling as a sign of feeling overwhelmed. Emotional fatigue can lead couples to feel disconnected and exist in ‘default mode,’ leading to a lack of physical and sexual intimacy. Their days become more about managing relationships as business-like. 

Physical symptoms, such as weight loss or gain, headaches, and heart palpitations, are not unusual. In some cases, emotional exhaustion can make people either lose their appetite or overeat as a way to self-comfort. 

Anyone can experience emotional fatigue. There’s nothing wrong with you!

One study shows that mindfulness can help people navigate stress more healthily, compared to other self-soothing behaviours such as increasing alcohol consumption, binge eating, over-exercising, gambling, etc. 

Creating an environment where we can develop a sense of self-agency is essential. Here are some steps we can try:

  • Dedicate some time to do something you enjoy, which includes doing nothing!
  • Creating a commitment to consider self-care.
  • Try eating regularly and learn about a healthful diet that meets your tastes and needs.
  • Incorporating movement into our day, such as walking or exercising.
  • Avoiding alcohol and tobacco can be beneficial. 
  • Addressing any sleep issues.
  • Connecting with a financial advisor if you struggle with finances.
  • Avoid isolation by connecting with friends and family or hanging out in public places you enjoy. 
  • Practice mindfulness in nature, or try guided meditation apps.
  • Reach out to a counsellor or psychotherapist
  • Develop a spiritual and personal growth practice that creates a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. 

“No beating yourself up. That’s not allowed. Be patient with yourself. It took you years to form the bad habits of thought you no longer want. It will take a little time to form new and better ones. But I promise you this: Even a slight move in this direction will bring you some peace. The more effort you apply to it, the faster you’ll find your bliss, but you’ll experience rewards immediately.” Holly Mosier