When someone finds they have no reserves of energy left, no matter how hard they try to keep going they have succumbed to exhaustion. Physical, mental and emotional resources are spent. This can be quite alarming to people used to “firing on all cylinders”, especially as collapse can happen quite suddenly. In most cases there will have been warning signs. The trouble is these tend to be suppressed or ignored from a fear of what they might mean, including a sense of failure or weakness. A person’s self-esteem may be tied up with their ability to press on compulsively no matter what.
The crisis that the onset of exhaustion represents will very likely motivate the person to seek help, something however, which by this stage, may require great effort. While causes very often relate to lifestyle and particularly, in many cases, the approach to work, it is essential that diagnostic investigations are undertaken by competent clinicians to assess whether there are serious physical and/or mental health factors to be taken into account. Differential diagnosis provides the vital clarification on which to base the design of any treatment and recovery plan. It may prove necessary to treat specific conditions in a discrete way. Simultaneously, a complementary, holistic approach to recovery from exhaustion more broadly may be adopted; given the need to deal with both causes and effects.
Whatever factors have contributed to exhaustion, recovery has to be approached with care since aiming for that goal can itself become a counterproductive pressure. It is as well to begin with a reassessment and rearrangement of life’s priorities in which the focus on health achieved through conscientious self-care is moved to the top of the list. This should encompass a nutritious diet, avoidance of mood-altering substances, good sleep hygiene, which should include downtime from technology, relaxation and a gently graduated, easing-in approach to exercise. It should also focus on managing stress.
It is likely that exhaustion will have resulted in part from poor or non-existent stress management, the basis of which is achieving a balance between demands and expectations (of self and/or others) on the one hand and fitness-related capacity to cope with them on the other. A vicious circle may have developed in which demands were continually ramped up while fitness and therefore the capacity to deal with them, was neglected or even abused, which in turn exacerbated the intensity of the demands.
Being caught in this cycle becomes increasingly isolating, which seriously risks damaging overall health and wellbeing. Reaching out and connecting with others therefore forms a vital part of any recovery plan. Because the condition is so overwhelming, impacting all areas of life, recovery from exhaustion is best achieved in a measured, incremental way. It is something to be fostered and encouraged to happen rather than striven for.