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Mental Health

Mental Exhaustion: What It Is and How To Overcome

Mental exhaustion is described as a sensation of severe tiredness that is often represented by feelings of irritability and similar emotions. Some of the most common signs that you are experiencing mental exhaustion are recent bouts of long-term stress, difficulty focusing, lack of interest in once-enjoyable things, etc. The overuse or repetitiveness of such stress develops into mental exhaustion. Overuse of your mental and emotional capacities is very similar to the overuse of muscles after an injury. Think of a sprained ankle: it’s encouraged not to bear weight on the ankle until it’s recovered enough to support the weight. It’s the same for the necessary healing of mental exhaustion when overstimulating and aggravating your mental state. 

While experiencing mental exhaustion, it may seem like you have hit rock bottom, but there are ways to move forward. Below I have listed the most efficient ways of overcoming mental exhaustion. This list includes practices that have not only worked in my own experience but have been affirmed by many experts and others who have overcome this struggle. 

Eliminate the Stressor

This may seem obvious, but if you can find the root of what is causing this burden, get rid of it. Humans tend to put on many hats and do more than what is right for us. Think to yourself: “Is (insert here) doing me any good?” or “does (insert here) need to be my priority or can I set it on the back burner?” Sometimes the quickest way to resolve mental drain is by pausing, assessing, and reflecting on your present and easing the expectations you are putting on yourself. Some things will never be done perfectly and may not have to be done at all. If it’s not an absolute priority, forget about it. You come first. 

Find a Balance

As stated in the first suggestion, it’s helpful to get rid of the stressor. However, that is sometimes unrealistic and impossible, so the next best thing is to reduce the time you spend on the stressor and then fill in your freed-up time with things that make you feel relaxed, happy, or both! Improving upon what most people call your “work-life balance” is an incredibly useful or even lifesaving skill to have throughout life. You can advance your resilience, creativity, mood, energy, and overall lifestyle. This skill will also make overcoming a stressful new situation so much easier. 

Clear Your Physical Space

Physical clutter is another thing that takes up mental space, but it’s much less talked about. Do you ever notice how much greater you feel once you have cleaned up a space than you felt before doing so? This is because when you take on the challenge of a literal mess, you are giving yourself room to breathe more and breathe freely. Cleaning also helps find a sense of accomplishment, and you can use this momentum to your advantage to move through the rest of the day and tackle other “messes.” 

Set Aside Time for Breaks

Everyone knows about the importance of rest, but that isn’t the only break you should take. Even while you are wide awake, after working or stressing for an extensive amount of time your mind, body, and eyes need some alleviation from overthinking, looking at a screen, writing, reading, or anything else that fogs your brain. Every hour or so, hold yourself accountable to walk away from your devices or whatever work you may be filling your time with. 

Change up the Scenery

I can attest to this rule in particular because when I spend too much time working in one place, I get bored, which makes me tired, irritable, and unable to focus on my work. If you’re like me, this step could work well for you. Exchanging the environment you work in (and taking your breaks in) for a quiet place outside where there is plenty of fresh air and sunlight, can be a life changer when getting work done. Sunlight itself regulates your serotonin, vitamin D, and circadian rhythm. 

Try Something New

You miss 100% of the opportunities you don’t take. Step outside of your comfort zone every once in a while. Although it sounds counterproductive to add yet another thing to your plate, trying new things, particularly things you have always wanted to do but never could, can give you a boost in energy. If the new thing you are trying is challenging you somehow, it could result in you entering a state sometimes referred to as “slipping into the flow,” which is seen as the antidote to burnout.

Positive Distractions

Do not resort to a substance to “take the edge off.” Substances will only work for a limited amount of time and will result in the formation of bad habits. No matter how tempting it can be, it’s best to resist the temptation. Instead, try to find other distractions that don’t have negative long-term impacts. Some of these methods could include talking with a family member or loved one, bonding with a furry friend, exercising, or doing breathing exercises (read my first article for an effective breathing exercise). 

Take Care of Yourself

The stress hormone you can blame for not properly regulating right now is called cortisol, yet it is not the root of your stress. Instead, this hormone helps your body in its response to stress, and it does this by producing more glucose, which provides quick bursts of energy. This shows how demanding stress can be on your body. Sometimes the quickest ways to combat this internal stress response is to keep hydrated, eat healthily, and build a healthy sleep schedule. 

Shania Carroll

Bryn Mawr '26

Hello! My name is Shania, like Twain. I was born and raised in New Jersey, I am a Capricorn, a proud member of the alphabet mafia (LGBTQ+ community for those who aren't aware), and unfortunately the Twilight Saga is my guilty pleasure. I love all things self improvement, psychology, and more generally interesting things such as conspiracy theories, the supernatural or unsolved mysteries of any kind. I'm excited to publish articles that display and share my interests with all of you!