Being mentally exhausted is almost a badge many of us wear today. We try to keep up with those around us, and our everyday life duties while trying to take care of ourselves. Being mentally exhausted may be common but it doesn’t need to be normal.
Listen to this episode with Monica DiCristina who is a licensed professional counselor.
BELOW IS THE TRANSCRIPTION OF THE MENTALLY EXHAUSTED EPISODE
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Signs of Emotional Burnout
Monica, thank you so much for being here with us today. We’re going to be talking about exhaustion and burnout. The first question that comes to my mind is how do we get here? What are the signs of mental exhaustion? Because I think when we hit exhaustion and burnout, we’re like, “Oh, it must have just happened like this week. I must have just done too much.”
But I believe that often happens slowly, over time with multiple decisions.
I love the question. And I love the way you position the question because I think the answer is in there. It’s slow. And I think we lose clarity, we lose energy, we lose focus, and we become burned out, moment by moment, little decision by little decision. It’s not preferring what we need to be okay in a day or a week, then we repeat that.
What I like to talk about often with clients is that our exhaustion is cumulative. Say on a Thursday we feel really tired and we wonder, why am I so tired today? Well, what happened last Thursday and the three Thursdays before that, right? We so often forget our whole context. I think it’s little by little, and it’s all cumulative.
Boundaries with Being Mentally Exhausted
I think sometimes we think it’s just our busy day, but can you talk about the boundary. Saying yes, when you should be saying no. Those kinds of things also lead us to be mentally exhausted and burn out without even recognizing it? They are almost choices that we’re not consciously making.
I think so often when we’re saying yes to something, we’re saying no to something else. That every decision we make big or small has a consequence. And I think that if we are juggling a lot of things (which so many of us are) we don’t realize that saying a reluctant yes to something is going to make the rest of our energy more depleted than the rest of the week or the day.
So it is the outside things, but it’s completely our boundaries. And boundaries are one of the most basic things, but it’s one of the foundational things for us just to feel okay. I think so many of us are not used to having any space in our schedule because we haven’t been taught how sacred and essential that is just a feeling okay.
That’s good. What questions would you have somebody ask themselves before they get to that mentally exhausted and burnout phase? I think sometimes we characterize things as normal, but they’re really common. So what questions can we ask before we get there?
I love that normal and common comparison. I think one of one of the things to start with that we can all ask ourselves is if nobody knew and nobody cared and nobody would judge me, what would I do today/ this week with this job? With the PTA? What will I say yes to and say no to? Because so often with the clamor of the speed and all the different voices in our minds, it’s really hard to get down to what we want and need.
I think before we set boundaries and try not burned burn out, we have to know what we want and know– what our mind, body, and spirit are needing.
Recovering from Being Mentally Exhausted and Physically Exhausted
I think we can even go deeper there. How can we know what our minds and bodies need? Because so many women are so disconnected. Can you go even deeper with them to get them to even ask these questions and bring them to awareness? I think just getting to the awareness phase is always the goal.
When I think about self-awareness, it’s like we’re on a journey. If the journey was 10 feet long, self-awareness is eight feet of that. Once we start practicing, the decisions we make from there are not quite as hard. One of the simple things that I didn’t come up with, but a lot of people recommend all the time is spending 10 minutes and quieting with yourself so you can hear what you want and what you need. That’s not exactly a question, but it’s pushing out some space.
It’s amazing how hard that is for us to do. Just not scroll, not text back, not sign up for the swim team, just 10 minutes of quiet. I think that is one way for people to start listening to what they want and need. Another thing is just being a curious, loving observer of yourself. So when that person texts you, how do you feel? Is your chest getting tight? We can prevent being mentally exhausted when we become aware of our response.
When you’re on your way to that job that you’re reconsidering and wondering if you should leave, how do you feel? Start just observing without judgment. As we just start to observe ourselves and make actual space, then we can get to know ourselves more. I think we so often think, especially in spiritual ways or mental health ways, that we have to go to a retreat or have a mountaintop experience to know what we think or feel.
