Nearly 50% of Americans feel mentally or physically drained after work, a SHRM survey shows.
Being tired is nothing out of the ordinary, especially during the busy season at work. But, if you’ve been feeling mentally drained for a long period, you might be dealing with mental fatigue.
Mental fatigue (mental exhaustion) can affect our everyday lives and cause emotional or even physical health issues. That’s why it’s essential to learn how to overcome it.
Luckily, we’ll help you better understand and deal with mental fatigue by:
- Explaining what mental fatigue is,
- Going over common mental exhaustion symptoms,
- Taking a look at mental fatigue causes, and
- Providing you with the best tips on dealing with mental fatigue.
What is mental fatigue?
Mental fatigue is a type of exhaustion our brain experiences after long-term exposure to stress and prolonged cognitive performance.
Founder and CEO of Hands to Guide You, Dr. Larry Ford, highlights that mental fatigue usually comes with apathy:
“Sometimes brain fatigue feels like total exhaustion to someone who is in treatment or recovery of a physical ailment and the mind doesn’t have the bandwidth to focus — on anything. There’s a lack of interest in tasks and activities one typically enjoys.”
Psychiatrist and CEO at PsychPlus, Faisal Tai, warns that mental fatigue weakens our cognitive skills:
“If left unaddressed, long-term stress can prompt simple tiredness to worsen and turn into long-term mental fatigue, or mental exhaustion. This state is usually characterized by impaired cognitive skills such as memory, thinking, and the ability to make decisions and solve problems.”
The most common mental fatigue symptoms
Mental fatigue comes in different forms. It can affect you on an emotional, physical, and behavioral level.
Emotional symptoms to watch out for include:
- Anxiety and panic,
- Lack of motivation and productivity,
- Feelings of impatience and irritability, and
- Constant crankiness or anger.
Common physical symptoms of mental fatigue are:
- Unidentified body and muscle aches,
- Sudden weight gain or loss, and
- Sleep disorder.
Lastly, behavioral symptoms of mental fatigue include:
- Lack of social interest,
- Indifference towards things you used to enjoy,
- Procrastination, and
- Self-medicating and substance abuse.
→ Note: This is just an informatory text. You should consult with a licensed specialist if you start experiencing any of the above-listed symptoms.
What causes mental fatigue?
Many different circumstances can cause mental fatigue. But, certain conditions are known to set off brain exhaustion more frequently than others, so we’ve singled out the 7 most common ones.
Cause #1: Long-term stress
Long-term exposure to stress can lead to mental fatigue. That’s because stress causes an increase in cortisol levels. High cortisol levels for a long period lead to exhaustion and mental fatigue.
Cause #2: Physical strain
Physical exhaustion and overworking can lead to mental fatigue over time.
For instance, a 2018 Frontiers in Neurology study found that physical strain can have a devastating effect on mental well-being. The researchers have shown that prolonged physical activities can lead to mental fatigue and even make mental exhaustion worse for those already struggling with it.
Cause #3: Family issues
Any issue we have with our family members affects us deeply. Thus, it comes as no surprise that family issues are among the main causes of mental fatigue.
Family caregiving can lead to various health problems, including fatigue, as shown in research by the National Library of Medicine. That’s because caregivers often neglect their own health when taking care of their loved ones.
Cause #4: Bad lifestyle choices
Poor lifestyle choices can contribute to your mental fatigue. Some of the bad habits that have a negative effect on your well-being include:
- Lack of physical activity,
- Bad nutrition,
- Poor sleep habits, and
- Substance abuse.
Cause #5: Toxic people
Dealing with toxic people on a daily basis affects your state of mind.
Director of Clinical Services at TMS & Brain Health, Dr. Timothy Lyons, explains how toxic people around you can contribute to your mental exhaustion:
“Spending lots of time around a toxic person can cause mental fatigue because the interaction is treated as a fight-or-flight task by the brain. Stress hormones come into play because interacting with a toxic person makes us feel uncomfortable and even threatened. The body goes into defense mode and the interaction becomes physically and mentally draining.”
If you’re dealing with toxic coworkers or a toxic boss, it may be time to learn how to set work boundaries:
Cause #6: Procrastination
As an act of postponing action, procrastination makes your life much more stressful.
Thus, it’s essential that you work on beating procrastination and creating healthier and more productive habits. This will increase your productivity and remove unnecessary stress from your life.
If you’re working from home, these tips can help you avoid procrastination and become more productive:
Cause #7: Mental health conditions
Your mental health influences different aspects of your life, but, it mostly affects your brain.
If you’re struggling with mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and psychoses, your brain may be fighting to keep you functioning and focused on your daily activities. This state can lead to overwhelming mental exhaustion over time.
How to overcome mental fatigue?
When you’re mentally exhausted, you may feel like all hope is lost. Thankfully, our tips are there to guide you toward making better lifestyle choices, and ultimately knowing when it’s time to ask for help.
Tip #1: Take care of yourself
Your diet, exercise, and sleep habits have a major effect on your well-being. Thus, an essential aspect of dealing with your mental fatigue is taking care of yourself.
To avoid resorting to bad habits, you could try planning out your daily activities. You should also stick to your routine as much as you can.
What’s more, taking regular breaks and resting whenever you get the chance will help you be your best self, regardless of how busy you are.
Tip #2: Create a work-life balance
Your job shouldn’t be your only priority in life. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance makes you more satisfied, engaged, and productive.
Aside from ensuring you have time for activities outside of work, you should also use your vacation days whenever you can.
Your work doesn’t have to drain you completely. Here’s how to feel better at your workplace by improving the quality of work life:
Tip #3: Spend time with people that bring you joy
Having a good support system is crucial to our well-being.
Talent Acquisition Specialist at CAKE.com, Simo Jokic, understands the importance of surrounding yourself with people that bring you joy when mentally exhausted:
“Positive energy, stimulating conversations, interesting topics, tips, and suggestions are pretty helpful to those struggling with mental exhaustion.”
Tip #4: Distance yourself from stress
Learning to distance yourself from your stressors will go a long way in helping you deal with mental fatigue.
Dr. Tai recommends 3 essential steps in your journey to removing your daily stress:
- Decluttering your surroundings, and
- Setting your phone to silent mode for long periods.
Tip #5: Talk to a professional
In case you believe your issue goes much deeper, therapy may be the best option for you.
Dr. Lyons believes it’s important to find the underlying problem behind your mental fatigue:
“Overcoming mental fatigue and exhaustion can be as simple as getting extra sleep, but also as complex as working with a professional therapist or physician to treat symptoms and resolve causes. Mental fatigue can be a symptom of several more alarming mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder.”
This is just a summary of an article previously published on the Clockify blog.
To learn more about mental fatigue, we recommend reading the full article: