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Recognizing the Symptoms of Emotional Exhaustion and How to Combat Them

Epuisement émotionnel

Intense fatigue, irritability, feeling incapable of doing one’s work… Sometimes, we tend to dismiss these warning signs as a simple “slump” or temporary fatigue. However, that’s not always the case. In certain situations, these might be the initial symptoms of a serious issue that needs to be taken very seriously. Indeed, a series of setbacks can accumulate, leading to what can be called a short-circuit. The delicate balance crumbles, and emotions implode. This is referred to as emotional exhaustion. While this phenomenon can occur in a work context, the symptoms can also be related to severe overwork or a particularly toxic family or romantic life. We will attempt to identify the early signs and explore how to act swiftly for the well-being of the individual affected.


What are the warning signs?

Sometimes called emotional burnout, this increasingly common – and more importantly, diagnosed – phenomenon occurs when significant changes take place in a person’s life and add to preexisting issues. Generally, this profound fatigue sets in because we demand too much from our bodies. We don’t give them the time to address all these challenges. We are constantly striving for physical, emotional, and psychological equilibrium. Thus, this exhaustion makes us feel completely overwhelmed and unable to control events that are now beyond our grasp. Every task we have to undertake – whether in our professional or personal life – becomes extremely difficult and requires a great effort, even though it would normally be basic. This marks the onset of emotional exhaustion.


Main symptoms

In essence, like all forms of exhaustion disorders, emotional burnout doesn’t arise due to a specific reason. It’s actually the result of a chain of circumstances. You find yourself utterly overwhelmed, to the point where you can no longer face each small challenge that arises in your life. To diagnose this problem in time, it’s important to recognize the signs. These signs might not be easy to see, as taken individually, they could just appear as simple fatigue, nothing more. However, in many cases of emotional exhaustion, several symptoms are present. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Pronounced and particularly unusual irritability, including a loss of patience with those around you.
  • Profound fatigue, especially in the morning, giving you the sense that facing a supposedly normal day will be impossible.
  • Severe sleep problems, with insomnia being one of the most recurrent symptoms in such disorders.
  • High levels of stress in tasks that you need to accomplish.
  • Particularly heightened sensitivity.
  • A lack of desire and enthusiasm, simply put, the afflicted person loses interest in everything, no longer able to figure out what could make them happy again.


How to emerge from the state of emotional crisis?

However, be cautious – significant fatigue or temporary irritability doesn’t necessarily indicate a deeper issue. Identifying the warning signs is just the first step. The next step is for the patient to seek treatment and be supported by a professional. Emotional burnout isn’t a specific illness; there isn’t a direct treatment for this disorder. But like with professional burnout, it’s possible to treat the different symptoms in order to reduce the patient’s stress and help them face their main challenges. Therapy is also a recommended option, as more often than not, the ailment stems from unresolved past issues. Engaging in therapy can allow the individual to communicate with a professional and help them set aside certain wounds to move forward. As for medication treatment, it’s only advised in advanced cases of emotional burnout.


How to avoid professional burnout?

All the symptoms we’ve described are really just the tip of the iceberg. They can lead to serious issues like major depressive disorder, illnesses such as ulcers and gastrointestinal problems, or even severe anxiety disorders. At the outset, these symptoms emerge because the person feels overwhelmed, unable to meet even basic needs. While this collapse often stems from external factors, it’s important to remember that emotional burnout is also the result of immense self-imposed pressure.


Keys to combating burnout

Causing a breakdown in a person’s life and affecting their family, romantic, and/or professional life, emotional exhaustion can still be avoided. To that end, we will provide you with some advice to follow. These suggestions will bolster your self-confidence and help you focus on the positive aspects of life, preventing you from falling into the vicious cycle that can be difficult – but not impossible – to escape.

Prioritize relaxation

In your daily life, it’s crucial to find the right balance between intense professional life and family life, which might involve significant responsibilities. For this, you’ll need moments for yourself, where you can disconnect. We suggest spending time alone or with your closest friends, engaging in activities that promote relaxation and the calming of both body and mind, such as reading, taking walks, or participating in sports.


Stay present in the moment

This is an essential key in the fight against emotional exhaustion. You absolutely need to learn not to dwell on the past, not to think about your mistakes, your regrets, and to stay focused on the present moment. This is crucial for maintaining emotional well-being and turning towards more positive things.


Seek help

In many cases of emotional burnout, the condition worsens because the individual shuts themselves off, refusing to discuss it with those around them. This is a grave mistake, as the assistance of loved ones or colleagues can quickly pinpoint the problem and find the best solutions.


Learn to freely express your emotions

In the same vein, it’s very important to learn how to freely express your own emotions, to permit failure and tell yourself that yes, you can feel down, and ultimately, it’s not so dire. This is a good starting point for healing, learning that you can’t manage everything, and discovering how to say no and ask for help by expressing your own feelings. This applies to both your personal and professional life, where your superiors and colleagues are there to help you through difficulties.


Make a list of your priorities!

When you begin to feel the initial effects of potential emotional exhaustion, we strongly advise you to create a list of priorities and, above all, stick to it. For instance, you could abandon certain activities that feel burdensome to you, find new interests to inject some novelty into your routine. Change could even go further, such as a career change.


Assessing emotional exhaustion, a good solution?

In cases of overwork or emotional burnout, we recommend consulting your primary care physician. After a conversation with them, they can then guide you toward the most suitable professional in their opinion. This could be a psychologist or psychiatrist, possibly with therapy. To help assess your current state, there is a test available to estimate your emotional state. This is the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) inventory, consisting of about twenty questions and exploring three main themes: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and your level of accomplishment at work.


In short, emotional exhaustion is a societal issue that concerns an increasing number of people, especially in the business world. Unlike burnout, which primarily stems from the work environment in which one operates, this problem is much more complex and challenging to diagnose and treat, as addressing the root cause of a potential depression is far more intricate. To assist companies in addressing this disorder and better supporting their employees, our organization, Quality Training, offers numerous managerial training programs designed to guide both leaders and staff. Currently, it is estimated that 7% of the French population experiences psychological distress at work and in their personal lives, and nearly 20% of the Belgian population over 15 years old suffers from the same issue.