Signs You’re Mentally Exhausted

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental exhaustion can help to prevent major issues, like burnout. Mental exhaustion can appear in our lives in many ways, but in general, it’s the act of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by some form of imbalance. Often, that imbalance is an excess of work or responsibility without adequate time to destress and focus on other areas of your life. Over time, you start to feel overwhelmed, both physically and emotionally, until the symptoms can no longer be ignored.

In severe cases, the effects of mental exhaustion can prevent you from completing tasks in your everyday life – even seemingly simple tasks.

Because these symptoms can often be subtle, or easily explained away, they’re often overlooked or linked to something else. If you’re wondering about some of the most common signs of mental exhaustion, keep reading to see if you recognize any of these symptoms.

Anger or a lack of patience

Understandably, being exhausted mentally can lead to a bad mood. This shows up differently for each of us, but frequent signs include being easily irritable, losing your temper more frequently, or lashing out at people more often. This happens because when you’re emotionally drained, you have a more difficult time processing and controlling your emotions.


Trouble getting things done at work? It could be mental exhaustion. While we all have our good days and bad, being mentally tapped does affect our ability to concentrate. So, if you’re missing deadlines or letting tasks pile up, it could be a sign of burnout.

Drawing a blank

If you’re having a harder time than usual paying attention or reacting, you might have mental exhaustion. This can lead to dangerous situations, especially if you’re driving, for example. 

Poor sleeping

It may seem like exhaustion would make it easier to sleep, but that’s not necessarily how it works. Not getting enough sleep, or frequent disruptions to your sleep, can make things worse. If you consistently have bad nights of sleep, consult with your doctor to see if they recommend any form of treatment.

Forming unhealthy habits

Those whose brains are exhausted are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol, especially for people with an existing substance use addiction. One theory for why this is the case is because drug addiction can impact the parts of the brain that control stress and impulses.

General depression

A lack of energy or a feeling of numbness are common symptoms noted among those with mental exhaustion. If you experience this for longer than two weeks, it’s time to talk to your doctor.

Excessive worrying

When you are mentally exhausted, you kick your sympathetic nervous system into high gear – otherwise known as “fight or flight.” This can lead to feelings of anxiety, panic or constant worry.

No desire to exercise

For some, mental fatigue has been tied to a lack of motivation to exercise. Experts aren’t entirely sure why, but it could be due to the overwhelming feeling that exercise could require a lot of effort.

A change in eating habits or appetite

Your diet can absolutely be affected by emotional factors like mental exhaustion. Watch out for key signs like more snacking than normal, or cravings for salty, sweet, or fatty foods. On the opposite end, it can also lead to an extreme decrease in appetite.

An uptick in mistakes

Mistakes are a normal part of life. However, when you’re mentally fatigued, you often don’t catch your mistakes. If you feel your job performance is off, it could point to mental exhaustion. And in some positions, like those that require the operation of machinery, it could be a severe issue.

Inexplicable aches and pains

Mental exhaustion takes a toll on your body over time. The effects can range from headaches to sore muscles or even stomach problems. For individuals with chronic illnesses, like fibromyalgia, they may experience more pain than usual.

What can I do to avoid feeling mentally exhausted?

One of the best things you can do to avoid burnout is to give yourself a break when you need one. Especially during long stretches of work that requires mental exertion, try taking a few minutes every hour or two. You can even set a timer to help remind you to step away now and then. 

Another preventive technique is to get active. Exercising, especially during your breaks, can give you a jolt of energy and leave you feeling refreshed. Try some light stretching to restore balance or take a quick walk, and you might find that you feel more prepared to take on the rest of your day.

Of course, it’s also important to lean into relaxation. It’s nearly impossible to figure out how to avoid mental exhaustion all the time, but having a solid stress relief strategy can help prevent it from becoming a bigger issue. That looks different for everyone, so you just have to find what works for you. It could be a massage, a yoga session or even catching up on your favorite TV show.

For more support, talk to your friends and family, or reach out to a mental health professional.

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