Are You Suffering From Emotional Exhaustion?

Updated March 9, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Life is complicated and can exact a toll when its demands draw energy and vitality from our being. When people continue to function at full throttle and under excessive stress, they are at risk of developing emotional exhaustion or burnout. We often think that emotional exhaustion is something that creeps up on us without much warning. However, our bodies give us early warning signs that burnout is about to happen. All too often we ignore these signs and end up in an all-out state of hopelessness. The following article provides details that help explain emotional exhaustion, how to identify you are managing it, and ways to reduce stress while reaching out for support. 

Emotional Exhaustion Is More Common Than You Think

What Is Emotional Exhaustion?

Emotional exhaustion is a chronic state of emotional and physical fatigue that greatly increases a person’s risk for developing burnout syndrome. Each person is unique as is their ability to withstand stress. Accordingly, signs and symptoms of emotional exhaustion vary from person to person and usually occur over a long period. 

Emotional exhaustion can affect people physically, emotionally, or behaviorally and a combination of the three is what leads to the most distress.  This exhaustion can begin silently making it difficult to realize there is a problem before a person can get a handle on it. At the end of the day, it is important to know that this feeling is not permanent.  Recognizing the state you are in and working towards reducing stress while taking care of yourself will help you recover. Furthermore, there is support available in mental health therapy. 

What Causes Emotional Exhaustion?

The causes of emotional exhaustion look different for everyone. One circumstance that someone might consider stressful could be a perfectly manageable situation for someone else. Typically, emotional exhaustion occurs after a long period of constant stress. This can be something as simple as working long hours, or as complex as bringing a new baby home.

Most causes of emotional exhaustion have common themes. For example, situations where there is a general lack of control can set the stage for a burnout crisis. Circumstances where there is not enough balance between a fast-paced lifestyle and self-care can also lead to emotional exhaustion and associated symptoms of burnout. 

Who Is At Risk for Emotional Exhaustion?

Any person can experience emotional exhaustion at different points in life. Nonetheless, some individuals are at greater risk for developing the condition, including the following people:

Professionals In A High-Stress Environment

Anyone working in a demanding, high-stress career is at risk for experiencing burnout., for example, report high levels of exhaustion due to the expectation that they show constant compassion while also managing a physical and emotional demanding job. 

Even if your job does not require an endless supply of compassion, or involve life or death situations, everyday work-related stressors could lead to emotional exhaustion. Individuals who feel a lack of control at work and those who have difficulty maintaining work-life balance are also at risk. If you are unsatisfied with your career or it does not align with your values, you may also experience compassion fatigue or burnout.

High Achievers

While outside influences can cause emotional exhaustion, the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us can contribute to our level of stress. "Perfectionists," or individuals with Type A personalities, may experience prolonged stress due to their unwavering ambition, drive, and competitive nature. Constantly striving to exceed others' expectations can lead to poor work-life balance and eventual burnout.

Individuals Who Neglect Themselves And/Or Use Unhealthy Coping Strategies 

People who neglect their basic needs or develop unhealthy coping strategies may experience emotional exhaustion. Unhealthy coping strategies include negative self-talk, substance abuse, and emotional eating. Individuals who do not sleep or eat well, and those who do not prioritize their physical and mental health, are likely to suffer from burnout.

Lonely Individuals 

Forming and maintaining caring relationships is essential to our overall health and well-being. Loneliness has a significant impact on mental and physical health and can contribute to emotional exhaustion. In fact, the brain interprets lonely feelings as physical pain. Lonely individuals are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion, as they may feel they have no one to turn to in times of immense stress, overwhelm, or hopelessness. 

Signs And Symptoms Of Emotional Exhaustion

No matter how well a person handles stressful situations, but prolonged pressure or pent-up stress tends to lead to health implications and behavioral changes. Below are the most common signs and symptoms of emotional exhaustion. If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, be sure to check with a healthcare provider or mental health therapist. While these symptoms are often connected with emotional exhaustion, they also can occur because of a wide range of mental and physical health conditions.

Difficulty Sleeping Or Staying Awake

Fatigue, low energy, and having trouble getting through the day are common symptoms of emotional exhaustion. Individuals with this condition often report feeling physically and emotionally tired and experience a sense of dread or discomfort when thinking about upcoming obligations. For some people, fatigue persists all day, regardless of how many hours they sleep at night. Fatigue can be exacerbated by poor sleep quality, and insomnia tends to worsen during periods of emotional exhaustion. This can lead to a cycle of daytime fatigue and poor sleep that is often difficult to break without the help of an experienced medical or mental health professional.

Mental Fog

Feeling foggy is commonly reported among individuals experiencing emotional exhaustion. This feeling of cloudy thinking encompasses a range of symptoms, including difficulty concentrating, confusion, and forgetfulness. In some cases, short-term memory can be affected. Brain fog has also been linked to physical symptoms, such as frequent headaches.