I think it’s much more simple than that and that makes it more accessible. It’s just the everyday moments, actually being aware of how you’re responding.
I’ve been talking about that a lot because it keeps coming up. How do I live in healing every day? I keep telling women that God designed our bodies so uniquely to where it responds accordingly to what it needs, right?
Just like the nervous system. It’s so beautifully outlined. So when things like you were talking about come up I always say that’s an invitation to heal. It isn’t an invitation to shame ourselves. We live in a society that says it’s either this or you’re this, it’s rarely ever both and we feel like we have to choose between God and our feelings.
And then when we feel feelings, we end up running from God versus I can choose God and my feelings – I can go to God with my feelings. Can you talk about the power of both and actually how that can free up so much exhaustion mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
Healing from Emotional Burnout
Like boundaries, it’s something that’s so underestimated. So much of our cognitive, emotional, mental, just physical stress is often caused by either or – or another way to say is all or nothing thinking. We can become mentally exhausted by the constant toggling. So I’m either all this or all that. This relationship with this person is all this or all that. We waste all this energy trying to prove a case either way when in reality we’re so much more complex and our relationship with someone else is so much more complex.
So I think that what I find for people is that it helps them exhale when we start to recognize, “Wow, I feel both angry and excited today. I can feel both those things at the same time. I feel both nervous and grateful that we don’t have to choose one or the other.” It keeps us out of the performance, too. It allows us to be human; it allows us to create that safety within ourselves.
To your point about running from God with our feelings, I like to think that God is never surprised, nor is God ever impressed with us from with our performances. It’s just allowing everything to be as it is and women listening can do that simply by just naming what it is they’re feeling. That may be two things, it may be 15 things.
But if we just name what we’re feeling we start to make more space for ourselves just to be human. We underestimate how much that either or/all or nothing thinking creates so much stress.
You said something that I want you to go a little bit deeper on – the power of naming what you feel. Oftentimes we try to run from what we feel, thinking if I don’t say or name that I’m angry or sad, then it just will go away and I don’t have to confront it as much. Can you talk about the power of naming to move through?
It’s essential to move through the feelings and there are lots of different ways to go with this. But one of the things I think that we fear is that we’ll get stuck in a feeling and we’ll get stuck at the peak of the feeling. But the irony is that feelings are almost like children who need attention. When we give attention to them by simply naming them and acknowledging them, we most often move through them.
I think that the other thing about feelings is that as much as we want to stuff them, what I find over and over again is that feelings that are not dealt with will deal with you. They will find a way to come out and one of the ways that’s common for women is irritability.
Oftentimes, this is because we have real sadness about a mom’s diagnosis, frustration about a co-worker, all these valid feelings and we might just need to take a minute to name what they are. And that simply can look like naming them as they come up. Wherever people land with whatever they think mentally or spiritually, that’s something that you can then give to God; it’s something that you can journal about. But the key is that feelings don’t go away – feelings need our attention and if we don’t deal with them, they’ll deal with us.
Mentally Exhausted to Mental Energy
That’s so good because God works from the internal to the external and often we try to work from the external to the internal. Can you talk about some practical ways to help women move through feelings?
The top three that come to mind would be to journal, physical movement, and call a friend. Let me put the science a little bit behind each of these. The reason why journaling works is because it links our left and our right brain. Our right brain has the feelings, our left brain has the words, and we are helping them unite and put those feelings together.
So journaling is not just some annoying thing that therapists tell you to do. The next is physical movement. And when I say physical movement, I know that there may be some people that that’s not possible for, so we might choose meditation instead. But the physical movement is something for at least 20 minutes – it can be a walk around the block. This helps your nervous system to move from an emergency state back into calm.
We have to remember that we are whole people, we have bodies that get into a fight or flight mode and we have really big feelings, that physical movement helps us complete that stress cycle. And that’s simple. That’s something that we can all do. The next one is calling a friend. Research shows we only need one person.
We don’t need 10,000 Facebook friends, we just need one. We are wired for connection – one that’s not codependent or unhealthy. It’s your wiring to call someone safe. Not being alone, moving through it and helping ourselves name it, journaling – I think are three accessible ways that hopefully we can all do.
Absolutely. I’ve changed my life through journaling. Journaling has helped so much when I become mentally exhausted and need a place to let out my thoughts. I think so many women are afraid because they think someone’s gonna read their journal or are concerned about what is God is gonna say if I tell Him how I feel kind of thing. I have learned to be honest and that has been crucial to my frustrations. It’s a good example because we can do it in small moments, especially at night.
That’s a good time to journal. It’s a good time to practice. It’s not compartmentalization, but it’s more of a healthy containment.
When we’re talking about burnout and exhaustion, what can women first start to do to move out of this? How can we find still moments in our day to create space? What would you recommend for somebody coming out of this high stressful high impact lifestyle?
Well, the first place I would start is the self-awareness piece. I have sat with so many women as they have exhaled or come to tears by finally admitting that they’re not thriving. They’re not doing okay. It’s really hard to get through a day; they’re exhausted. I think that the first place is admitting you don’t feel great. It’s hard for me to get the energy to get through a day right now. I feel burned out.
And that might sound scary to people but the first place to start is that. Then how do we move out of burnout after that? Two ideas come to mind. One is don’t underestimate the tiny notes. And I just want to validate that, it is never simple to create space. But what would be a thing you could cut out? If you are a parent, saying we’re going to order pizza tonight and I’m not making dinner. If you’re on a work team, I can’t check my email after five or 6 pm.
We might think, “Oh well, that’s so small. That’s not going to help anything.” And you’re right, one thing alone won’t help anything. But just like we started this episode with, we burn out out by little betrayals of ourselves, by little overwhelming moments over and over again and that’s often how we find our way out. Sometimes when we’re burnt out, that’s all we have the energy for is one little no.
Then those start to build up and you find yourself with one extra hour on a Saturday thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is the first time I don’t know what I have to do and it feels really good.” You start to feel the fruit. The other thing is to follow your curiosity. We think again, “oh, that’s so small.” But if you start to be loyal to those moments, they’ll fill you up. So those will be the first places I would start.
No, I love that because when I was in hustle mode survival mode, I remember just asking myself, “What do you like to do for fun?” And that was a big question because work was all I did. I think a lot of us probably have that. Then follow up by asking yourself why you are saying yes? Is it more for people-pleasing? Maybe it’s because you think it’s going to bring balance? Is it because you feel like you have to do all these things to prove to yourself that you can? Do you want to be a good mom?
We have these stories. But I would love as we wrap up for you to share one of the stories that helped you recognize that you’re beginning to experience burnout and how you began to come out of that?
I think one of the first signs for me that I’m about to enter burnout is irritability. So that’s not just research, that’s a personal experience. When I find myself wanting to snap at my husband or wanting to snap at my kids, I know that I’m getting burnt out. We have to be flexible and have a ton of compassion for ourselves. What I’ve started to realize is that balance is a total myth and I think it’s a toxic myth.
Because it’s like what you said if I had the perfect calendar, if I had the perfect meal plan, if I just just just just just, this won’t feel like a lot. And the reality is that’s not true because probably every woman listening to this is doing a lot. When I threw out the idea that balance is a myth, I started prioritizing. What are my priorities? Well for me it’s my relationships with my kids and husband and then my friends, and then everything else.
That then gives me a grading scale or a lens to look at everything with. Another thing is prioritizing how much time I will spend socially or spend on work or whatever – I try to filter it all through that lens. So I think for me, the biggest thing is realizing I’m never going to have the perfectly folded laundry and the career of my dreams and my kids all well-dressed. I’m just going to have to prioritize and that’s okay.