“I’m just tired” is what most of us say when we’re feeling mentally exhausted. We crack open an energy drink, a caffeinated soda, or have another cup of coffee to perk ourselves back up. While these are short-term solutions, they don’t address the underlying causes of mental exhaustion.
Mental exhaustion is more than being tired. It’s a completely different phenomenon that can ultimately be detrimental to your well-being.
Here are six signs of mental exhaustion so that you can recognize when you need to take a break:
- Your mood is lower than usual. You find yourself getting easily affected by the tiniest things. You’re easily flustered, or impatient, even when you shouldn’t be. Maybe you struggle to find the motivation to do things-even the ones that you enjoy. Or, you may take your frustrations out on those closest to you unknowingly, if you choose to interact with them at all.
- You feel detached. You can’t say that you necessarily feel good or bad or feel anything at all. You’ve gone numb. Unlike depression, where you’d feel weighed down by emotion, you’re weighed down by the absence of emotion.
- Your body is telling you to take a break. Physical problems such as stomachaches, headaches, body aches, chronic fatigue, changes in appetite, insomnia, and even colds-could all be hints of your body telling you that you need rest. When overwhelmed and stressed, your immune functioning weakens, but we often misinterpret these signs.
- You’re finding it hard to concentrate and focus. Whether it’s your ability to focus on work or a conversation with a friend, you feel a “mental fogginess” that gets in the way of your thinking. Maybe it feels more challenging to make a simple decision. Or you’ve forgotten standard, daily routine sort of things-like where you put your keys when you got home.
- You’re feeling more anxious than usual. Maybe you’re worried about everything but feel out of control or unable to do anything about them. You may even have anxiety or panic attacks. And as a result, your stress levels have increased, making you feel even more anxious.
- You can’t sleep properly. The first thing you want to do after waking up on the weekends is going right back to sleep. Or, even when you sleep fine or drink plenty of coffee in the morning, you still feel mentally fatigued. Regardless, you just. feel. tired.
Stress vs. mental exhaustion
We all get stressed from time to time. When our body perceives a threat or high-pressure situation, it releases a surge of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, putting you into fight or flight mode. These chemicals can help you react quickly to perceived threats ( or potentially dangerous) situations. Once the stressor has been removed, we go back to rest and digest, or our normal functioning state.
Mental exhaustion, on the other hand, is the result of long-term stress. When you’re constantly dealing with things that initiate your body’s stress response, your levels of cortisol remain high. Over time, this starts to affect your sleep, immune functioning, and digestion.
If you noticed a lot of things on this list, it’s time to take action.
So what can do you do?
- Identify the stressor. We can’t eliminate the cause without stopping and considering what it is. Take a second to reflect on what’s changed or what you’ve been doing differently.
- Be mindful. Mindfulness isn’t always about meditation but more about being in the present. Take a deep breath and observe your thoughts (without judgment) and any physical sensations you’re having. Journaling and going for a walk are beneficial, relaxing ways to do this.
- Reach out to a friend. Talking your thoughts out with a trusted friend or family member is a great stress reliever. You’re getting everything out of your head and processing it in a more effective way than trying to figure everything out on your own.
- Meet with a counselor/therapist. Mental exhaustion is a valid reason to see a professional. They can help you identify the source, understand it better, and provide the tools you need to overcome it.