How do you know if you have emotional exhaustion? There are certain signs you can spot that will tell you if you have this stress-related problem. A qualified Christian counselor or coach can also help you if you are exhausted and emotionally spent.
What Is Emotional Exhaustion?
Emotional exhaustion is a state of overwhelm when you feel like you have lost control of your emotions. During this emotional state, your physical body is affected as well. Your brain tells you to produce more of the stress hormone adrenaline, which is a stimulant.
Meant to help you during crises, adrenaline shifts you into a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode. This is good when your life is literally in danger, but it is exhausting when you are dealing with lesser stress triggers.
People tend to get emotionally exhausted when two or more major stressors occur at the same time. Let’s look at a few examples:
- A young mother has three babies in four years. She is nursing a colicky infant while also changing diapers for the two older children. Then she finds out her father has cancer.
- A middle-aged woman has three children in middle school and junior high, all with extracurricular activities for which she shuttles them around. She works full-time at a busy retail store. She also checks in every other day with her aging parents, who are starting to show signs of dementia.
- A young husband has just received a promotion at work. But his wife is upset because the new job requires overnight travel. In the same week, the air conditioning system in his home breaks, and his wife wrecks her car.
In these examples, several stressors pile up all at once and create an overwhelming situation.
Signs of Emotional Exhaustion
It’s normal for people in these situations to experience these signs of emotional exhaustion.
- Smiling or laughing less than normal
- Finding less pleasure or enjoyment in things you once loved
- Sleeping is disrupted – either racing thoughts before bed, insomnia, or too much sleep
- Lack of concentration at work or during conversations
- Feeling reactive, jittery, or jumpy
- Feeling more irritable than normal
- Feeling a higher level of anxiety or frustration
- Crying more than usual, even about things that aren’t sad
- Racing heartbeats
- Disrupted bowel movements
- Not wanting to eat, or eating too much
Any of these signs that persist for two weeks or longer could indicate that you are dealing with emotional exhaustion. That means you need to keep more damage from happening to your body, mind, and emotions by taking several steps, including visiting a Christian counselor or coach.
Examples from the Bible
You can read the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18-19 for a clear example of emotional exhaustion in the Bible. Elijah was a prophet and God appointed him to stand up to the evils of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, who promoted the worship of the false god Baal.
Elijah staged a showdown with the prophets of Baal. They both built altars to their gods, and Elijah said the true God would answer with fire from heaven. Though the prophets of Baal did everything they knew to get Baal’s attention, the false god did not answer. But when Elijah prayed to the one true God, fire came down from heaven. It not only consumed the sacrifice, but it also destroyed even the rocks that made up the altar.
This was a spiritual high that few others have ever felt. Yet very soon afterward, Elijah asked God to take his life and then fell into a deep sleep (1 Kings 19:4-5). God restored him by feeding him and giving him direction.
Elijah was emotionally exhausted after the showdown with the prophets of Baal. Though he had experienced a wonderful victory, it depleted his emotional resources. He had nothing left to give in body, mind, or spirit. God provided first for his physical needs of food, water, and rest. Then he redirected Elijah’s focus with wise counsel.
When we are emotionally exhausted, we need to get our physical needs of food, drink, and rest met first, because God knows our limitations. Once we are physically replenished, we can then turn to God to be spiritually refilled so we can be restored to effectiveness in our families, workplaces, and anywhere else we need to function.
What You Can Do About It
It’s important to deal with emotional exhaustion when you notice it, so you can counteract the negative effects of adrenaline in your body. When your body is focused on warding off threats, it produces stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol while reducing the production of serotonin, a hormone that stabilizes moods. To increase your serotonin levels and decrease your stress hormone levels, you can take several steps on your own.
Simplify Your Schedule
It’s likely you feel overwhelmed and stressed out because there is too much on your plate. When you prioritize only the main things that need to be accomplished each day, you can find margin in your schedule, and that gives you a space to breathe and recuperate.
Take a good, hard look at your schedule for the coming week. What absolutely must be done each day? Try to narrow it down to only three main things. Let the rest of them go or delegate them to someone else.
Permit yourself to say “no,” and don’t beat yourself up. A “no” to someone else is a “yes” for your self-preservation. For this season, it’s important to simplify your schedule so you don’t hit a wall of burnout in your mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual life.
Take Breathers Throughout the Day
If you intentionally take time throughout the day to slow down, you will feel more peaceful. There are several ways to do this that honor God and show respect to yourself.
Here’s an exercise that can help. Practice the spiritual discipline of silence, reserving just two minutes to be silent before God. To help focus your mind, you can say a breath prayer over and over, such as Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know” (inhale) “that I am God” (exhale).
Then take a few more minutes to read a portion of God’s Word. After that, practice Christian meditation for a few more minutes, considering what the Bible verses are teaching you about God, others, and yourself. End with a moment of prayer, thanking God for what you have learned.
The combination of silence, prayer, intentional breathing, Christian meditation, and gratitude will give you a much-needed breather in your stressful moments. Repeat this a few times each day, and you’ll carry God’s peace with you even in moments when you are overwhelmed.
You may feel emotionally exhausted because you have put yourself on the back burner for too long. Self-care isn’t selfish – it’s a good way to replenish your emotional resources, and it doesn’t even need to cost a thing except for time.
You get to choose what kind of self-care you like. Gardening, walking, taking baths, reading, making art, or listening to peaceful music are all good ideas. Choose the type that you like and take just five minutes per day to practice it. You’ll be surprised at how good it feels to honor your God-given worth with a simple, enjoyable activity. If you practice it regularly, you’ll also have something good to anticipate.
Talk It Out
It’s tempting to withdraw into yourself when you are emotionally exhausted. Though it costs precious time, connecting with others is well worth your time investment.
Every day, commit to reaching out to one person who encourages you. Whether this is in-person, on the phone, or via Facetime, or Zoom, talking with someone else will lift you up. Be sure it’s someone with whom you can share honestly because it’s therapeutic to talk out your negative feelings to process them. You may even want to play a game of highs and lows, where each of you shares the best and the worst parts of your days with each other, then pray for one another.
You can also talk it out with a compassionate Christian coach. A coach can help you get your bearings in the overwhelming emotions you are facing. Sessions with a counselor or coach will replenish your emotional reserves so you can be more effective in your daily living. Contact us today to learn more.