Recognizing Emotional Exhaustion Before It’s Too Late

emotional exhaustion

This article will educate readers on recognizing the signs and symptoms of emotional exhaustion early, offering practical advice and strategies for prevention and recovery to safeguard their mental and emotional well-being.


This article will review emotional exhaustion, its significance, and when to get help. Emotional exhaustion falls under the category of “burnout,” and it can be devastating if not properly treated or avoided. Recognizing the signs before it’s too late is critical to ensuring you get the right treatment. 

What is Emotional Exhaustion?

Emotional exhaustion falls under the category of burnout. There are several psychological and physiological aspects to emotional exhaustion. It can be caused by excessive emotional strain brought about by changes or challenges in life. 

But what are the signs, and why is it important to recognize early signs?

Signs of Emotional Exhaustion

Symptoms of emotional exhaustion fall into several categories, including mental and emotional signs of emotional exhaustion, physical signs, behavioral symptoms, and cognitive signs. 

Mental and Emotional Symptoms

Emotional exhaustion symptoms start with mental and emotional manifestations. For example, someone struggling with emotional exhaustion will:

  • Feel overwhelmed
  • Struggle with feeling trapped
  • Have decreased motivation
  • Be irritable
  • Have increased sensitivity
  • Struggle with anxiety
  • Experience detachment

The strain of emotional exhaustion can cause individuals to pull away or detach from friends and family. Increased sensitivity to challenges and unexpected burdens can exacerbate feelings of being overwhelmed and trapped, leading to secondary mental and emotional symptoms like anxiety or depression symptoms

Physical Symptoms

What are the signs of emotional exhaustion in your body? What does emotional exhaustion feel like?

It starts with chronic fatigue. Someone struggling with emotional exhaustion will have issues with sleep in terms of quality and quantity. This will cause chronic fatigue, where they can’t get enough energy during the day, regardless of sleep. 

These problems with sleep begin to have other physical and emotional exhaustion symptoms. 

For example:

When you sleep, your body regulates hormone production, like the hormones responsible for regulating appetite. 

Without enough sleep and with too much emotional exhaustion, it can cause appetite changes, such as extreme appetite loss or overeating. 

There are several overlaps between the various signs of emotional exhaustion. Physical issues like poor energy and chronic fatigue can lead to behavioral signs like poor performance and withdrawal. 

Behavioral Signs

What are the signs of emotional exhaustion in behavior? Many of the mental and emotional signs can lead to behavioral signs. 

Someone struggling with emotional exhaustion will experience things like the following:

  • Withdrawal
  • Poor performance
  • Increased substance use
  • Procrastination
  • Avoidance 

As individuals feel overwhelmed, like they are drowning or trapped, they are more likely to avoid tasks or obligations, procrastinate, and withdraw. 

Cognitive Signs

Emotional exhaustion symptoms can quickly become cognitive issues, too. Chronic fatigue, high resting stress and anxiety, poor sleep, and increased substance use can all make cognitive signs worse. People might experience:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory issues
  • Constant worrying
  • Indecisiveness

What Does Emotional Exhaustion Feel Like?

On any given day, emotional exhaustion might feel like the following:

Brittany has become the caretaker for her husband, who, in his mid-thirties, was suddenly diagnosed with a rare health condition. Meanwhile, she also had to take over running his company for him. Her two children are struggling; one of them was recently diagnosed with depression at 7. Her father was diagnosed with lung cancer, and she drives two hours round trip every other day to care for him. 

Every day, Brittany has headaches, trouble sleeping, and no appetite. She has lost a lot of weight in the last four months because she hasn’t been eating much. She is constantly irritable, snapping at people around her. She can’t seem to remember anything, is constantly worried, can’t seem to concentrate, and has detached emotionally from her husband and children as she tries to handle her burdens. 

signs of emotional exhaustion

Tips for Preventing and Addressing Emotional Exhaustion

Preventing emotional exhaustion can be done with the following tips:

  1. Prioritizing self-care
  2. Creating a routine and structure to your work schedule
  3. Decluttering your home
  4. Exercising regularly
  5. Meditating regularly
  6. Learning to say “no” to some personal obligations

If you already struggle with emotional exhaustion, don’t be afraid to use professional tools or see a therapist. 

Aside from that, take things slowly. Try this tip:

  • When you have no motivation, try to do one small activity each night, like painting. This should be something you can come back to each night for just a few minutes and see the progress. Sometimes, getting into the habit of making small achievements without a significant emotional or physical investment can be helpful. 

Commit to things that help you to move around and socialize. Try this tip:

  • Commit to something, no matter how small, that gets you out of your house, outside, or around others. This might be making plans with your friends to go on a walk every Saturday morning, hiking every Wednesday after work, taking a community class, joining an exercise group, or even interacting with a local church. These small things that don’t require a lot of emotional commitment can break up your routine and give you a chance to mentally step away from the sources of your exhaustion. 

When to Seek Professional Help

There are several types of professional help available, each of which can be accessed in different ways. 

Never be afraid to get help if you are struggling with symptoms of emotional exhaustion. There are helplines, online resources, and professional therapists you can work with. 

Professional services can help you do things like:

  1. Identify the causes of your emotional exhaustion.
  2. Find ways to manage the causes within your control.
  3. Develop coping skills

In the case of Brittany above, a therapist might help her realize all that she is sacrificing within herself and with her loved ones by trying to take care of everyone on her own. She might look for resources in her community that could help ease the burden, like having friends who provide some meals or doing meal prep services online. She might consider things like having her father move in with her so that his care does not also come with a two-hour round-trip drive. 

Professional therapists can curate treatment plans no matter how severe or mild your symptoms. 

Summing up

It is important to recognize and address the signs of emotional exhaustion. The more time and effort you put into maintaining emotional health and building resilience, the easier it will be to manage changes or unexpected challenges. Invest time in learning coping techniques and getting professional help when you need it.

Live without anxiety or exhaustion


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