Most of us encounter some stress in our daily lives. These usually revolve around work, health, finances and other issues that demand our attention affecting our mental health.
Small amounts of stress can be beneficial, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline, but sometimes the duration or severity of an anxious feeling can be out of proportion to the original trigger, or stressor. This results in symptoms that include restlessness and feelings of being “on-edge”, worry, emotional burnout, increased irritability, and sleep difficulties 1. All these contribute to feelings of tiredness and weakness.
Do you constantly feel tired, exhausted or “hoping for a good night’s sleep? Then you may be experiencing exhaustion and you should be aware of these warning signs. Fatigue and daytime sleepiness are quickly becoming a modern epidemic. Millions of people now ask themselves “why am I so tired all the time?”
According to the Mayo Clinic, “nearly everyone is overtired or overworked from time to time.”
Such instances of poor energy levels usually have an identifiable cause and a likely remedy. However, unrelenting exhaustion, lasts longer, is more profound and isn’t relieved by rest. It’s a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time and reduces your energy, emotional health, motivation, and overall well-being. 2
Clear Signs of Emotional Exhaustion:
This occurs as a result of poor sleep due to racing thoughts and an overactive brain. Even though you are fatigued, you cannot quiet your mind and wind down at night, resulting in poor quality sleep, restlessness and a perpetuation of the cycle.
Occurs when you feel burdened by your emotions and feel a sense of hopelessness.
The lack of pleasure or of the capacity to experience it.
Energy demand exceeds energy production so you get wiped out and feel exhausted. When this happens to a significant degree and for a prolonged period of time you can feel exhausted and fatigued for days, months, or even years!
Exercise Intolerance :
Weakness and Pain :
Physical symptoms are common with stress and depression. Imbalance of hormones in the body, which occurs as a result of prolonged stress, may cause chronic joint pain, limb pain, back pain and gastrointestinal problems 3.
Anger or Irritability :
When you feel overwhelmed and exhausted you are often quick to anger and people around feels as though they are walking on eggshells around you. Studies show that anger correlates with severity of exhaustion in individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 4.
Causes of Emotional Exhaustion :
Experiencing some daily stress and anxiety is normal, and may even be useful, but when stress becomes chronic it can affect you physically and emotionally. Emotional exhaustion is caused by protracted periods of constant stress resulting in burnout. What elicits a stressful response differs from person to person and may correspond to their emotional resilience. What is stressful for one person, may be easy to cope with, for another.
Stress may come from work situations or from demands of home-life and relationships.
- high pressure jobs
- working long hours
- financial stress
- toxic relationships
- chronic illness
- raising children
- taking care of sick family members
- divorce or death of a family member
Stress affects the Mitochondria (the energy producers of the cell) by triggering the Cell Danger Response (CDR). This shifts cell metabolism away from energy production and towards cell defense, which results in decreased energy and eventually the destruction of mitochondria. This in turn pushes your body into a low metabolic state, which is the basis of fatigue and exhaustion.
What You Can Do About It :
Minimize or Eliminate Stimulants Such as Caffeine and Nicotine :
It has been scientifically proven that stimulants such as caffeine have numerous health and disease prevention benefits, however, chronic use, can be counterproductive.
If you are already stressed, caffeine will further stimulate the stress response system resulting in neurotransmitter resistance. Caffeine works to increase energy by blocking the neurotransmitter Adenosine, which normally calms the brain and relaxes you, thus causing an energizing effect – But when you drink caffeine every day, the brain feels overstimulated and produces negative feedback adaptations to counter this and calm you back down, causing a roller coaster effect in your body.
Overtime, this lowers your baseline level of mood, performance and energy. If you are currently addicted to caffeine start weaning yourself off slowly and gradually (so as to avoid withdrawal symptoms). Despite initially feeling a little tired this will be worth your efforts and is the first step in overcoming stress and anxiety.
Lower Your Sensory Load :
In the modern world we are constantly bombarded by flickering lights, rapidly changing sights and sounds, social media, phones, TV, music, background noise, movies, games etc. All these things are foreign to our biology and tax our brain in a way that it has never been taxed before.
