Have you ever felt emotionally drained? Many of us have felt like we had nothing left to give at one time or another. But what happens when this state of depletion becomes all we know?
Feeling emotionally drained can affect people from all walks of life. From occupations in medicine to parenting to entrepreneurship, we all have the potential to feel this way. We live in a society that prides itself on productivity and achievement at all costs. It is no surprise that emotional exhaustion becomes normalized in this context. Emotional exhaustion may even be worn as a badge of honor; a sign of our dedication to our occupation, family, and community. However, when left unchecked, emotional exhaustion can lead to burnout.
Burnout is not a diagnosable condition but it can still impair your ability to function well in daily life. Burnout can lead us down a dark road of cynicism, reduced performance at work, and a loss of motivation or creativity. Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and intestinal issues can also arise. While feeling emotionally drained does not mean you are burnt out, it can often be a red flag that you may be headed towards burnout.
Here are 6 signs that you are emotionally drained:
- You are tired of pretending
We all act in our daily lives to a certain extent. In almost any occupation, managing our emotions is essential to putting our best self forward and doing our jobs well. Sociologist, Arlie Hochschild, coined the term “emotional labor” to explain this concept. We engage in this phenomenon every time we suppress or introduce emotions to fulfill the requirements of our jobs or other social roles (Wharton, 2009).
Despite its importance, emotional labor is not without cost to our emotional well-being if we are not careful. A study for the Journal of Applied Psychologydiscovered that “surface acting” was related to emotional exhaustion. Surface acting is a form of emotional labor as it requires us to fake emotions in the workplace. The constant state of acting in ways we do not feel can be emotionally exhausting and can even reduce our capacity to handle daily work demands (Trougakos, Beal, Cheng, Hideg & Zweig, 2015).
The perception that real emotions are detrimental to workplace success can also be damaging to the way we approach our feelings. Therefore, having supportive workplaces and other outlets to diffuse our true feelings is essential.
- You lack the motivation to do things, even your passions
We can overcommit to our careers or other goals with the best of intentions. Maybe you are working hard to get a promotion at work or to get into graduate school. While striving for these goals is important, how often do we abandon other dreams, hobbies, and self-care practices in the process?
When we reach a point of emotional exhaustion, passion projects may lose their appeal. We can become hyper-focused on achieving external goals that we forget the importance of internal goals. This could be anything from spending time in prayer or mediation or reading a book that has nothing to do with our occupation. Often, it is a good sign that we are taking care of our well-being when we re-discover our energy for play and creativity.
- You feel stuck in your current life situation
When feeling emotionally drained becomes routine, we may lack the energy to make changes, no matter how important they are. Maybe you are stuck at a job that you hate or in an unhealthy relationship you don’t know how to leave. You know that you need to make a change but the thought of all the work required to shift your life in a different direction is overwhelming.
Feeling stuck is often a sign that we need to process our priorities and feelings. However, the weight of feeling emotionally drained can hinder our ability to develop new insights or solutions for ourselves. We may even tell ourselves that being stuck is our only option and that things cannot improve.
- Your sleep patterns have changed
You may expect to always feel tired or to sleep excessively when you are emotionally drained, but the signs can be more elusive than that. You may notice that your sleep patterns are all over the place. Maybe you are stuck in a cycle of ruminating about your mistakes or to-do lists that you cannot sleep.
Insomnia can develop into a serious health concern issue of its own. In fact, insomnia is often linked with other emotional and mental disorders. Losing sleep can make it difficult for your body and mind to recover from the stress of everyday life. When sleep problems become chronic, it can be even more challenging to recover from emotional drainage and fatigue (Slijepcevic, 2020).
- You feel overloaded with responsibilities
Having too much on your plate is a real issue that some of the most accomplished people struggle with. While we often uphold “balance” as the ideal for a healthy life, getting to that point can be exhausting. Even when we strive to dedicate our resources equally to each of our roles, it is easy to feel like we are being pulled in too many directions.
One study for the Journal of Social Sciences explored the emotional exhaustion of female junior physicians who also had busy family lives. This study found that juggling the demands of work and family often drained the resources and energy required to thrive in both roles. Heavy workloads can lead to work-family conflict. Unsurprisingly, physicians who experienced greater work-family conflict also felt more emotional exhaustion (Ahmad, 2010).
- You feel like you are losing control
When we are in a state of emotional exhaustion or burnout, we are in survival mode. We have not dedicated the energy to regulating our emotions. This can lead to irrational anger or emotional outbursts that may seem to come from nowhere (Slijepcevic, 2020).
We might take our anger or frustration out on our loved ones, which can lead to dysfunction and conflict in our relationships. These responses to chronic stress often highlight our need for self-care or other spiritual practices like meditation or prayer. However, to tap into the goodness of these practices, we need to slow down.
We often perceive stress and burnout as a natural consequence for leading busy lives. Yet, slowing down and recognizing our feelings is often key to managing emotional exhaustion. In the current global pandemic, many have been forced to slow down while others are busier and more overloaded than normal. Our lack of control over our immediate circumstances is more palpable than ever before. In this way, we are all vulnerable to emotional exhaustion. Recognizing the signs can be the first step to knowing when we need to rest and reset.
Ahmad, A. (2010). Work-family conflict among junior physicians: Its mediating role in the relationship between role overload and emotional exhaustion. Journal of Social Sciences, 6(2), 265-271.
Scott, E. (2020). Burnout symptoms and treatment. Very Well Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/stress-and-burnout-symptoms-and-causes-3144516
Slijepcevic, A. (2020). 4 signs you are emotionally drained (and what to do about it). Lifehack. Retrieved from https://www.lifehack.org/863025/emotionally-drained
Trougakos, P. J., Beal, D. J., Cheng, H. B., Hideg, I., & Zweig, D. (2015). Too drained to help: A resource depletion perspective on daily interpersonal citizenship behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(1), 227-236.
Wharton, S. A. (2009). The sociology of emotional labor. Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 147-65.