Understanding the connection between anxiety and mental exhaustion
What is mental Exhaustion?
Mental exhaustion occurs when a person indulges in too much mental activity, never giving their brains a chance to rest and recuperate. This mental burnout can be the result of over thinking, continuous stress, worry or constant self-concern or introspection.
As all of the above are typical behaviours of the anxiety sufferer, then it comes as no surprise why so many who suffer from anxiety also experience the symptoms of mental fatigue.
Symptoms of mental exhaustion
- Foggy head, the feeling of detachment from the outside and others
- Feeling mentally and physically worn out; complete lack of energy
- Feeling the need for solitude and social isolation
- Finding holding conversations difficult and a real mental strain
- Finding it hard to concentrate on a task, lack of general concentration
- Constantly forgetting things
- Often irritable, especially around others
- Thinking is slow and laboured
- Lack of emotion
- Headaches or tight feeling around the head
- Constantly sad or depressed
- Feeling self-aware, as though you can’t think of anything but yourself
- Repetitive and obsessive thoughts
- Mind going blank/freezing when in conversation
- Loss of confidence
- Feeling like your head is full of junk
- Blurred, out of focus vision
- Trouble sleeping, waking up early or regularly through the night
- Unable to think straight, confused and muddled thinking
- Finding you lose track when trying to read or watch a movie
- Lack of clarity
- Complete lack of motivation
- Lack of enthusiasm and enjoyment in life
Someone dealing with mental exhaustion can find themselves overwhelmed by everyday tasks and may feel the need to walk away from all their responsibilities. They may have a desire for everyone to leave them alone and feel that they don’t have the mental energy for anyone or anything.
They may also find it hard to concentrate and also feel a sense of detachment from their surroundings. Even a simple task like reading a book, following a conversation or watching a TV program can be difficult.
They may keep forgetting what they are doing half way through a task or keep making mistakes at work. They may also be constantly irritable and snapping at those around them and have a real need for solitude and time alone and when they feel they can’t get it, they may lash out.
If the above describes you in any way, then it is pretty likely that you are suffering from mental burn out and exhaustion of the mind.
As stated, mental exhaustion is created by an overuse of the brain, mainly through stressful/worrisome thinking. Your brain is a physical organ, and like any other organ, it needs periods of rest to recuperate. When it is over-worked and doesn’t get the break it needs, then it will start showing signs of fatigue.
This fatigue is your body’s way of sending you a message through the form of suffering. It is telling you that it cannot cope with this constant over-thinking, worrying or self-concern and that it needs a break from this continuous mental activity so that it can begin to heal.
Why do anxiety sufferers feel so mentally worn out?
The mental exhaustion that anxiety sufferers experience is mainly due to the over-thinking of their condition be it through continually trying to work things out or find relief.
They may spend a lot of their time reading about their condition, be it on forums chatting with other sufferers or spending a lot of their time searching on the internet. Trying to find answers and relief can become a full-time job for many.
Another common reason is due to the sufferer trying to keep up a pretence to the outside world and those around them that everything is fine. Attempting to keep up this act can be extremely challenging and exhausting.
Add that to all the worry about how anxiety is affecting their life and their attachment to all the worrying thoughts that they may be experiencing, and it becomes pretty clear why they find it hard to switch off.
My own experience with mental fatigue
Mental exhaustion was something I also suffered with and for pretty much all the reasons above. This exhaustion is why I found it hard to be around people, as I just didn’t have the mental energy to socialise.
I falsely thought that this was a sign that I didn’t feel comfortable around people when it was not strictly the case. It had more to do with the fact that I didn’t have the mental energy to be around people and hold conversations.
It is also why I craved solitude. I thought that I was anti-social or that I was losing the will to enjoy life, but it was just my mind wanting a break. It was crying out for a rest and saying, “we aren’t doing anything today, I haven’t the energy and need a rest”. It is also why I found it hard to read or watch TV. My brain didn’t have the power or space to take anything in and just wanted to do the bare minimum.
I just never saw the signs of exhaustion initially but, when I did, how I felt started to make complete sense. It also occurred to me that if I gave my mind the rest it so craved and required, then all these symptoms would disappear.
The mistake I initially made was that I was always trying to deal with the symptoms (which was exhausting in itself) and never went for the cause of why I was feeling the way I did. I finally realised that I needed to get to the root of the problem. I had to find out what was causing the exhaustion and not waste the rest of my life treating the symptoms of it.
I now recognised on a profound level that I could never think my way out of this condition and that this was always going to have the opposite effect and keep me in the cycle, I actually couldn’t believe how I had missed this before.
Recovery from mental fatigue will not come through trying to think your way out of it.
Trying to recover from mental exhaustion by thinking more and stressing about it is entirely counterproductive and will take you deeper into the condition.
Here is an example:
If you ran 24 marathons in 24 days and your leg was utterly fatigued and aching to the point of real suffering, would you then think it is a good idea to go out for another run to try and stop it hurting? No, you would realise that for it to heal, you would need to rest it. Nothing else would make sense.
