Emotional Exhaustion: Forcing Yourself to be Strong

Emotional exhaustion does not only happen in the workplace. It is also very common among couples and, above all, in those who take care of dependent people.
Emotional Exhaustion: Forcing Yourself to be Strong

Last update: 17 June, 2024

Emotional exhaustion is a state you get to by overworking yourself. But this kind of exhaustion doesn’t come from your job, or school. It’s about loading yourself down by taking on conflicts, responsibilities, or emotional/cognitive stimuli.

You don’t just get to a point of emotional exhaustion overnight. It’s a slow-moving process that builds up until you completely collapse. 

That breakdown brings you to a state of paralysis, deep depression, or chronic sickness. It causes a total collapse in your life itself, because you literally just can’t take it anymore.

 “Nothing weighs as much as a tired heart.

-[Translation] José de San Martín-

Even though you usually experience emotional exhaustion as mental tiredness, it also comes along with intense physical fatigue too. When it shows up you get a feeling of heaviness, a feeling that you can’t keep going. That’s when you fall into an inertia that’s not easy to break out of.

The causes of emotional exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion comes up because there’s an imbalance between what you’re giving and receiving. The kinds of people who are victims of it are the people who give everything they can of themselves. It doesn’t matter whether it’s at work, at home, in their relationships, or anywhere else.

This generally happens in areas where there’s a high level of demand that also requires huge sacrifices. For example, at a job where there’s a very high risk of being fired.

Or in a home full of people who have tons of problems and demand attention. It can even happen when you’re in a relationship with a lot of conflicts and serious challenges.

Usually what happens is that when you’re exhausted you don’t have time for yourself. It also means you aren’t getting the recognition, affection, or consideration you deserve. People expect you to “be on” all the time. It’s like you don’t have your own needs, or like they think you’re stronger and can handle anything.

The early signs of emotional exhaustion

Before emotional exhaustion actually comes around, you’ll start to see some warning signs. They’re the kinds of things you probably don’t think much of. But you might be able to stop the exhaustion in time if you start to pay attention to them.

Here are the early signs of emotional exhaustion:

  • Physical fatigue. You’ll feel tired really often. From the moment you open your eyes, it’ll feel like everything you go through that day is just too hard.
  • Insomnia. As weird as it might seem, it’s not very easy to sleep when you’re emotionally exhausted. You’ll always be turning things over in your head, and that makes it hard to fall asleep.
  • Irritability. You get annoyed and lose control of yourself pretty often. When you’re exhausted you’ll be in a bad mood, and overly sensitive to any criticism or signs of disapproval.
  • Lack of motivation. When you’re dealing with emotional exhaustion you start to act mechanically. It’s kind of like you have no choice but to do what you always do. You have no enthusiasm or interest in what you’re doing.
  • Emotional distancing. Your emotions start to flatten out more and more. It’s like you don’t really feel anything.
  • Constant forgetfulness. Too much information and/or stimuli leads to some problems with your memory. You forget small things really easily.
  • Trouble thinking. It doesn’t take much to confuse you. Just about everything takes you more time than it usually does. You think through things very slowly.
woman dealing with emotional exhaustion leaning her head against the wall

Ways out of emotional exhaustion

The best way to overcome emotional exhaustion is, of course, to rest. You have to find some free time to relax and calm down. People who ask too much of themselves spend years without taking a vacation, for example.

That’s not something you should do. Sooner or later it will end up leading you to fatigue. That’s why it’s so important to take a few days to rest.

Another solution is to work on creating a different attitude towards your daily obligations. Every day should include some time for your commitments, along with time to rest and do activities you enjoy. You have to leave behind all your obsessions about perfection and finishing things.

Lastly, it’s really important to become more sensitive towards yourself. There’s no better way to do that than giving yourself alone time every day. 

Breathe, reconnect with who you are and what you want. On top of that, you absolutely have to develop an understanding, compassionate attitude towards yourself. If you don’t, sooner or later you just won’t be able to keep going.

Images courtesy of Mahyar Kalantar

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Moon, T. W., & Hur, W.-M. (2011). Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Exhaustion, And Job Performance. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal39(8), 1087–1096. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2011.39.8.1087
  • Cropanzano, R., Rupp, DE, y Byrne, ZS (2003). La relación del agotamiento emocional con las actitudes laborales, el desempeño laboral y los comportamientos de ciudadanía organizacional. Revista de psicología aplicada , 88 (1), 160-169. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.88.1.160

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.