I love my sleep. I always make sure to get at least eight hours each night. I’ll even leave parties early so I can get to bed at my usual time Yet, there are still mornings when I wake up feeling exhausted, even after a great night’s sleep. Whenever that happens, I run through a mental checklist, grasping at straws to explain to myself why I feel so groggy: why do I feel exhausted? Did I drink too much last night? Did I stay up past my usual bedtime? Did I hit snooze on my alarm twelve times? Eight hours of sleep a night shouldn’t result in chronic exhaustion, right?
Regardless of how much quality sleep you’re getting, you can still feel mentally exhausted, burnt out, run-down, worn through—whatever you want to call it. Most of the time, you’re so exhausted you don’t even have the time or the sense to see it clearly.
The answer is right in front of your face, but you haven’t had a chance to step back and analyze your situation. Maybe you hate your job, or you’re worried about paying rent, but you’re not actively thinking about it. How could you with all that’s going on? It’s planted in your subconscious, lurking there and eating away at your morale.
That worn-down feeling is a cumulative combination of unconsidered stressful circumstances—an amalgamation of past worries and future anxieties. We aren’t talking about your regular physical exhaustion from a long day’s work standing on your feet. This is purely in between your ears. You’re overstimulated, and it’s dragging you down. But what’s the real reason behind this brain fog? Why do you feel exhausted?
The first place to look at is stress, which is the body’s natural response to a new challenge or demand. Where are you currently experiencing stress in your life?
Most pain, exhaustion, or emotional fatigue is the direct result of stress. Daily life is filled with tiny stressors—running to catch the morning bus, praying you’ll find a parking spot, or worrying about the leak in your ceiling at home. As these small stressors pile on uncontrollably, you realize you’re white-knuckling through the day.
Mental exhaustion, simply put, is long-term stress. It’s having a day like the above over and over again for months on end until it weighs so much it finally drags you to the ground. You can’t keep living like this.
You may have experienced this in the form of a “mid-life crisis,” or even a quarter-life crisis where you stop and realize you never pursued the things you once hoped and dreamed of. Life passed you by in the blink of an eye. What happened to the “purpose” you once wanted to get out of life? Maybe you wanted to be an artist and all of a sudden, you look down and you’re forty-three years old sitting in a conference room surrounded by suits and boring charts.
You’re faking your way through life and you’re tired of putting on an act.
Why Do You Feel Exhausted?
“Depression, anxiety, phobias… so many things can be disguised in a way that gives a facade of normalcy over a person’s internal struggles.” —Morgan Housel
Why? It’s because there are other possible reasons for this exhaustion other than improper or lack of sleep. Here are some reasons why you feel exhausted.
1. High-Pressure Occupation (emergency responders and teachers)
Working in a highly stressful scene like an ER or police department is an obvious input for stress. Long hours on the job and making high-level decisions in crisis mode need to be followed by a period of rest, relaxation, and debriefing.
2. Working Long Hours
Consistently clocking in 12-14 hour days for weeks on end can drag you down. Many occupations require this type of work seasonally, like accountants during tax season. But when you’re spending that much time at week year-round and there is no end in sight, mental exhaustion can become chronic.
3. Financial Stress
For obvious reasons, being in troubled circumstances with your finances can cause long-term stress and constant worries, which lead to feeling exhausted. How can you enjoy life if you can’t afford to do the things you enjoy? No matter how much you sleep, you will still feel exhausted if something is troubling you at the back of your mind like financial problems.
4. Dissatisfied With Your Job
When you ask yourself, “why do I feel exhausted?” Try also asking, “Am I satisfied with my job?”
Many people slog through life in a job they hate. Whether it’s your unruly boss, the team that you work with, or the customers who you’re sick of hearing complaining, being stuck in a dissatisfying job can cause feelings of resentment in work and your personal life.
Whether you’re naturally a messy person or life has become so frantic that you haven’t even had a chance to clean or organize, clutter plays a massive part in mental exhaustion. Having a clear workspace and a calm environment to walk into makes a difference in mental clarity. This can also affect your productivity and your attitude towards your job.
6. Avoidance and Procrastination
When you feel exhausted, it may be because something at the back of your head is troubling you. You may have some responsibilities that you should be doing or have done but still have not. Putting things off too long will cause hidden stress to climb on top of you like a monkey on your back. Avoiding your responsibilities and procrastinating are some of the possible causes as to why you feel exhausted.
7. Living With Chronic Pain or an Illness
Going through life with stress is hard enough. Add on top of that something like chronic back pain or a congenital condition and it’s like taking care of two separate people for yourself. This can also cause feelings of resentment, bitterness, and irritation around people you love, even those who support and take care of you.
