Our society seems only to accept the “go-go-go” mentality. We rush to make ends meet, to make money, and to stay ahead of the game. But eventually, chronic stress takes a toll and causes physical issues. Mental exhaustion can also result from trying to do too much too fast, taking on more than you can handle.
However, there are things you can do to prevent mental exhaustion and allow yourself time to recover.
What are the symptoms of mental exhaustion?
Mental exhaustion can appear as a red flag before you experience burnout. The symptoms can leave you feeling drained, not only mentally but physically.
The symptoms of mental exhaustion include:
- Sleep disruptions, most commonly insomnia.
- Unexplained headaches and body aches.
- Stomach and digestive issues.
- Muscle tension.
- Appetite changes.
- Weight changes.
- High blood pressure.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Loss of interest in hobbies, interests, and work.
- Isolation from others.
- Feeling lost and without purpose.
- Mood swings.
- Feeling overwhelmed or stressed most days.
- Lack of focus and trouble concentrating.
- Procrastinating on tasks instead of facing them.
- Calling into work more often.
- Getting sick often.
- Relationship problems due to behavioral changes.
- Depression and anxiety.
Mental exhaustion creates problems in every area of your life. Preventing it before it gets that far is critical. However, if you are in the midst of mental fatigue, depression, and anxiety, help is only a phone call or click away.
How to prevent mental exhaustion.
If you can take steps to prevent mental exhaustion, you have a better chance of avoiding the condition bleeding into other areas. But sometimes, life makes avoidance impossible. We are faced with stressors every day. If your job or a family situation is the cause of your stress, then pretending like it does not exist is impossible.
Instead, choose a few tips below to try to lessen the impact of mental exhaustion.
Prioritize tasks and responsibilities.
Chronic stress is often bred from our desire to tackle every task and responsibility that comes our way. Whether we believe we are the only person capable of doing the job, we like the title the responsibility gives us, or we refuse to ask for help, trying to take on too much will cause problems for our mental health.
Take a look at your to-do list. What tasks must be done by you? What jobs can you delegate? Is it necessary to serve on a specific committee or group in this season of your life?
For example, Suzie, while in her thirties, enjoyed working as Secretary for a writing group, leader for her church’s youth group, and teaching adults with dyslexia to read. However, by the time Suzie was in her mid-forties, she was also faced with aging parents and raising two teenagers, helping with her husband’s small business, and working full-time.
If Suzie had continued with her responsibilities without reassessing what she could manage now, she would have easily experienced mental exhaustion and eventually burnout. Seasons of life change. Sometimes you can handle more, and sometimes you need to choose less on your plate.
Cut out the extra.
Mental exhaustion makes it difficult to concentrate on tasks. We become distracted easily. Cut out the extra if you find it difficult to think at work. Limit your social media and screen time. Minimize your email and silence your notifications while trying to work on a project.
Our minds seek comfort, and often we use social media platforms as a way to take a break. But, unfortunately, this can become a habit. For example, have you noticed that when your phone indicates a notification from a social media platform, you have an urge to check it? Do you feel the urge to check even when someone is talking to you face to face?
These little distractions take your mind away from the work at hand, and it takes a while to get back into the workflow. When it is time to accomplish a task, cut out the distractions.
Block off time to work.
Time blocks are a convenient way to shut off distractions and focus on a task. When the allotted time is up, you are done with the task for the day (or for that particular block). Some people use the Pomodoro Technique to learn how to work in blocks.
The Pomodoro Technique allows you to schedule a 25-minute block of time for a task. Then, you focus only on that task during that time and nothing else. When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break, then repeat with either the same job or a different one.
You can choose the time limit that is best for the task; for some people, that might be 10 or 15-minute blocks instead of twenty-five. Customize it to your schedule.
Adopt a consistent exercise routine.
Exercise clears brain fog and helps improve cognitive function. When you exercise, your body releases hormones that make you feel happier, helping you fight mental exhaustion. Exercise also benefits your physical body by regulating heart rate, boosting the immune system, improving circulation and blood pressure, and strengthening muscles and bones.
You do not need to work out for hours to reap the mental and physical benefits of exercise. Instead, start with a small time block. Choose an activity or online workout video for 15 minutes. Or take a walk around your neighborhood.
You can also split your workouts up throughout the day. For example, you could do a 20-minute workout video early in the morning, take a 10-minute walk at lunchtime, and finish the day with a 10-minute stretching routine. Choose activities that you love and can stack throughout the day. These breaks are perfect for giving your mind a rest while burning extra calories.
Sleep is often the first thing that suffers when we are overwhelmed and stressed. We stay up late, fitting in more household tasks or working on a project, or we veg out in front of the television because we feel like we deserve it after a long day.
Chronic stress and mental exhaustion can spark insomnia and other sleep disturbances. Adopting a nightly routine can help transition you into a better frame of mind before sleep. For example, consider doing other relaxing activities instead of watching television or scrolling on the phone for two hours. Screens emit a blue light that interferes with the circadian rhythm, making it hard to fall and stay asleep. Try to shut off all devices a few hours before bed.
An example of a nightly routine could include a warm bath with soothing music, reading a book in bed, or drinking a cup of decaffeinated hot tea or hot cocoa. Once your routine becomes a habit, it signals to your brain that the day has ended and it is time to rest.
Schedule time away.
It may sound impossible, but scheduling time away from daily responsibilities can help reset your mind and give you a breather. This could mean taking a few days off work for vacation. So often, we skip paid days off because we are afraid we will get behind on our workload or we believe management will think badly of us. Paid days off are there for your mental health, not just when you are physically ill.
If a vacation is not possible, then think smaller. Maybe this means arriving at the child pick-up line at school an hour early so you can relax and read a novel. It could mean hiring a babysitter once a week for a couple of hours so you can do something fun. For example, if you belong to a weekly group, use the time before or after the meeting to treat yourself to something fun or simply find somewhere quiet to enjoy nature.
Are you mentally exhausted?
Do any of the symptoms above sound familiar? Are you struggling to make it through the day? Mental exhaustion will affect your physical and emotional well-being. Reach out to a therapist today if you are experiencing any symptoms. Your therapist can provide a customized plan and support to overcome mental fatigue.
“Workplace Stress”, courtesy of Toa Heftiba, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Argument”, courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Deadlift”, Courtesy of Victor Freitas, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Napping Cat”, Courtesy of Kate Stone Matheson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License