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What It’s Like to Deal With Emotional Exhaustion

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Indifference. Not caring and feeling beyond any emotion–especially when something comes up that you normally would love or cherish. But instead, you don’t feel anything at all for it. You had a really hard week, month, year. You experience blow after blow to your psyche. You feel so tired and kind of want to eat something, but you can’t decide what, so you don’t eat anything at all. You don’t feel like you used to, but you can’t seem to think of any answer for how to fix this lack of feeling. This lack of being. It isn’t sadness or depression, just a complete dearth of emotion.

This is what is called “emotional exhaustion,” and it is a lot more damaging and worrisome that you might think. I had lost my job I loved so dearly, I had pressure to find a new one, the anniversary of my best friend’s suicide was coming up, my health was deteriorating again, and one after the other, things just hit me straight in a row. Even if it was a good thing, like my niece being born, it was still a hit to how I looked at things. Good or bad, blow after blow and our tender beings try their very best to keep up at full performance. It is almost like a system shutdown. Except instead of a reboot, you just stay turned off. But there is a way to turn it back on. The kicker: you have to do it yourself. Because only you know your full self and the things that not only cheer you up or that you like, but also because you know the activities you always wanted to try but never got around to, or the things that actually make you relax and let all your worried disappear like a bad recipe going down the drain (been there!).

One cause of this emotional turmoil is stress. Big things that happen where you feel a loss of control. Like I said, this can be good or bad, from finding out you are going to be a parent or getting a new job, all the way to losing someone you love or having your car break down. One of the best comparisons is with a scale. You have a balanced scale with equal amounts of rice on either side, your “norm.” Something big happens and one side gets a large handful of rice added to it. It starts to droop more towards the ground. A few more big things happen in your life and soon you are only an inch from being completely off balance. One small thing, a little disappointment of the store being out of something you wanted to buy, and that is all it takes. Boom! The scale is completely unbalanced and you go into a tailspin. It is not just one big stress, but a buildup of stress. It can take a year or more, to just a week for it all to build up with something seemingly tiny changing your whole well being.

First, let’s jump into some symptoms so you can get an idea of where you or someone you love may be at. A pattern I have noticed is if you have two going on three symptoms, you are probably in the throes of falling into emotional exhaustion. But don’t worry: catching it early, like many things, can make it so much easier to combat like the warrior you are. When it comes to health, sanity, and happiness being ready is half the battle!

The biggest sign is a changing mood. It can be something small, like feeling a bit more anxious, or frustrated and angry at the smallest thing. If you find yourself constantly wary and feeling more pessimistic than you usually are, then you just might be a few steps away from apathy. Apathy is when you know you have hit the target right in the middle with qualifying for emotional exhaustion. Obviously the biggest thing is your mood changing, but your thinking has also changed. You just lose your spark and your creativity is out the window. You forget things and often feel confused. Your sleeping is a mess, either too much or too little, and you just can’t seem to get the balance right. You might even lose your appetite and have digestion problems leading to weight loss or gain. Headaches and migraines can mess with you as you try to work up some enthusiasm in parts of your life you used to enjoy. Your self-esteem can plummet and you may want to isolate yourself.

So, how do you pull yourself out of that dark hole of “blankness?” You reteach yourself to live and to love life again. Yes, rest and relaxation is important and necessary, but some of the best things you can do is put your energy into tangible pursuits. As I mentioned before, these can be activities you wanted to try but never got around to doing. As you don’t have a roadmap of what will happen, this will give you a chance to have real emotion show through instead of the fake bland-kind you would just use with one of the same old activities. A few of mine I have used include going to a movie by myself for the first time (a total blast by the way), and shopping around for some furniture that I had previously considered getting but never fully looked into.

As with the drop into emotional exhaustion bit by bit, it also takes the same buildup to reach the top so you can crawl out into the light. Do things you actually like to do instead of things that you usually just “put up with.” Sometimes that means taking a week off work like I did just to get myself back on track, and my health and well-being put first. You cannot pour from an empty glass. If you forget to nourish yourself, you will falter from lack of nutrients.

With the knowledge of symptoms, you can use it to recognize when you are getting back into that cycle, when the rice on one side of the scale is starting to pile up, and immediately do some real self-care. I am not saying baths and spa days–though those are totally find and not bad at all to add to routines–but also remember to give voice to the self inside you. The self that struggles and suffers when times get tough and stress reigns supreme. Remember the true you inside and listen to that voice in your head softly asking for you to take the time to do something you love and enjoy. It will save you in the long run. A short hike is always easier than a Mount Everest trip.

So next time you feel that little tingle of not caring and your spark dwindling, save your emotional self by giving it a little TLC and adventure. Your best investment will be in you. After all, you are your best weapon against the stress of the world. Just don’t forget to sharpen that sword ever so often.

Getty image via graphixchon.

Originally published: October 11, 2019
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