Mental exhaustion can happen when you often engage in tasks that require a lot of cognitive and emotional effort — especially when you don’t build time for rest and self-care into your day. Triggers and causes of mental exhaustion vary from person to person, but some common ones include:
- having a demanding or high-pressure job
- working long hours without taking time off to rest
- experiencing financial stress
- job dissatisfaction
- providing care for a loved one who’s ill or has special needs
- living with a chronic illness or mental health condition
- losing a loved one
- having a baby
- lack of work-life balance or emotional support
Treating & Coping with mental exhaustion
Once you recognize the signs of mental fatigue, you might wonder, “What next?” There are a number of things you can do to help ease mental exhaustion. Making some lifestyle changes can help you address it at the source, while coping strategies can help you take steps to feel more rested and renewed when facing challenges that cause significant life stress.
Remove the stressor
You may not always find it possible to eliminate the triggers of stress and fatigue, but this typically does offer one of the best ways to relieve stress in your life. Feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities at work? Consider asking your supervisor or co-workers for help with tasks or try delegating some of your responsibilities to others. Have difficulty keeping up with household responsibilities or caregiving? If you can’t afford to pay for professional cleaning or other support, it may be worth asking friends and family members for help.
Take a break
Time to rest and recharge can go a long way toward easing feelings of mental exhaustion. A break might mean any of the following:
- clearing your schedule of nonessential tasks for a few days
- taking a holiday
- booking an hour of time for yourself each day
- leaving your office during lunch and taking a full hour for a leisurely meal, walk or other nonwork activity
- setting aside an evening or 2 each week to have dinner or watch a movie with friends
Examples of other relaxation techniques include:
- Tai Chi
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Try to get more sleep
Quality sleep doesn’t just promote good physical health. It’s essential for overall health, which includes your mental and emotional well-being. Aiming to get the recommended 7 – 8 hours each night can help relieve both mental and physical exhaustion. A few ideas may include swapping your phone or computer at night for a book, colouring book or soothing music, keep the bedroom cool and dim or turn off unnecessary lighting as you’re getting ready for bed.
Keep a gratitude journal
When you’re already feeling drained and low, negative or distressing thoughts can seem even more overwhelming. To challenge unwanted emotions and thoughts and refocus on the things you enjoy in life, try keeping a journal where you note a few things you’re thankful for every day. Alternately, think of or say one thing you’re grateful for every day.
Mustering up the motivation to exercise might be tougher than usual when you already don’t feel your best. All the same, regular physical exercise can have a positive impact on your mood, energy levels, and brain function, not to mention overall physical well-being. You don’t need to engage in a complex or high intensity activity to reap the benefits, either. If you’re able to, moderate exercise, like a brisk half-hour walk, can still make a difference in your mood and help you feel calmer and more relaxed.
Check in with basic needs
Sometimes, rest can prove elusive no matter how exhausted you feel. If you’re finding it difficult to recover from prolonged mental or physical fatigue, a good next step might involve exploring whether you’re meeting other important needs:
- Nutrition. Aim to eat a balanced diet and drink water throughout the day.
- Physical activity. Even if you don’t feel up to a workout, try gardening, or a walk through your neighbourhood.
- Sunlight and fresh air. Spending some time in natural light each day, especially if you aren’t able to exercise, can also offer health benefits.
- Social support. Sharing your experience with loved ones can help you get the emotional support you need and perhaps even more tangible help from friends and family in a position to offer assistance.
Preventing Mental Xxhaustion
Mental exhaustion can happen to anyone, and it can’t always be avoided. That said, taking a few pre-emptive steps can help lower your chances of experiencing ongoing mental fatigue.
- Take regular time off. Taking a short vacation, or even a single mental health day, can help you head off mental exhaustion when you start to feel depleted.
- Make time for self-care. Building time into your weekly (or daily, if possible) routine for rest, exercise and enjoyable activities can help you feel more prepared to handle the tougher challenges life throws your way.
- Rest when you’re sick. Whether you’re dealing with mental or physical symptoms, allow yourself time to rest and regain your strength. Trying to power through without any downtime will generally only leave you feeling worse.
- Stay connected to loved ones. Maybe you already know your loved ones can’t do anything to change your situation. Still, don’t forget the power of a compassionate listener. Simply talking through what’s on your mind can often help. It might even lead you to a solution of your own.
- Know when to say no. Taking on more responsibilities when you’re already overwhelmed can offer a nonstop route to mental exhaustion. If you dislike the abruptness of “No,” you might try, “I can’t, maybe next time, or “I’m not available to help at the moment.”