But this is what a lot of people don’t do when they feel mentally worn out. Through a misunderstanding of what is causing them to feel the way they do, they may try to mentally battle and think their way better, which of course tires the mind out further, and so no progress is ever made.
The start of my recovery from mental exhaustion
The way out for me was by first recognising what the problem was. I had no idea what was causing me to feel this way initially. I just thought it was another symptom of my anxiety and it was something I had to work on and defeat.
So where did I go to defeat this symptom? Yes, right back into my thinking mind. I was trying to cure the symptoms of overthinking by overthinking more, and I just became more mentally exhausted!
Through a total misunderstanding, I had no idea that what I was doing was keeping me in a loop of suffering. Unfortunately, we don’t always see the message our mind and body is sending us and do the opposite of what is required.
The way out of this condition was for me to allow myself to feel the symptoms of this mental exhaustion without trying to do anything about them. I couldn’t anyway; my mind was exhausted. It was manifesting the signs of fatigue of which I had no control over and for which I was responsible.
The only thing I had power over was my attitude towards it. But finally seeing it for what it was no longer had me fearing and obsessing over it.
So much overthinking ended with just this one insight. Understanding what had kept me in the cycle and what was needed for me to heal also stopped me mentally trying to escape or fix it. So much wasted brain activity ceased there and then and my brain could finally get the rest it needed to start the healing process.
How to recover from mental exhaustion
Mental exhaustion can easily be reversed with the right understanding and approach. If possible, you could make changes in your personal life that can reduce your stress or give you more downtime.
Just having a new outlook on life and realising what is causing so much of your suffering helps enormously, as when you see the reason behind your pain, it is much easier to make the changes required.
In most cases, when we worry or stress over things, it is not the outside that needs to change, but more our perception of the outside events. If you want peace in your life, always concentrate on improving the inside and not so much the outside.
Once you find more peace within then, it’s amazing how many fewer problems you seem to have on the outside. What once sent you into a frenzy, hardly seems to bother you now, and if there are real problems in your life, you feel much calmer in dealing with them.
Realising we create our own mental fatigue
I finally realised that all my suffering came back to me, I was the creator of it, yet I always thought it was just how I was, or I would blame others or outside events for it.
Suffering in any form is like an alarm that will keep on going off until you stop doing the things that are causing you to suffer. It is your mind and body’s way of saying that something needs to be seen and recognised so that change can happen.
Recovery is never about continually treating the symptoms, but finding out the cause and no longer doing what is causing you to feel the way you do and then going through a. process of healing the past suffering you have created.
The most relaxing holiday in the world won’t do anything if you then come back and start worrying and stressing over everything once again. You have to go to the root of what is making you suffer and make changes there. You may still have to deal with the symptoms of the suffering that you have already created, but at least a healing process can now begin.
Even when I saw through the cycle of my mental exhaustion, I still had to go through a period of healing. I still had to experience the symptoms of what I had created for a while after.
It was the same with anxiety, when I saw through the whole condition and what was causing me to stay in the loop, I still then had to go through a process of healing until I was finally free.
Helpful tips on recovering from mental exhaustion
1. Try not to take out how you are feeling on those around you. The way you are feeling is a personal thing and directing it towards others doesn’t help anyone as it just creates more stress and conflict. You are far better talking to them about the way you are feeling and asking them to be a little patient.
2. Be patient. Recovering from mental fatigue can take time. Getting frustrated or impatient will most likely lead you to go back to trying to find a quick fix, which will once again result in overthinking. The easier you are on yourself, the faster your mind can heal.
3. Spend some time in the outdoors. Don’t sit at home, looking at the same surroundings and brooding about your predicament. Go outside and give your mind a new environment to enjoy and some fresh air. Being outdoors works wonders at clearing out the mental cobwebs.
4. Don’t try and think your way out of your mental fatigue. Worrying and overthinking are precisely the things that caused you to feel the way you did in the first place. The symptoms aren’t pleasant, but there is nothing you can do mentally to speed up the process of healing. Trying to do so has the opposite effect.
5. Take things at your own pace, don’t feel any guilt for the things you can and can’t do. Be prepared to say no to tasks that seem too much for you at the minute.
6. Look after your mind and body. Avoid alcohol and bad eating and sleeping habits. It is essential to keep your energy levels up by eating well and getting enough rest when your energy levels are depleted.
7. Give your brain a break from time to time and unplug everything, from your PC to your TV. Just sit with yourself, however uncomfortable that may feel initially. Many people find this hard as they are so used to something going on or constant mental stimulation. But shutting off this stimulation, even for just a small part of the day, can be hugely beneficial in the long run.
8. Stop continuously talking and reading about the subject of anxiety. Cut down on the books, the forums and your general obsession with how you are feeling. There is nothing wrong with educating yourself on the subject as long as your self-concern doesn’t become a daily obsession.
You can follow the above and also create your own practices to give the mind a break. You know yourself better than anyone, so do what feels right for you.
The bottom line is to find a way to give the mind more of a break by taking some mental time-outs and cutting down on the stress, worry and overthinking. Following the above is what will begin the healing process and lead your mind back to feeling refreshed and improve your clarity and concentration levels.
Read more on relaxing the mind