Updated: May 31, 2020
During the COVID-19 crisis have you found yourself to be; easily irritated, feel completely unmotivated, anxious with a sense of panic, have trouble sleeping, no patience, having a short temper, experiencing indigestion issues, stomach aches or constant butterflies in your tummy and you can cry unexpectedly?
If so, you may be experiencing emotional exhaustion.
Emotional exhaustion is a state of feeling emotionally worn-out and drained from too much stress in your life, whether it be from personal situations, work related or a combination of both, and it is one of the signs of burnout.
It can affect us physically, emotionally and behaviourally, and it is often a combination of the three that impacts us and cause us the most distress, but the risks lie in its silent approach, the subtle symptoms that prevent us from realising we have a problem until it’s too late and our mental and physical health has been effected.
In the years I have worked as a therapist specialising in mental wellness, stress and anxiety management, I can confirm the triggers for emotional stress, generally, can be different for everyone but with the current COVID-19 pandemic, you may find that you are experiencing higher levels of stress through:
having a high-pressured job, such as key worker, nurse, doctor, police officers, and teacher
intense home schooling
working long hours from home or working at a job you hate
having a baby and raising children
financial stress or poverty
being a caregiver for a loved one
prolonged divorce proceedings
death of a family member or friend
living with a chronic illness or injury
These stress triggers may result in a lack of energy, poor sleep, and decreased motivation. Things that you once found manageable may now seem draining and almost impossible to overcome and these can be signs of emotional exhaustion. But to be sure let’s have a better look at the symptoms, which can be both physical and emotional, so it is important to be able to identify between the two:
lack of motivation
feelings of hopelessness
increased cynicism or pessimism
sense of dread
If you can identify with any of these symptoms then it is important to deal with them immediately, because prolonged emotional exhaustion can have a long term detrimental effect on your mental and physical health, and no one wants that, life can be hard enough as it is without adding further health issues to the mix.
In many cases, recovering from emotional exhaustion requires a combination of lifestyle changes and therapy, and as a therapist I always explain to clients that the lifestyle changes won’t be easy to do in the beginning, because change and new routines take time to become embedded, but it becomes easier when you have committed to the changes and new healthier routines have been created.
So, try implementing some of these changes:
1. Health: sorry to be boring, but diet, exercise and good sleep are needed to provide our bodies with the energy necessary to overcome the emotional, mental, and physical symptoms of emotional exhaustion:
a. Diet: eat fruits, vegetables, and lean meats with limited to no processed food is required. Reduce sugar, caffeine and fast foods and increase water and decaffeinated beverages, as well as cut down on alcohol and cigarettes as they are likely to make the symptoms worse
b. Movement and exercise: aim for 30 minutes a day will lift mood and energy levels. Don’t panic this does not have to be intense exercise it can be walking outdoors, stretching or even gardening
c. Sleep: it can be difficult when emotionally exhausted, but a relaxation night time routine, along with good sleep hygiene with no technology and maybe herbal supplements, teas and oils, 30 minutes before sleep can be beneficial.
2. Connection: connecting with others, whether that be friendships, family, colleagues or a community group, isolation enhances emotional exhaustion, so you need to reach out to people.
3. Self-Care for Yourself: includes things such as saying “no” when you have too much going on, setting aside ‘downtime’ to relax do things you enjoy and managing your thoughts and feelings through meditation or journaling to clear the mind, relax the body and let go of stress.
Now you might read this list and say, I don’t want to give up my pizza, wine and cigarettes, I like my late nights and I hate exercise, and that is fine, but ask yourself what is more important – all of those things or your mental and physical health?
Because the stress responsible for emotional exhaustion puts you at risk of burnout and overtime that can lead to major health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, strokes and depression because chronic stress can affect your immune system, heart, metabolism, and overall well-being and in the climate of a COVID-19 crisis, none of us can afford a poor immune system.
So, what you need to remember is: Emotional exhaustion is a treatable condition, but you have to commit to making some lifestyle changes and try to eliminate the stressor or learn to manage it effectively. And don’t be scared to reach out for help with a professional therapist about ways to cope with stress and anxiety – there is no shame in it, we all need some support from time to time.
Psychotherapist | Mental Wellness Coach and Trainer | Founder of Dalton Wise Coaching & Therapy