Mental exhaustion can affect physical well-being, causing a person to feel physically exhausted. Similarly, physical fatigue or chronic stress can also result in mental exhaustion.
Some tips to relieve mental exhaustion include practicing mindfulness and making certain environmental changes, either at work or at home.
This article will discuss the symptoms of mental exhaustion, how it differs from stress and physical exhaustion, and how a person can overcome mental exhaustion.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.
Mental exhaustion can manifest in many different ways. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- low emotional resilience
- feeling stressed or anxious
- irritability with other people
- feelings of helplessness
- chronic feelings of being overwhelmed
- low motivation
- suicidal thoughts
- feeling physically fatigued
- sleep issues, such as sleeping too much or too little
- unexplained aches and pains, such as headaches or muscle pain
- increased arguments with loved ones
- feeling distracted or on edge when spending time with loved ones
- using substances, such as alcohol, as a coping mechanism
- memory difficulties
The right strategy for dealing with mental exhaustion will vary depending on the reason for the exhaustion. For example, a person who feels burned out at work needs different support from a person who feels exhausted after a long recovery from an injury.
In general, however, these strategies may help:
- Changing working conditions: When a job causes a person to feel fatigued, making a change in their work life may improve things. For example, a person might need more time off, a reduction in their workload, or more support from colleagues.
- Practicing good self-care: Exercising, eating a healthful diet, getting plenty of sleep, and staying hydrated can all help improve a person’s resilience. This may ease symptoms of mental exhaustion or prevent its onset.
- Trying mindfulness: Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, help a person become more aware of their emotions. This can make it easier to manage burnout, fatigue, or depression.
- Making medication changes: Some people find that certain drugs, including some antidepressants, cause them to feel fatigued. People should consult a doctor about whether or not a different drug might be more beneficial.
- Seeking therapy: Seeking mental health support, such as seeing a therapist, can help a person better deal with stress. A therapist can also recommend positive lifestyle changes that may reduce the impact of stress.
- Seeking mental healthcare: People with mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression need treatment. It is not possible for them to “think” themselves out of the condition, and delaying treatment may actually increase exhaustion.
Anything that drains a person’s emotional resources can cause them to start feeling mentally exhausted.
This can happen due to:
- Burnout: This tends to happen when a person works too much with no breaks or when their job is very emotionally demanding. For example, half of physicians report burnout.
- Chronic stress: Although mental exhaustion is not the same thing as stress, chronic exposure to stress can exhaust the body. People who often feel stressed may remain in a constant state of fight-or-flight, causing intense exhaustion.
- Mental health conditions: People with certain mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, may feel exhausted. Some continue to report exhaustion even after their other symptoms improve, while others experience fatigue as a side effect of some antidepressants.
- Physical injuries and exhaustion: Physical fatigue, illness, and injuries can all cause a person to feel mentally exhausted — particularly after long periods of athletic training.
Although stress can cause mental exhaustion, the two are not the same. A person who feels stressed may experience:
- pressure to succeed
Physical exhaustion is not the same as mental exhaustion. A person who is physically exhausted may feel mentally alert but physically tired. However, physical exhaustion may lead to mental exhaustion — especially in athletes who have rigorous training schedules.
For some people, emotional symptoms manifest as physical ones, such as when anxiety causes a person’s heart to race. Moreover, chronic mental exhaustion may cause physical health symptoms such as headaches or muscle aches.
People who feel physically fatigued may want to think about how they can reduce the strain they are putting on their bodies. This is important because they may eventually experience mental exhaustion on top of physical exhaustion.
Sometimes, symptoms of mental exhaustion can occur due to an underlying medical condition. A person should talk to a doctor if they are experiencing any of the following:
- chronic chest pain and heart palpitations that persist after receiving treatment for mental exhaustion
- feeling mentally exhausted even after adopting strategies to reduce exhaustion
- feeling severely depressed or anxious
- feeling exhausted after starting to take a new medication
With good self-care, a change in their working environment, and the right support, people can recover from mental exhaustion.
Some people may need medication to manage their underlying mental health symptoms. Finding the right medication may require some experimentation, so people should not get disheartened if it takes a while for the symptoms of mental exhaustion to improve.
A number of interventions can help prevent mental exhaustion. These include:
- choosing workplaces that prioritize well-being and work-life balance
- working with companies and colleagues who support one another and offer positive feedback
- avoiding doing too many tasks at once
- practicing good self-care, including regularly exercising and eating a healthful diet
- developing strategies for dealing with stress
Mental exhaustion can make it difficult to work or practice good self-care. Once a person starts to feel mentally exhausted, they may struggle to devise and implement a strategy for reducing their exhaustion. Getting the right support from loved ones, a therapist, and a physician can help.
If a person feels mentally exhausted at any point in their lives, they should get in touch with a healthcare provider who can arrange a treatment plan to alleviate the symptoms.