Exhaustion is what people experience when they not only run out of mental and physical energy but also any reserves they thought might have been available to them in such circumstances. They find they no longer have the capacity they took for granted. Phrases such as “nothing left in the tank” and “running on empty” are commonly used to convey the sense that comes with a debilitating depletion of personal resources. People can feel “worn out”, “spent”, “drained” and even “beat”.
For high achievers and people who place intense demands or expectations on themselves, exhaustion can come as quite a shock and a blow to their self-esteem. Depression may follow. Others close to them may have seen it coming while the person continued to ignore the alarm signals until they ran out of gas and symptoms started to accumulate. They rely on the approach that worked up to now: push harder, put in more effort but to no avail. There’s nothing left on which to draw.
The symptoms of exhaustion unsurprisingly include tiredness to the point of extreme fatigue. This may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as aches and pains, flu-like discomfort, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, slowness of reflexes and problems with co-ordination. Mentally a person may experience a loss of motivation, trouble making decisions and exercising judgement. Concentration may be impaired and short-term memory loss experienced. They may experience changes in personality that include increasing social detachment, cynicism and pessimism. They may lose any tolerance for frustration.
In most cases exhaustion is caused by a combination of factors. There might be underlying physical or mental health problems which may or may not yet have not yet come to light. Lifestyle usually plays an important part, especially if, as the saying goes, the candle is being regularly burned at both ends. Alcohol and drug misuse and other addictive behaviours, which may have started as a coping strategy, may contribute while family and employment situations add their stressors. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise and sleep disturbance may also play a role in the depletion of resources. Not only that, but together all these issues make a person much more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. Conversely, the self-explanatory Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has often been found to afflict people who have succumbed to a serious infection.
When it hits a person, exhaustion is not compartmentalised in a discrete way but is experienced by the person holistically. Every aspect of life becomes impacted and treatment must be designed accordingly. It is far better to take note of the early warning signs and to seek help to avoid the far-reaching effects. The challenges of recovery once exhaustion has overwhelmed the person are not to be underestimated. Happily, recovery is possible.