What is Emotional Exhaustion?

It is seemingly a common occurrence no matter where you go. People working high stress jobs with long hours, struggling to keep their families together as the burden of their responsibilities becomes too much to bear. It can seem impossible to keep up, the que of responsibility becoming longer and longer and your energy only subsiding. You’re in over your head, drowning in a sea of suffocating obligation. It can feel like you’re deficient, not made from tough enough stuff. As if the only reason you’re sputtering where your peers seem to thrive is through some fault of your own. However strong these self pitying thoughts may be, they are not true. The fact is, the drowning sensation you’re feeling is called emotional exhaustion, and can be marked by symptoms of fatigue, a deprivation of emotion, and the feeling of being overwhelmed.

A woman struggles with emotional exhaustion.

The Hormones Behind the Scenes

Buildup of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in the endocrine system are the cause of these feelings. This is a system which regulates functions such as growth, development, sleep, and mood, among others. Without a proper amount of time allotted for your body to break down these hormones, they clog up your brain and block new hormones from properly performing their duties. This process directly causes emotional exhaustion. 

The Science Behind Your Emotional Burnout

These hormones keep you alive in life or death situations. They contribute to what is commonly called the “fight or flight” response. In modern society, it can become all too easy for our bodies to release an over abundance of these hormones. Even when our lives are not actually at risk. If too many hormones are released and the body is not afforded the time to metabolize, emotional exhaustion can all too easily be achieved. There are many life events that can start the road to emotional exhaustion. There include divorce, death of a loved one, being a caregiver, experiencing financial stress, being homeless, working long hours, dealing with a chronic medical condition, working in a high pressure environment, and countless other situations which place stress on an individual. 

Key Symptoms of Emotional Exhaustion

Because emotional exhaustion effects the endocrine system, changes in mood are a key effect. Difficulties thinking, problems sleeping, physical changes (like heart palpitations, or weight loss/gain), and effects on personal relationships are also common symptoms. All these complications can make it even more difficult to overcome one’s stressors. All the while the victim sinks deeper and deeper into a hole of an impending burnout. If the early symptoms of exhaustion are ignored, a complete emotional burn out can occur. In severe cases, victims can be rendered immobile, unable to get from bed. Experts think that this may be due to the nervous system moving beyond the flight or fight response and into a freeze response. The freeze response greatly reduces mobility and metabolism. In the most extreme cases, people can withdraw completely, leading to body harm, decay of neural cells, and even death. 

Grim though the results can be, there is a solution and a road to recovery. The method of recovery is simple, yet very difficult to pull off: recognize the greatest stressors in your life and learn to control them. Get at least eight hours of sleep a night, place an emphasis on recreation and habits you enjoy. In addition, a coach or therapist trained in stress management. Social support goes a long way towards helping an emotional exhaustion victim recover. But use caution, as some in your social circle may be the greatest cause of your stress. 

Overcoming Fear

Reach Out

Coach Ross works as relationship coach, specializing in relationships between parents as their child deals with a life altering illness. He understands the emotional burden that caregivers take on when they give up their time to take care of another. Coach Ross can help reduce the toll that emotional exhaustion can take on its victims and guide them through managing their stressors and dealing with their social partners.