The reason anxiety can cause mental exhaustion
Mental exhaustion can occur in anyone at any time throughout their life. It could be someone who is working too many hours; someone who is going through a stressful period in their life; someone who is taking too much on, a perfectionist or maybe someone who is going through a life-changing experience, like the breakdown of a marriage or death in the family.
There could be a few reasons, but the root cause is always the same and that comes down to a negative overuse of the brain, be it through constant stressing, worrying or excessive thinking over a period of time. The debilitating symptoms of fatigue are caused by a brain that is constantly under stress and also never gets a chance to switch off and have the downtime it needs to refresh and rejuvenate itself. It is basically worn out due to being pushed beyond what it was designed to do.
If your body is overworked, then your muscles ache and would you would find it hard to use them, walking or lifting may cause pain and discomfort. When your mind is overworked then you may find it hard to think or concentrate, they are different symptoms, but the cause is the same.
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
- Grotty head feeling
- 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 may feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and just want to walk away from all their responsibilities. They may have a need for everyone to just leave them alone and that they don’t have the mental energy for anyone or anything. They may 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 find themselves being constantly irritable and snapping at those around them and have a real need for solitude and time alone. 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; an 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 so as to recuperate. When the brain is over-worked and doesn’t get the breaks 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 asking you to let go of this constant brain activity and telling you that it cannot cope with this incessant over-thinking/worrying and that it needs a break so that it can work at its optimum best.
Why do anxiety sufferers feel so mentally worn out?
The mental exhaustion that occurs with anxiety sufferers is mainly due to the over-thinking of their condition, be it through constantly trying to fight it, work things out or find relief. They may spend a lot of their time reading about their condition, be on forums chatting with other sufferers or spend a lot of their time searching on the internet. Trying to find answers and relief can become a fulltime job for many. Another common reason is due to the sufferer trying to keep a pretence up to the outside world and those around them that everything is fine, trying to keep this act up can be really 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 and is the reason they feel so mentally worn out.
This was something I also personally suffered with and for pretty much all the reasons above. This is why I found it hard to be around people, as I just didn’t have the mental energy for it. I falsely thought that this was a sign that I just didn’t feel comfortable around people when this 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 craving a break. It was crying out for a rest and saying, “we aren’t doing anything today. I haven’t the energy; I need rest”. It is also why I found it hard to read or watch TV. My brain just didn’t have the power 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 utter 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 and cure the symptoms and never went for the cause of why I was feeling the way I did. I realised that if I cut out the root of the problem, then the problem would leave me. I now realised on a really deep 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.
Trying to recover from mental exhaustion by thinking more and stressing about it is completely counterproductive and will take you further away from recovery. Here is an example to prove my point. If you ran 24 marathons in 24 days and your leg was completely 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 aching? 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 seeing what the problem actually was. I personally 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 actually making me feel worse. This is how we get into a loop with so much of our suffering. We don’t always see the message our mind and body is sending us and do the opposite of what is needed.
So, again, 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 it and without trying to feel any different. I couldn’t anyway, my mind was exhausted. It was manifesting the symptoms of exhaustion and I had no control over that. The only thing I had control over was my attitude towards it. But just seeing it for exactly what it was no longer had me fearing and obsessing over it.
So much over thinking 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 was stopped there and then and my brain could finally get the rest it needed to start the healing process.
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 really helps, as when you see the reason behind your suffering 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, more our perception of the outside events that does. If you want peace in your life, always concentrate on changing the inside and not so much the outside. If you find more peace within, it’s amazing how fewer problems you seem to have on the outside. What once sent you into a frenzy, hardly seems bothering with now and if there are real problems in your life, you feel much calmer in dealing with them.
Seeing through my own suffering
So much of my suffering was of my own creation, yet I always thought it was just how I was or I would blame others or outside events for it. Suffering is never meant to harm you; it is your mind and body’s way of saying that something needs to be seen and recognised so that change can happen. Suffering is like an alarm that will keep on going off until change is made and you stop doing the things that are causing you to suffer. It is not about constantly treating the symptoms, but finding out the cause and no longer doing what is causing the suffering.
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 suffering that you have already created, but at least a healing process can now begin. Even when I saw through the cycle of my own mental exhaustion, I still had to go through a period of healing, I still felt the effects of what I had caused 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 just to be a little patient and not to take any attack on them personally.
2. Be patient. Recovering from mental fatigue can take time and a lot of patience. Getting frustrated or impatient will just lead you to go back to trying to find a quick fix, which will once again result in over-thinking. The easier you are on yourself, the quicker your mind can heal.
3. Spend some time in the outdoors. Don’t sit at home, looking at the same surroundings, and brood 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 over-thinking is exactly what caused you to feel the way you did in the first place. The symptoms aren’t nice, but there is nothing you can do mentally to speed up the process of healing. Trying to do so has the opposite effect. Your mind is crying out for a break, so be prepared to give it as much of a break as it needs by no longer mentally brooding or trying to fix how you feel. Your mind and body are well capable of healing anything when it is left alone to do so, be it a broken leg, cut finger or an overworked, exhausted mind.
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 important 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 and unplug everything, from your PC to your TV, and 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.
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 over-thinking. This 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