Personality Changes

It is not uncommon for mood and behavior to be affected by emotional exhaustion. Burnout can result in unusual episodes of anger or irritability. Even seemingly insignificant changes in thinking, such as increased cynicism or pessimism, should not be ignored. If your internal dialogue has started to shift from positive and future-oriented to dissatisfied and critical, it is important to evaluate your current level of stress.

Anxiety And Depression

Emotional exhaustion can take a serious toll on an individual's mental health. Anxiety and depression are often associated with this condition. In the earliest stages, the effects of anxiety and depression may be mild, masking themselves as a lack of motivation or general unease. However, the longer one goes without treatment the more serious the symptoms tend to become. When burnout peaks, untreated anxiety or depression can make everyday tasks, such as getting out of bed, seem almost impossible. At this stage, an individual may feel hopeless, trapped, or disconnected from reality. It is imperative that anyone experiencing these symptoms seek help from a mental health professional, especially if the individual is experiencing suicidal thoughts.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7, or you can text the word “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

Emotional Exhaustion Is More Common Than You Think

What Can You Do If You Have Emotional Exhaustion?

In many cases, recovering from emotional exhaustion requires a combination of lifestyle changes and therapy. Some individuals may also need medication or other medical interventions to treat any underlying physical or mental health conditions. The following lifestyle changes are recommended both to prevent emotional exhaustion and to help stop it in its tracks:


Although restful sleep can be difficult to achieve when dealing with emotional exhaustion, establishing a calming nighttime ritual can greatly improve the quality of your shuteye. Approximately 15 to 30 minutes before sleep, turn off the TV and banish all other electronic devices from your bedroom, including cell phones, tablets, and computers. Make your room as dark and cool as possible.

If falling asleep in silence is difficult for you, invest in a white noise machine, use a small bedside fan, or download a free sleep app. Some herbal supplements, teas, and essential oils may help you drift off to sleep. Chamomile tea has been used for centuries to encourage relaxation, and lavender essential oil diffused in your bedroom may help you feel sleepy. While it might be easy to reach for over-the-counter sleep aids or melatonin, always talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplement or medication.

Prioritize Physical Health

Our bodies need proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and regular exercise to perform basic day-to-day functions. Although emotional exhaustion tends to rob us of motivation, it's important that we provide our bodies with the energy necessary to overcome emotional, mental, and physical symptoms that accompany this condition.

Diet. Aim to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Stay away from as much processed food as possible, especially fast foods. Avoid soda, coffee, and energy drinks, and stick to water and decaffeinated beverages. Be sure to steer clear of tobacco and alcohol, which can worsen symptoms.

Movement. Set an intention to engage in some type of movement for 30 minutes each day. You do not have to succumb to an intense cardio or weightlifting session to reap the menagerie of health benefits exercise offers. Simply aim to move your body for half an hour every day. Certain activities, such as yoga and walking in nature, have been shown to lower stress levels, and they count as your daily exercise.

Care For Yourself

 When you are experiencing emotional exhaustion, it is important to reach out to others and avoid isolation. Join a community group that interests you or take part in local sports. Practice saying "no" when you feel there is too much on your plate and be sure to set aside time every day to do something you enjoy, even if it is just for a few minutes. Journaling and meditation are great for letting go of daily stressors.

How BetterHelp Can Help

Whether you are on the brink of emotional exhaustion, or you have been managing the above-mentioned symptoms for a prolonged period of time, BetterHelp's online therapists are here for you. A recent study investigated whether an online mindfulness program could decrease burnout for caregivers. Some of the components of caregiver burnout are emotional and mental exhaustion. Caregivers are at particularly high risk of burnout because they often neglect themselves while caring for others. The study found that the online program reduced burnout and caregiver burden, perceived stress, anxiety, and loneliness, and improved mental well-being.

The study also confirmed some benefits that you may already be aware of when it comes to online therapy: online sessions offer greater flexibility, allowing users to connect from the comfort of their home. Online therapy also tends to be cheaper than traditional therapy. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"I star[t]ed with Chiralaine feeling pretty lost, overwhelmed and just not myself. She helped me reframe how I see things and realize where I was holding too tightly. She even helped me think through a workshop on stress and burnout that I was hosting for my team.” 

“Charlotte was an amazing match for me. I came to her completely overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted and needing guidance. She always provided reassurance and excellent resources for me to use. Even when life was chaotic, she always checked in and let me know she was available. I would seek Charlotte for anything in the future as well.”


During the moments when you are feeling emotionally exhausted, it is important to remember that this feeling does not last forever. The first step to improving upon this feeling of exhaustion is recognizing you are experiencing symptoms of burnout. From there, you can take steps to recovery. By implementing the above-mentioned strategies, you can begin to shift your emotional exhaustion and improve your general well-being. When these strategies do not work as effectively as you would like, consider mental health therapy. Take the first step.

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