8. Death of a Loved One
Losing a close friend or family member is something everyone has experienced, and it never gets easier. Many people try to play tough and portray to their loved ones that they are okay and dealing with it just fine. But the reality is that it’s weighing them down.
Be honest with yourself about it, and have someone you can talk to. Experiencing your grief alone and not sharing it with anyone may be the reason why you feel exhausted.
9. Lack of Purpose
Life needs to have a purpose. Every individual has a purpose that is entirely unique to their circumstance. It can be guided by religion, occupation, or an ultimate life goal to strive towards, such as writing a book or owning a business. Without an ultimate purpose, it’s easy to let yourself slip into a depression that leads to mental exhaustion.
What Should You Do When You Feel Exhausted?
“When you’re struggling with something, look at all the people around you and realize that every single person you see is struggling with something, and to them, it’s just as hard as what you’re going through.” —Nicholas Sparks
1. Talk About It
It may sound obvious, but talking through these struggles with someone is a form of therapy in itself. Chances are, someone has been through the same type of thing that you’re going through right now. Don’t hide it. Open up and learn how others dealt with it. It’s more common than you think.
2. Find an Outlet or a Hobby
One way to help find joy out of a life of exhaustion is to come home to a hobby. Unwind from the workday by doing something you love that’s also a bit challenging. Learn how to play guitar, play video games with your kids, read a book, or learn new recipes to cook for your family. Take your mind away from whatever it is you’re worried about. Focus entirely on the process and get out of your anxiety.
3. Be Realistic
You can’t do everything. Look at your schedule, and be honest with yourself and the people around you about what’s possible for one person to do in a day. You can’t change the world alone. Enlist the help of others and don’t be too proud to ask. Putting the weight of the world on your shoulders may be the reason why you feel exhausted.
4. Arrive Early
It took me years in life to realize how much being early can relieve stress. Waking up five minutes earlier gives me five minutes to relax and think if I’m forgetting anything before I head out the door. Leaving five minutes before I normally would for an event gives me five minutes to arrive and get a good seat, scope out the scene, or talk to someone and learn something about the place.
5. Exercise More, Try Healthier Habits
Exercise is probably the last thing you want to do. But have you ever regretted a workout? One hundred percent of the time it makes you feel better and gives you the momentum to have a great day.
Try healthier habits. Go for a walk right when you get out of bed. Try a new vegetable once a week. Drink more water. Stand more. Replace dessert with fruit. If you drink ten cups of coffee a day, try to go one day a month without coffee. Healthier habits ultimately lead to a happier life in more ways than you think.
Similar to talking about your problems, journaling is an excellent outlet for not only getting the thoughts out of your head but also to clarify your feelings. As you write, you’ll realize you actually didn’t understand what you were thinking. Writing helps that. Do it often.
7. Take Care of Something
Get a pet. If you’re not ready for a dog, then buy a few plants to take care of. This takes the attention off yourself and on to something that relies on you for livelihood. It will help put everything in perspective and relieve stress and exhaustion.
This is such an overly-used cure-all, but meditation really does help with clarity of thinking and developing a sense of calm in your life. Researchers found that meditation “decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
It doesn’t have to be sitting with your legs cross, fingers in a circle, and saying “Oooommmmmm.” Meditating can take on whatever form you’re comfortable with. It can be taking a few deep breaths before you step out of your car, or it can be closing your eyes and thinking of your loved ones when you’re having a hard time.
Sometimes before bed, I’ll just close my eyes and envision a future I want for myself. I picture the people I love hugging me and saying “Congratulations.” For what? I don’t know, but I’m putting myself in the mindset to succeed.
Dr. Alice Boyes, author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit:
“The more you work on systems for reducing stress and excess decision-making, the more mental energy you’ll have.”
This is true in so many areas. Work on habits and routines that will eliminate the number of decisions you make. The more disciplined you are in these areas, the more freedom you will have to do the things you truly want and need. But also, understand how you are getting in your own way.
Author Tim Ferriss likes to ask himself, “How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?” or “What are the stories I tell myself that interfere with self-love?”
Take a look at the actions and routines you structure your life around. Are there small tweaks you can make to get out of your own way? What would this look like if it were easy? Sometimes, asking yourself questions like these can lead to surprisingly simple solutions and answer the question of “why do I feel exhausted?”
As I said, everyone is struggling in their own way. How you manage your stress may differ completely from someone else. By being vulnerable and understanding that you have the ability to overcome this exhaustion, you can begin to find meaning. Exercise consistent positive habits and the momentum will attract more positive momentum. Oh, and get good sleep!
More Tips to Help You When You Feel Exhausted
Featured photo credit: Hernan Sanchez via unsplash.com