Physical exhaustion, burnout, stress, and depression can all be mistaken for mental exhaustion. Let’s examine the distinctions between them so you can determine which one you might be dealing with.

Stress vs. mental fatigue

Anything that temporarily drains a person’s mental, physical, and emotional resources is referred to as stress. Our bodies react similarly to both positive and negative stress. Our bodies should be able to quickly recover from stressors and find balance again. Mental exhaustion results from prolonged stress rather than the other way around.

Depression as opposed to mental fatigue

A persistently depressed mood is a sign of depression, a mood disorder. Mentally exhausted people frequently experience depression and those who are depressed experience mental exhaustion.

Numerous symptoms, such as a lack of enjoyment, trouble sleeping, and cognitive impairment, overlap. The phrases aren’t equivalent, though. Depression is a serious mental health condition that requires expert mental health professionals to diagnose and treat.

Mental fatigue versus physical exhaustion

The distinction between physical and mental exhaustion can be felt if you’ve ever left the gym feeling exhausted but elated. Similar to mental exhaustion, prolonged stress causes physical fatigue. However, this stress is placed on the body. This might be brought on by insufficient sleep, a disease, or another physical strain.

Comparing mental exhaustion and burnout

Burnout is the condition that most closely resembles mental exhaustion of all the ones we’ve mentioned. Both conditions are brought on by persistent stress, and a large number of their symptoms are similar. However, burnout is specifically categorized as a workplace phenomenon.

On the other hand, stress outside of the workplace can also lead to mental exhaustion. Burnout on the job frequently results from mental exhaustion in one area of life, even if the original stressor wasn’t work-related. Burnout, depression, stress, and physical exhaustion all exhibit many of the same symptoms as mental exhaustion. As a result, we can use some of the same strategies to defeat it.

Common reasons for emotional and mental exhaustion

Although numerous stressors can leave you feeling mentally spent, we’ve narrowed it down to the top four:

1. Prolonged tension

The most frequent reason for mental fatigue is this. Your body and brain are constantly on high alert due to chronic stress. This slowly starts to degrade your well-being. Compassion fatigue or a lack of empathy can result from prolonged stress. The constant pressure can make it challenging to muster an emotional response.

2. Ambiguity

The human stress response was created to be effective in the presence of immediate stress (think fight-or-flight). It is, however, a much less successful response to a persistent, nagging sense of uncertainty. Unfortunately, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, feeling uncertain has become the norm. As a result, mental fatigue is more prevalent than ever.

3. Stress at work

Stress at work can be caused by many different things, such as a clash of values, trouble prioritizing and managing tasks, or a high-demand, risky job. There are some jobs (or study programs) that demand a lot of new learning. They might also call for analyzing and making sense of a lot of data.

Whatever the reason, leaving work at work isn’t always an option. Workplace stress can even progress into burnout if it is not managed. Weekend stress from work may eventually manifest as a severe case of “Sunday scares.”

4. Family concerns

The stress of worrying about a family member is one of the few stressful things. It can be mentally taxing to care for young children, ill family members, or elderly parents. Families can cause a variety of stressors, even if everyone is in good health. Estrangements, disagreements, and divorce tend to follow you into every aspect of your life. In the end, family issues can be a significant contributor to mental fatigue.

Strategies to combat mental fatigue

Even enjoyable activities seem like work when your mind is worn out. The management of stressors may become even more difficult as a result. However, altering the habits that cause mental fatigue requires effort and awareness. The good news is that you can start feeling better without tackling it all at once.

Get rid of the trigger

Eliminate the underlying cause of your mental fatigue if you can. Sometimes, the things we feel we ought to do require a tremendous amount of mental effort. Consider whether you even want or need to do this. If so, does it have to be finished right away? We can frequently reduce our stress by lowering our standards. Not everything has to be completed flawlessly or at all.

Maintain a healthy work-life balance

If you can’t completely get rid of what’s stressing you out, try avoiding it as much as possible. Spend your free time doing activities that bring you joy rather than work or responsibility. Your resilience, creativity, and mood can all be improved by finding a better work-life balance. It can also help you maintain perspective in trying circumstances until you can get past them.

Make room for it

It’s common for mental clutter to take up physical space. Every object that is obstructed, damaged, or waiting to leave the room represents an unfinished task. You’ll have more breathing room and peace of mind once you take on the mess. Additionally, it will boost your sense of accomplishment and give you some momentum for the remaining items on your to-do list.

Plan (and take) consistent breaks

Your body, eyes, and brain require a break from the concentrated effort. Every hour, take a five-minute break to leave your desk or the current task. When distractions try to get in the way, set a timer to serve as a reminder to prioritize this time.

Head outdoors

Spend some time outside as you alter your surroundings. It can be energizing to feel the effects of sunlight and fresh air. If you don’t have time during the workday, try to arrange a meeting in a park or review your notes at a café outside. Your circadian rhythm, vitamin D, and serotonin are all controlled by sunlight exposure.

Do something novel

We rarely take the time to play or try new things as adults. Even though you probably can’t imagine taking on any more obligations, it’s worthwhile to step outside of your comfort zone. You may feel more energized when you try something new, especially if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do. If the new activity is difficult or complex, you might even enter a state known as flow, which is known to be the antidote to burnout.

Cut back screen time

Video calls, emails, and notifications that never end can quickly drain your energy. Your mind is always available thanks to your phone and email. You can take a break from being on call by engaging in a digital detox, even if only for a short while at a time.

Look for productive diversion strategies

It’s tempting to do something to “take the edge off” when you’re having trouble unwinding, but this sort of escapist behavior can quickly turn into a bad habit that doesn’t make you feel better in the long run.

Consider using constructive diversionary techniques as a substitute for self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. You can manage the symptoms of mental exhaustion, for instance, by talking to a friend, cuddling with a pet, or even exercising. Additionally, you can try breathing exercises or relaxation methods.

Look after yourself

Although cortisol is referred to as the stress hormone, stress is not caused by it. It gives you a brief boost of energy by enabling your body to react to stress by making more glucose available. Stress is therefore incredibly taxing on the body. This can be avoided by prioritizing healthy sleep habits, eating nourishing foods, and drinking lots of water.

Pay attention to what you can control

Your problems might seem insurmountable, and when we’re under stress, we frequently forget about the tools at our disposal. No matter how absurd or unlikely a solution may seem, try listing all potential approaches to a problem. There might be more assistance available than you anticipated. Trying to handle everything on your own will only leave you mentally exhausted.

Consult a therapist or coach

Getting an outside viewpoint can be beneficial if you’ve been feeling exhausted for a while. A therapist, coach, or counselor can assist you in identifying potential stress-reduction strategies. Additionally, they can offer valuable advice on how to better your self-care and work-life balance. Contact us and speak to a counselor today.

“Coffee”, Courtesy of Laura Chouette,, CC0 License; “Studied Out”, Courtesy of Getty Images,, Unsplash+ License; “Stressed Out”, Courtesy of Christopher Lemercier,, CC0 License; “Tired”, Courtesy of Adrian Swancar,, CC0 License
By Published On: November 2nd, 20227.6 min read


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