On Recovering from Emotional Exhaustion
On my 30th birthday, I remember feeling a huge range of things – including but not limited to: grateful, humbled, hopeful, proud, loved and full of love. But maybe most intensely of all, I felt contemplative. I gently batted around questions like:
What have the last 30 years taught me?
What do I know now that I didn’t 5, or even 10 years ago? About the world? About myself?
Am I the kind of person my younger self hoped I’d become?
I can remember being little and being so curious about what kind of person I'd be as a grown-up. And as I shared over on Instagram on that birthday, breaking down and looking at the list of things that make me the kind of grown-up I’ve become, it’s a list I feel pretty great about.
There’s one item in particular on that list that jumps out at me as particularly significant.
You could argue it’s the most powerful thing I’ve learned in the last few years. It captures so much of what I’ve learned from my experiences in my 20s, and it arguably has more sway than anything else over how I make decisions, approach my relationships, and structure my life. The line says: “I’m the kind of person who believes in generosity and compassion — but not at the expense of my sanity.”
Here's the truth: you’ll never regret leading with compassion – but the more you run yourself ragged in the process, the harder it is to keep doing.
Steering Clear of Emotional Exhaustion
As a naturally warm and compassionate person, one of your greatest strengths is that natural ability to connect with people – to make them feel seen, understood, and supported. To help people, be a team player, and help solve problems. And in a world that’s rife with tension and divisions, there has never been a greater need for these strengths.
But we all know there are certain situations, jobs, and relationships that really put these strengths to the test, and take a lot out of us. They’re the ones that often stir up that sense of uneasiness in the pit of your stomach, because you know you have to bring your A-game to keep things running smoothly – even when you don’t always feel up to the task.
Maybe it’s the job that keeps consuming more and more of your time and energy with no end in sight.
Maybe it’s the friend who always has drama or negativity, and keeps unloading it onto you.
Or maybe it’s the partnership that drains your emotional tank, where there’s constantly a new thing to address.
They’re the ones that wear you out, and lead to emotional exhaustion.
Sure, you want to be a team player, and you know you have the tools in your metaphorical tool belt to bring the effort, empathy, and support to the table that keeps things on track.
But consider this: tools without any oomph behind them are fairly worthless. And your sanity, your well-being, your ability to feel rested and supported and in-balance – those are your oomph. Your jet fuel. And where there’s no fuel, your strengths start to lose their effectiveness.
To truly make the most of your strengths – like your natural compassion and your ability to help – you have to learn how to draw the line between being a team player, and giving too much of yourself.
Because once you’re in that state of emotional exhaustion, your well-being and your ability to really maximize your gifts will suffer. Every time. And not only that, but that eagerness to help and offer empathy that once came so easily to you will start to dim over time – and once that happens, nobody is better off.
Commit to Filling Your Tank
In honor of this revelation that was three decades in the making, my challenge to you this week is simple. Not necessarily easy – but simple.
Think back to those situations we talked about earlier that over-demand your gifts of compassion and generosity. I'd invite you to stay open to noticing the next time it feels especially taxing or exhausting in those scenarios to show up with the full weight of your natural empathy and willingness to help. Just notice the feeling.
Then, instead of impulsively making the choices to overstretch yourself emotionally in spite of that feeling of exhaustion, ask yourself: What would I need to feel restored, reentered and re-energized in this situation?
Because I know how hard it can be to break those habits and introduce new thought patterns where we’re used to just pushing through those feelings of exhaustion, I’ll leave you with these four simple notes of encouragement.
Draw on these the next time you need a little extra encouragement or support as you pause to consider your needs, and whether you have the bandwidth to offer your help or generosity.
4 Reminders to Help You Recover From Emotional Exhaustion
You have full permission to stop, and check in with your gut before you agree to anything. Your brain will always try to rattle off a long list of justifications for why this one time is ok, or that it’s just this one thing they need from me. But if your gut is churning or there’s something somewhere in you that’s fighting for your attention, take a quiet moment to listen to it, and consider what you hear before you make any decisions.
You are not a cold are selfish person if you need to step away for clarity. We all know being too close to something makes it harder to gain perspective. So if a particular situation is wearing on you – a job, a friendship, a partnership – give yourself permission to step away and get some space from it in whatever way you need to.
You always have the option to gently consider: what would happen if you just didn’t this time? Or, what would it look like to ask for something that would help give you what you need? (That could look like: a break, a hug, a raise, an opportunity to speak candidly, or even a vacation.)
Remember: specific examples are full of helpful information. You can always ask yourself: when was the last time I felt truly restored and full of positive energy – and what’s one small thing I could do to replicate that feeling?
Remember: being the ‘kind of person’ who is helpful, generous, and full of compassion does not mean you are bound to volunteer your time, energy, and support every time someone asks for it.
Just like our physical bodies need rest days between workouts, sometime the hardest-but-most-important thing we can do to protect and strengthen our natural gifts of empathy is to give them a break now and then.
What do you think?
Do you ever feel emotionally exhausted? What's one small thing you can do (from this list, or not!) that might help prevent you from wearing yourself out emotionally?