This is the best way to describe what I am going through currently and what I have gone through more intensely in the past. I suspect a lot of others experience it, but aren’t sure what it is or how to describe it. One might just keep saying or feeling that they are “tired” and in need of sleep, but in reality what they are is emotionally/psychologically tired.
This type of fatigue can be intertwined with depression but it is not the same thing. Emotional exhaustion (EE) is when you just plain can’t seem to get mental rest- you can’t get a “break” or an escape from your mind or your life. Many emotionally exhausted people mistake it for physical exhaustion but they are able to fall asleep and stay asleep, but when they wake up they don’t feel rested or ready to tackle the day. There are physical/mental causes for this such as sleep disorders and what not, which I have been diagnosed with (and who knows, could be the cause of some of EE.), but EE is mostly caused by life itself, experiences and circumstances people find themselves in. I toyed with it in my mind as possibly being an existential crisis, which in a sense it is, but existential crises and the philosophical questioning of life take energy, and that is the precise thing people with EE are lacking.
Picture a hamster wheel that never seems to stop. This is how life feels for people with EE. They desperately want to get off but can’t. As mentioned before, they mistake EE for physical exhaustion and feel that sleeping will cure it. People with EE aren’t getting a chance to process, deal and heal from things. They are constantly trying to “catch” that feeling of being emotionally rested, yet they always find themselves one step behind. These constant attempts to get rested require a hell of amount of energy in and of themselves, and if it is one thing people with EE are truly exhausted of it is constantly trying. They are drained and spent and feel they have nothing left to give. They are often not even sure how they are functioning.
As a freelancer and performing artist, my world involves a hell of a lot of hustling and constantly trying. Auditioning is literally referred to as “trying out”. You have to have day/back up jobs just so you can feed and clothe yourself and maybe have health insurance. This all ends up being wear and tear on your psyche because not only are you not getting to do what you love, you are having to do things you hate just to get by in attempts to do what you love. The only consistency is the inconsistency. You have to quit day/back up jobs and lose shifts that make you money just so you can audition for a job that may or may not lead you to making money. This has led to a large part of my EE, and I suspect is the cause of EE for many performing artists.
Work in any form is in fact a main facet of why many find themselves with EE or “burnt out” as it is often referred to in the jobosphere. But most people can’t afford to be burnt /have EE because they have bills to pay and their physical body to feed and take care of and likely other bodies as well.
Trauma and stress are other main contributor to EE. EE in a sense is a type of PTSD. Mental illness and any kind of strain on your mind also causes EE. Many people with EE have minds that can’t be turned off. (Refer to the hamster wheel).
With EE you are tired of putting forth effort, especially when you feel it isn’t getting you anywhere. You are tired of the daily grind. You are tired of being a human being. You are essentially, tired of life. People with EE don’t have the energy to feel or express emotions. And emotions take energy, more than one can imagine. While it may be true that negative energy can drain you and is easy/lazy, developing positive energy is extremely hard and can be even more draining, especially when circumstances are anything but positive. Because people with EE don’t have energy, they don’t want to nor do they feel like they can deal with stress of any kind.
With EE, you are shutting down mentally when likely your body is perfectly healthy. People with EE know and often feel that suicide is wrong and are afraid of dying but are desperate for some kind of respite. Suicide seems like one of the best options. But most people with EE likely have family, and even through the heavy burden of EE, are still holding onto that last string of hope- it could be a dream, goal or just the thought of the possibility of things improving. The good news about having EE is that if you haven’t committed suicide yet or wound up a vegetable, likely you haven’t lost all hope and there is something worth holding on for.
I have experienced relief from EE when I have meditated, but this may not work for everyone. And being that there are a zillion ways to do it and that it is often difficult, this may further drain one with EE. But I want to say that it is worth a try. I used to know how to meditate better, but it was in the environment of a classroom and it was guided. Guided meditation can be a powerful way to get emotional rest, however temporary. If you have EE or suspect you are developing it, research meditation techniques and/or where you can find meditation classes. Many cities even have free/”community” meditation classes that you can take. But I understand that this is not accessible to everyone.
When trying to meditate to escape EE I have envisioned myself floating in space, on a beach somewhere or even in an ice cave. (Technically I think this counts as visualization, and it can be how someone breaks into meditation). I try to let go of my ego and to not “attach” and ruminate and analyze my thoughts, as they aren’t doing me any good and likely heavily contributing to my EE. This is actually one main component of and type of meditation- not hanging on to thoughts, and rather just acknowledging them and letting them pass. Basically, I just try to be. I stop constantly striving for more and just try to be content in the present and “catch up” with myself. I stop trying for a specific result and insisting on things going a certain way. In a sense, I stop trying to be a perfectionist and in control. I believe this is a major factor for someone with EE. (A bit more on this later).
Like the hamster wheel, seemingly never-ending cycles are a huge part of EE. People with EE feel like life is a maze or a room full of mirrors and they can’t find their way out no matter what they do. I have been feeling this way recently in my life and have many times in the past. Thank God though that it is not as bad as it was. I am living proof that one can go through horrible bouts of EE and come out of it. I am still, however, trying to break cycles that I feel have caused my EE. This is a catch 22 though in that people with EE, like myself, are struggling to find the energy to break cycles in the first place.
Even though I have had bouts of EE and depression in the last few days, I am beginning to do more of what I mentioned in an above paragraph, which can be summed up as: to just stop. Stop trying, feeling everything, hoping for an outcome, for a way out of the maze and the mirrors, and to just sit still and breathe. Reacting emotionally to everything again and again I believe is one of the number one causes of EE. Yet when you know that you have power to determine how big your reactions are and the power to not even react at all, you are closer, I feel, to that place of emotional rest.
Many people with EE are highly sensitive and emotional already and they react to things more intensely than most other people. There’s something called detachment, and it is something I am hoping to work more on and something I think might help people with EE, especially those who are particularly sensitive and prone to extreme emotions. Detachment is simply emotionally removing yourself from people/situations and not investing anymore expectations or wants into them. Broken promises, let downs, and seeming lack of a resolution are the root causes of emotions like anger, frustration, sadness and even more intense ones like rage and depression. Certain people and situations are unavoidable, which is another number one reason people have EE – hence why they feel they can’t escape. Detachment can be a way to help resolve this. Simply decide that you don’t have control over the person/situation, that you can’t influence it or stop it, that it is unlikely to change no matter what you do, so you are left with the choice of how you react to it.
When you are emotionally detached from something you are able to look at it more objectively and for what it is. You are able to pinpoint what the trigger is of the particular situation/person that sets you off. Many times, people with EE are in situations or have been in situations with people who want them to react emotionally and are trying to intentionally provoke extreme responses from them for their own ends. Various forms of abuse, manipulation, and crazy-making come to mind when I write this. Most people with EE have been/are being abused and often used to a certain extent or they wouldn’t have it. Note: if you are having EE there is a strong likelihood that you are in a situation where there is some type of abuse or major dysfunction happening and it has likely been so for quite a while.
When detachment isn’t an option, and often times it isn’t, physically removing oneself from a situation may be the only way to prevent, relieve or stop EE in its tracks. This can be done, even though as mentioned before there is the catch 22/ conundrum of having enough energy to do so. But I GUARANTEE YOU symptoms of EE will ease and sometimes even go away completely when you remove yourself from what is draining you.
This could mean leaving a job, a relationship, a housing situation or quitting a habit. Sometimes when you need IMMEDIATE relief, a hotel room, a friend or relative’s spare room or couch, a homeless shelter or even a car, a park or a coffee shop for even for a little while can provide immediate relief. Turning off the phone and deactivating Facebook are simple ways of avoiding people that may be causing your EE. Basically, going to a place where you can be by yourself for a little while without any distractions can really help, even if it is the shower or a bath. I sometimes feel emotionally rested when I am up at night, like I am now, writing or watching tv and everyone else is asleep. This can also be done early in the morning if you live with other people.
Seeing a therapist and/or psychiatrist may help with EE. I find that being around and having to deal with people period contributes to EE, but finding a place where there aren’t any is pretty impossible. If you have money, I recommend either going to a tropical place with lots of beaches that stretch for miles and that isn’t densely populated, and where there aren’t lots of resorts. (Costa Rica comes to mind). Or, going to a cabin in the mountains or to the desert (Arizona is ideal in my experience and opinion). Basically, anywhere in nature where aren’t lots of people is a great way to get emotional rest.
If you don’t have money and have EE, I can only recommend what I have already, in addition to this: Try to find an easy, late night or overnight job where you don’t have to deal with people as much. This can be done, and can be the solution to your EE and money issues. There are numerous types of jobs like these where the stress is low, the expectations are low, and interactions with people are minimal. They aren’t dream jobs or high paying careers, but when you have EE these really aren’t at the forefront of your mind- you are just trying to get by. Jobs that come to mind are: grocery store stocker, security guard, house sitter, animal caretaker, even a caregiving/babysitting job overnight. I had a babysitting job once that was very simple. I just had to tuck the kid into bed and be there overnight and check on him periodically. If you would rather work with adults, often the elderly need caregivers overnight and like the kid I babysat for, all you have to do is be there to check on them and maybe help them get to the bathroom once or twice. Online jobs are also what I can recommend. There are a plethora of legitimate work from home jobs. I have done several (as a writer, translator, singer, voice artist and currently an English teacher). Most of these however do require some skill and education, and if you don’t have this refer to the other jobs listed above.
While isolation isn’t good for people long term, it is one way to survive EE and even eventually move on from it. If you have EE I know what you are feeling, that you can’t do anything and that life itself is a chore. But you can feel better and can get back into the swing of things- I know I have. I hope I have at least offered you something to mull over.
You may be questioning, why get better? Why go on? Well as I said above if you are still alive there is likely something or someone you are living for. And I also believe that there are so many great things in life that EE clouds us from seeing. Also, when you finally do get emotional rest, possibly with one of the above techniques, you will feel absolutely amazing. Emotional rest will rejuvenate your mind, soul and the world around you and you will feel like a whole different person.
You can get emotional rest and it is worth it.