To cope and try and calm itself down the brain increases the inhibitory neurotransmitters, Serotonin and GABA. But over taxing these systems results in burn out and neurotransmitter imbalances. So, if you are always on the go, listening to loud, aggressive music while driving or exercising, stare at a computer monitor (which though you may not realize it, constantly flickers) or TV screen for most of your workday or if you are indoors under artificial light for most of the day then you need to lower the stimuli to your sensory organs.
First of all, do not watch the news or fast-paced or violent movies within 1 hour of bedtime. Make sure you take small 5 minute breaks throughout your day, doing something you enjoy by being in the present moment. Finally, get outside, preferably into nature, for at least 30 minutes a day.
Optimize Your Circadian Rhythm and Sleep :
As blue light entering your eye after sunset decreases your production of Melatonin (an important hormone responsible for regulating your sleep/wake cycle and also a master antioxidant) and in turn disrupts your Circadian Rhythm, it is important to expose yourself to sunlight during the day and minimize your exposure to blue light at night.
Firstly, wear blue light blocking glasses for at least 1hour (but preferably 2-3 hours) before bedtime. One of the best brands of blue light blocking glasses is SafetyBlue Sleep Saviour, which can be found on Amazon. Make sure you also wear your glasses when watching TV after sunset.
Secondly, download f.lux or Twilight apps on your computer, tablet and/or smartphone. These free apps automatically lower the blue light emissions from your device after sunset. Thirdly, get incandescent, red or amber colored light bulbs for a few lights in your house, in areas you spend time in at night and also for your bedroom and bathroom. After sunset, make sure you only use these lights.
Practice Re-Charge Rituals Daily :
Predetermined periods of the day where you engage in consciously cultivating the kinds of brain performance habits you want (ones that build energy, focus, laughter, play and gratitude).
There are 3 types of rituals you should implement: a morning ritual, a night time ritual and brief rituals interspersed throughout the day (ideally for about 1-5 minutes every hour). Small changes with how you start and end your day teach your brain how to behave and remove that negative thoughts to help you focus, relax and enjoy love and happiness.
Some powerful recharge rituals include, mindfulness, meditation, prayer, deep breathing, laughter, positive social relationships, resistance breathing and breathing exercises, cold exposure, singing or chanting, dancing, music and sound therapy, yoga, exercise, massage, tai chi, acupuncture, spending time in nature, napping, power postures, sunbathing and hobbies. It’s important to identify which of these work for you personally and start building a daily practice.
These rituals are incredibly powerful when practiced daily.
Though also part of the daily recharge rituals mentioned above, meditation is a must-do when it comes to overcoming stress. The benefits of meditation for your emotional state are well documented and backed by a mountain of evidence. It is by far one of the most powerful medicines available to humans. Meditation can decrease stress 5, decrease anxiety 6, decrease feelings of loneliness 7, improves your ability to regulate mood and emotions 8, decrease depression and make you happier 9 10 11, decrease pain 12, decrease inflammation 13, increase your sense of connection to others 14, improve cognitive performance 15 16 and literally re-shapes your brain in beneficial ways 17 18 19. Though there are various methods of meditation zivaONLINE is highly recommended. To learn more, listen to the podcast with Emily Fletcher, founder of zivaONLINE.
Rebuild and Balance your Endocannabinoid System :
This is important to get your body to calm down and enter rest and relaxation mode.
- First and foremost, you need to de-stress by following the recommendations above.
- Second, optimize your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are linked to the endocannabinoid system and protect your brain cells from damage and inflammation 20. If you supplement with Omega 3’s take Krill oil with high-dose astaxanthin (which is in itself a powerful neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory compound).
- Third, double or triple the amounts of dark green leafy veggies you eat each day. In fact, you should aim to have greens with every meal. Greens are a great source of beta-caryophyllene, which is a phytocannabinoid that has a powerful effect on the endocannabinoid system.
