Psychological burnout is an anxious state that many people experience without even realizing it, but the damage from prolonged exhaustion can be devastating.
If you’ve ever gone through a prolonged period of heavy stress — whether from your job, a relationship, or major life crisis — then it’s possible you’ve experienced emotional exhaustion. And while that might sound kind of vague, it’s actually very real. There are some signs of emotional exhaustion that you need to know about, since it can take a serious toll on both your mental and physical health if left unchecked.
Being emotionally burnt out means feeling powerless. This happens when you live your life on autopilot without thinking or feeling too much and acting as if everything was imposed on you. You live as if your life doesn’t belong to you and you don’t care.
“Emotional exhaustion refers to specific state that includes not only physical symptoms of exhaustion, such as fatigue, headaches, sleep difficulties, and appetite changes, but a distinct psychological experience of frustration, low motivation, helplessness, hopelessness,” clinical psychologist Deborah Offner, PhD, tells Bustle by email. “Emotional exhaustion is wider ranging and longer lasting than ‘a bad week.’ It includes a constellation of physical and psychological symptoms that are caused by significant and prolonged stress in our professional or personal lives. Emotional exhaustion is a component of, or may be a precursor to, burnout.”
Essentially, we all have limits to how many curveballs we can juggle before something’s got to give. If you know that your stress levels are on blast constantly, here are some symptoms of emotional exhaustion to watch out for.
1 Your Mood Is Increasingly Down, Pessimistic, Or Irritable
Dr. Offner says that emotional exhaustion can affect your mental health in different ways. “This psychological reaction to prolonged and acute stress can lead directly to depression or anxiety, and some of its symptoms can lead indirectly to depression or anxiety. For example, disrupted sleep makes us more vulnerable to both depression and anxiety.”
PsychCentral says that emotional exhaustion happens when you’ve exceeded your capacity for stress, and feeling this depleted can really affect your mood for the worse. Feelings of hopelessness, depression, and chronic irritability are common with burnout, PsychCentral notes, so it’s important to get help if you’re finding it difficult to cope.
2 You Also Feel Emotionally Numb
Feelings of numbness or detachment are a strong sign that your stress is impacting your mental health, HelpGuide says. Genuine emotional exhaustion, or burnout, goes way beyond having a bad day or two. If you’re feeling emotionally numb, or disconnected from what’s around you, that’s a sign that you’re experiencing some pretty major distress. Checking in with a trusted therapist or friend (or both) might help you get to the root of these issues, as you get support in the process.
3 You Feel Unmotivated
Emotional exhaustion can put a heavy damper on your motivation, Dr. Offner says. If you’re feeling an absence of enthusiasm for your job, relationship(s), or projects you used to be excited about, then burnout might be sapping your energy reserves.
4 Or Like A Failure
“The key signs of emotional exhaustion are feeling stuck, helpless, and hopeless,” Dr. Offner says.
Juli Fraga writing for Healthline wrote that burned out people might feel like “they have nothing left to give,” and may have a sense of dread about work and relationships. Emotional exhaustion can leave you feeling like your best efforts aren’t holding up under the demands of your situation, so you may feel discouraged and ineffective as a result.
5 You’re Really, Really, Really Tired
Emotional exhaustion is, by definition, draining on multiple levels. Emotionally exhausted people might feel trapped by their circumstances, Healthline explained, and the cumulative toll of this level of stress can leave you feeling extremely physically tired. Since emotional exhaustion can have some serious consequences for your health on various levels, it’s important to note if you’re having trouble sleeping, or if your energy levels are significantly decreasing over time. Make sure to check in with your doctor if your stress is starting to affect you physically.
6 You Can’t Concentrate
Brain fog is common in people with emotional exhaustion, Dr. Offner says. Research shows that burnout can seriously harm your cognitive capacity, and you might have trouble focusing your attention, remembering things, or making plans as a result.
“Cognitively, those of us suffering from emotional exhaustion may have trouble concentrating, feel a sense of dread, or become scattered in our thinking,” Dr. Offner says.
If you’re in such a state, your priority should be your well-being. Nothing’s more important than yourself. You may be surprised at the results if you start a process of transformation. All you need to do is make the decision of choosing a new path for your life. Talk to someone about your stressors in life, make some time specifically for you and your relaxation, and make yourself a priority.