Staff productivity
Aug 19, 2022

Coping with emotional exhaustion in care

I was recently contacted by a staff nurse called Jackie, off the back of one of my mental health blogs, and asked to talk about emotional exhaustion. This week, I take a look at some of the symptoms of emotional exhaustion and the support tools available.

Mark Topps
Mark Topps
Regional Business Manager

Table of contents

What is emotional exhaustion?

Emotional exhaustion is a state of feeling overwhelmed on a repeated or daily basis, which impacts our ability to do the things we want or need to do.

It’s often caused by our work because of long hours, pressure, deadlines, lack of time off etc. It can also result from financial concerns, raising children, living with an illness, following the death of someone close to us and other personal concerns.

Symptoms of emotional exhaustion

Emotional symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feeling hopeless and/or powerless
  • Being irritable
  • Lack of motivation
  • Nervousness
  • Being tearful

Physical symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Increased headaches
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sore and achy muscles/muscle tension

These symptoms aren't exhaustive and can manifest, leading to several issues at work, including:

  • Poor performance
  • Snapping at colleagues
  • Increased sickness/time off work
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Having the Monday blues and not wanting to go back into work.

9 support and coping mechanisms

1. Seek advice

The most important step is to acknowledge the symptoms and to seek help and advice as this will help you to regain control and re-balance your life.

It may be that your colleagues, family or friends have commented on the changes in your behaviour and character or it may be that you notice some of the symptoms have become a regular pattern.

You could seek support from people around you – friends, family and colleagues –from your local GP or through local community and Facebook groups.

2. Re-evaluate priorities in your life

Life’s too short and this became apparent for a large percentage of people during the pandemic – many of us made changes to our work routines and found new friendships and relationships, with people reporting they feel happier and healthier.

It’s never too late to make a bucket list, find a role that compliments your values, find new hobbies, seek new adventure and change your life for the better. A new path in life can help you alter your mindset and give you something to focus on and achieve. Even small changes in your daily routine can help.

3. Aim for a better work-life balance

Is work slowly taking over and you’re starting to lose a grip on the time you have to do the things that you enjoy? Most of us have or will experience this and it's important that we take a step back.

For example, your work-life balance could be working four days a week or it could be making sure you have uninterrupted lunch breaks. It could even be that the company you work for has the same vision and values as you, or it may just be something as big as you being in a role that compliments your personal life.

4. Take a break

Remember to take regular breaks and to use up your annual leave – try dedicating some of this time just for yourself. This can help boost your mood and improve your mental health, which in turn will increase your resilience.

The most important break to remember is sleep and it’s vital you get enough hours every night. Developing a bedtime routine can help your mind and body relax and lead to a better-quality sleep. Have a read of some of my top tips to cope with lack of sleep.

5. Think about your social media use

It’s always worth re-evaluating the social media and media you consume – it can subconsciously drip feed you with negativity. One way to tackle this is to adapt the content you access. I personally block trolls on twitter, remove people who post a lot of negative posts on Facebook and utilise TikTok for motivational and wellbeing videos, which can help inspire and change my mindset.

Failing that, you can always do a full detox and remove yourself from social media to benefit your wellbeing.

6. Try to eat a healthy diet

We all know we should be eating healthier, but how many of us actually do this? I’m the first to hold my hands up and say I don’t!

A healthy diet can support your physical health and improve the quality of your sleep.

If you feel you’re not getting the right amounts of vitamins or minerals, speak to your GP as they may be able to do a blood test to check your levels and recommend some supplements you can take.

7. Exercise more

Research has proven that physical activity can boost mood and energy – exercise raises endorphin and serotonin levels which can improve your emotional state.

I find going for a walk in the evening, popping in my headphones and listening to my favourite music or a podcast can help take my mind off things. There’s also something calming about just being outside with nature.

8. Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness has been proven to be more than a lockdown fad and has been scientifically recognised to reduce stress and anxiety and to balance emotions. Mindfulness is the act of engaging with the present moment which can help to divert your attention from the negative thought process.

There are many tools to practise mindfulness, including meditation, talking therapy, yoga, breathing exercises, going for a walk, journaling and using mindfulness apps.

9. Look for the positives

I always look for the positives in any situation and sometimes they’re harder to find. I personally find it helps me reframe my mindset and prevents me from dwelling on negatives and the past, motivating me to make changes in my life.

Recognition is the first step

I’d like to thank Jackie for her input into this week’s blog and for suggesting a topic to help raise awareness for others. It’s important to remember that emotional exhaustion is a treatable condition but we need to be honest with ourselves about the causes and put manageable steps in place to prevent re-occurrence.

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