Mental exhaustion is intense tiredness that makes you feel drained and unable to focus. It is a feeling of fatigue that originates in the brain rather than physical muscles and makes it challenging to handle normally manageable tasks and responsibilities.
Just as you feel physical fatigue after long periods of physical activity without rest, long stretches of mental activity and chronic stress wear you out, leading to burnout and mental fatigue. This happens when your brain is continuously overloaded from receiving too much stimulation and maintaining a vigorous level of concentration without adequate breaks and rest.
This article discusses the common signs of mental exhaustion, highlighting warning signs to know when you're on the verge. It's important to note that the effects and impact of mental exhaustion aren't relegated only to the brain and mind. If left unchecked, mental exhaustion manifests as physical health issues and chronic illness, impairing overall health and wellbeing over time.
Three common types of mental exhaustion symptoms to look out for are:
- Mental and emotional symptoms
- Behavioral symptoms
- Physical symptoms
We discuss these in detail below.
Mental and Emotional Signs of Mental Exhaustion
Mental and emotional signs of mental exhaustion are typically the first to show. You feel less energy to engage in daily life and may develop a negative outlook, a poor attitude, and detachment from events around you.
In most people, the signs of mental and emotional exhaustion manifest in the following ways:
- Increasingly negative feelings: Mental exhaustion causes a depletion of happy hormones and an increase of stress hormones in the brain, making you develop negative feelings about your life and responsibilities. You may lose motivation to work, socialize, and participate in things that usually bring you joy.
- Inability to control your emotions: When mentally exhausted, you're more prone to lose your cool over big and little issues. Situations you typically overlook or handle with calm may easily annoy you. You quickly become irritable and impatient, making it difficult to relate and work with others.
- Inability to focus: Mental exhaustion makes it difficult to concentrate. If you have difficulties focusing and completing tasks that typically do not take you time, you're likely suffering from mental exhaustion. Your attention span gets shorter, mental energy depletes, and you get bored and disinterested quickly, no matter what you do.
Behavioral Signs of Mental Exhaustion
Behavioral signs of mental exhaustion are often the next evident symptoms after mental and emotional signs. You react to situations in ways you usually would not; ways you know are counterintuitive. At this point, mental exhaustion may begin to affect many areas of your life, from work to home to managing simple tasks and errands.
Behavioral signs of mental exhaustion to look out for include:
- Indecisiveness: Making decisions becomes more difficult when you're mentally exhausted. You find yourself procrastinating on simple tasks and unable to confidently make simple choices like what to eat or wear. This happens because your brain's energy levels are drained and maxed out.
- Self-isolation: Withdrawing from people, calling out from work, canceling plans, and generally limiting human interactions are common behavioral signs of mental fatigue, stemming from the need to be alone and not engage with others at such a low point.
- Difficulty completing tasks: When you are mentally exhausted, your energy levels and motivation sink, which may cause you to zone out during tasks, forget things you should do, and struggle with meeting deadlines or bringing any positive energy to social activities.
- Dysfunctional eating habits: Mental exhaustion also affects your appetite and eating habits. This may cause you to eat less, snack more, or pay less attention to what you consume. Stress decreases or increases your appetite, further affecting your weight and energy levels.
Physical Signs of Mental Exhaustion
Ultimately, unchecked mental exhaustion may decline into physical exhaustion and severe health issues. You may begin to struggle with sleep, mental health conditions, and physical health issues.
The most common physical signs of mental exhaustion are:
- Anxiety: Intense mental exhaustion often leads to anxiety, worry, panic, and depression. The body's sympathetic nervous system is on high alert, leading you to stay in "fight or flight" mode. This may cause you to feel overwhelmed and incapable of handling issues, whether minor or significant. Your heart beats faster, and you may experience shortness of breath or uncontrolled trembling and shaking.
- Sleeping issues: Stressors triggering mental exhaustion impact your normal sleep cycle and circadian rhythm, making it hard to get enough sleep to rest the brain and get better. This may lead to excessive daytime sleepiness or, in contrast, insomnia, making it hard to go about your daily routine and remain productive.
- Physical exhaustion: Extreme mental fatigue soon escalates to physical exhaustion and inertia. Your tolerance for physical activity and exercise may decrease, making it seem like you need a lot more effort to simply stay alive and be functional.
- Migraines and body aches: Mental exhaustion may also show up as sharp, persistent pains in different parts of your body. Most common are headaches and migraines that make you uncomfortable and further affect your focus and productivity.
- Illness (e.g., frequent colds): Mental exhaustion increases your risk of getting sick and being susceptible to physical health issues. It’s crucial to take proactive steps to reduce your exhaustion and cortisol levels to keep colds and illnesses away.
Tips to Help You Overcome Mental Exhaustion
The following tips will help you overcome mental exhaustion and regain strength and enthusiasm to tackle your work and tasks again.
- If you're having any symptoms of mental exhaustion, it's essential to first diagnose the possible root causes of your fatigue. Knowing your stressors is the first step to overcoming them.
- Reflect on recent happenings, your lifestyle, and your medical history to identify factors that may be contributing to your exhaustion. You can then determine the best solution to regain your energy over time.
- Schedule self-care sessions; eat healthy, balanced meals; and incorporate minimal physical activity and exercise into your daily routine. You can take morning walks to get some sunlight and bits of nature, both of which are scientifically proven to recharge the brain and release happy brain hormones like dopamine and endorphins.
- Take regular breaks and strive for a good work-life balance to maintain productivity and health. Proactively avoid job burnout by permitting yourself to take a break and rest when you need to.
- Practice relaxation techniques, like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing, as part of your morning routine and throughout the workday.
- Implement a systematic review of your priorities and responsibilities to avoid burnout and exhaustion.
- Once you recognize any signs of burnout, seek medical intervention by seeing your doctor or a mental health professional.
- Never be ashamed to ask for help at work and home. Let your coworkers, family members, and loved ones know what's going on with you instead of isolating yourself.
- Use these tips to overcome mental fatigue and get yourself back to a healthy baseline. If you continue to feel exhausted after an extended period, say two weeks to a month, seek medical help immediately. Long periods of mental exhaustion may indicate a more serious underlying health issue.
Track Your Work Hours With Rize to Proactively Avoid Mental Exhaustion
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