- Fourth, cut down on alcohol, as alcohol can throw the endocannabinoid system out of balance. Fifth, use massage, acupressure mats (or acupuncture) and self-myofascial release. These also help balance the endocannabinoid system.
- Lastly, use CBD (Cannabidiol), which is a powerful endocannabinoid signaller found in marijuana and hemp plants (note, this is legal and does not contain any psychoactive compounds). Hundreds of studies have shown that CBD can benefit human physiology (see https://projectcbd.org/conditions). If you suffer from chronic stress CBD is one of the most beneficial compounds in existence, as it is a powerful anti-anxiety and anti-stress cannabinoid signalling compound. Oral intake of CBD is best and Bluebird Botanicals is a highly recommended brand.
Build Your Resilience :
When faced with adversity most people freeze, panic or spend hours crying and worrying. This response does not serve any good purpose. It is therefore very important to build a resilient mindset to deal with any stressful situations to come. According to JJ Virgin, author of the book “Miracle Mindset”, there are several keys to building resilience:
- Surround yourself with a compassionate community who encourage, support, and help you grow and avoid people who drag you down.
- Accept that you cannot change the circumstances, only how you respond to them when they come. If there are things you want to change, change them. Creating an abundant mindset and believing the impossible can be possible is a key attribute.
- Count your blessings. Find small miracles everyday and be grateful for them.
Risks of Emotional Exhaustion :
Emotional exhaustion is known to be associated with a number of different medical conditions 21 22 23. These include; Burnout, CFS and Fibromyalgia, Anxiety disorders, Depression, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Bipolar disorder, Insomnia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Borderline personality, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Alcoholism, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Many require medical attention and you should work with a mental health professional or other professional help if you experience symptoms of chronic fatigue or exhaustion.
Excessive emotional stress can result in emotional exhaustion, which carries with it many other symptoms and illnesses. When we feel tired, angry, hopeless and helpless we often feel no motivation to improve the situation either. This can result in a downward spiral of more fatigue and more exhaustion, eventually resulting in total burnout.
There are many things you can do to improve emotional exhaustion including building resilience, meditating and practicing other recharge rituals, minimizing/eliminating alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, lowering your sensory load, optimizing sleep and eating healthy food with a focus on dark green leafy vegetables and Omega 3 fats.
The first step in treating emotional exhaustion is acknowledging that you might have it and ask your loved ones to be a support system. As motivation is often lacking in people with exhaustion, seeking support is critical. Surround yourself with a compassionate community that will help with your recovery. A whole system based approach is necessary to really make a difference. A positive upward spiral of low stress, low inflammation, positive mood, resistance to infection and healthy mitochondria is necessary to heal completely.
|↑1||Medical News Today “What to Know About Anxiety.” October 2018|
|↑3||Trivedi, Madhukar H. “The link between depression and physical symptoms.” Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry vol. 6,Suppl 1 (2004): 12-6.|
|↑4||Durham, TA. et al. “Anger as an underlying dimension of posttraumatic stress disorder.” Psychiatry Res. 2018 Sep;267:535-540. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2018.06.011.|
|↑5||Speca, Michael PsyD et al “A Randomized, Wait-List Controlled Clinical Trial: The Effect of a Mindfulness Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Program on Mood and Symptoms of Stress in Cancer Outpatients.” Journal of Biobehavioural Medicine, Sept/Oct 2000.|
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|↑7||Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1045-1062.|
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|↑11||Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1045-1062.|
|↑12||Zeidan, Fadel et al. “Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation.” The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience vol. 31,14 (2011)|
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|↑14||Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5)|
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|↑18||Davidson, Richard J. PhD et al. “Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation.” Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine: July 2003|
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|↑22||Cara Tomas, Julia Newton, and Stuart Watson, “A Review of Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Function in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” ISRN Neuroscience, vol. 2013, Article ID 784520, 8 pages, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/784520.|
|↑23||Herman, J. “Neural control of chronic stress adaptation.” Front. Behav. Neurosci., 08 August 2013 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00061|