How To Recover From Emotional Exhaustion When You Don’t Have The Resources To Quit Your Life

emotional exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion can feel like a deep pit with sandy walls, where every attempt to escape has you sliding right back to the bottom. You just can’t get traction on those unstable walls.

Well meaning people will recommend that you just need some time off to recoup and reboot. But how can you create the environment you need in order to recoup from emotional exhaustion if you don’t have the resources to quit your life or even take a break?

Though time off is a logical solution, if you can’t afford it, and the free time and relaxation you would need to recoup seems unattainable, you can end up feeling even more overwhelmed. This leads to more stress about your already difficult situation. The idea of there being no escape creates anxiety and makes it feel intolerable and unmanageable.

Anxiety kicks in and escalates your discomfort when you allow yourself to think that you cannot tolerate what’s happening, and the more you focus on how intolerable the situation is, the more agitated and upset you become. As with virtually every uncomfortable feeling, anxiety ratchets up your discomfort. (p.180 Hack Your Anxiety)

The important thing to understand about recovering from emotional exhaustion is that it is not actually about escaping your life – it is about balancing it.

The anxiety you feel when you are trapped in a state of emotional exhaustion with no escape in site, is like the tug you feel when driving a car with misaligned tires. You are still driving, but something feels uneven – not balanced.

Instead of ignoring the tug and running off the road, you can pay attention to the signal your anxiety is sending you and bring your life back into balance – without spending a dime or quitting your life.

How DO you take control and steer toward balance? Follow this three step process.

Step 1 – Watch Your Step

Be aware of the obstacles ahead. The road to creating balance can sometimes be tricky, but only if you are not aware of the “potholes” along the way. To make your journey smoother keep a lookout for some sneaky little mindset glitches that often sabotage attempts at balance and knock you off the road to recovery:

  • Not recognizing your own capacity
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Avoiding disappointment
  • No time for self-care
  • Not saying NO enough

These are all habits (often unconscious) that throw you off balance and fuel the emotional exhaustion keeping you teetering at your wits end. But feeling the edges of your limits is not such a bad thing. It can fuel us to make the changes we need.

Step 2 – Harness Hidden Energy And Clear Your Path

Sometimes we need to feel truly awful before we are willing to make changes. This is our built in negativity bias, which leads us toward change through negative experiences. A NCBI article, Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development, explains:

At a very basic psychological level, evidence from learning research indicates a powerful negativity bias: negative reinforcement, as opposed to comparable positive reinforcement, leads to faster learning that is more resistant to extinction in both human adults and in animals.

Using this natural tendency can work in your favor, rather than fuel emotional exhaustion. Aim to harness the power of your negativity bias and access that energy to shift your life into balance – without having to take time off that you cannot afford.

With that fuel, the only other things you need are your own attention and intention to change your mindset. You can energize and shift those glitches into exhaustion busting mindset twists that bring you back into balance. For example instead of not recognizing your capacity to handle what life throws you, focus your attention on all the things that you do handle and give yourself a nice pat on the back.

Step 3 – Heal and Balance Yourself

Tuning into your capacity to handle many aspects of life leads to feeling more empowered. From this space there is a little more mental breathing room and you can explore ways to heal and balance yourself.

One of the keys to healing IS balance – the appropriate balance of effort and rest. Expending too much effort on the wrong things can sap your energy and waste your time so it feels like you cannot rest. Take a look at the areas of your life that feel out of whack – where you feel overextended and depleted.  This is likely what is throwing you off balance, and creating your emotional exhaustion.

Identify what tasks are absolutely necessary and focus your attention and effort there. This actually frees up your time and energy so that you then have time for the absolutely necessary trifecta of self-care:

  • Enough sleepYou need it to truly be yourself. (Greg Ritcher, explains how you’re not yourself when you’re sleepy, noting that “those who are sleep deprived lose some of their ability to be positive-minded people.”)
  • Proper nutrition (limit sugar, alcohol and caffeine)
  • Exercise (get your body moving wherever you can)

When you struggle with emotional exhaustion, rather than pushing through or collapsing completely, remember to listen to the call of your anxiety. Let your anxious thoughts shine a light on your self-sabotaging habits and mis-directed effort. With a well lit path ahead, tap into your hidden store of energy and pour it into self care and rebalancing your life.


Looking for more help with balancing anxiety? Check out my book Hack Your Anxiety and the digital tools I’ve developed to expand the book’s concepts here, or sign up for my free mini e-course here.

Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD