Emotional Exhaustion: The Next Well-Being Virus

There is a lot of talk about exhaustion these days. And with good reason – our society is overwhelmed with physical and mental demands. These demands come from the workplace, from our family settings, from our physical surroundings, and from our mental environments. Overscheduling over committing, overeating, over connecting, over stimulating – we don’t give ourselves a break.

But while we talk about being physically or mentally exhausted a lot, I fear we are missing the most impactful form of exhaustion that is slowly creeping into our weary bones.

Emotional Exhaustion.

Your crazy boss whose emails make you feel like a five-year-old who deserves a spanking.

Your insecure colleague who spends their days finding ways to undermine you so their work shines brighter.

Your partner who has forgotten that a simple thank you for your support of their busy life – when you have just as busy a life happening to you every day.

Your teenage kids who believe you just don’t understand them and continue to roll their eyes and ignore you every time you speak.

The sadness and anger that builds up inside of you hearing of another meaningless violet attack on innocent people.

The political situation in the United States where we have become a country turned on each other.

What used to be small irritants in every day life have compounded as our world evolves. What used to be stressful situations that a good night’s sleep, a few moments of deep breathing and reframing your mind, or a good sense of humor would solve have now become a heavier burden for us all.

Emotional exhaustion burrows deeply into our physical and mental health. Your feelings of anger, sadness, uselessness, and inferiority fester in your mind, in your heart, in your muscles – in your complete being. They sit and grow, like a tumor untreated, because they have no where to go.

We begin to feel helpless to change things, to express ourselves without being chastised, or to make a difference without losing our jobs, our relationships, or our friends.

Emotional exhaustion is a serious condition that ultimately leads to burnout. We need to pay close attention to how we are feeling – physically, mentally AND emotionally. And before we let ourselves get too far down the rabbit hole, find ways to relieve this emotional stress (and in the process, lighten our physical and mental loads).

The good news is that there is good news! Emotional exhaustion is treatable with ‘the usual healthy suspects’ (and maybe a few new ideas).

First, you need to let ‘it’ go! That layer of emotional exhaustion draped over you like a blanket needs to flung off. And while not quite as easy as just taking the blanket off, the process of lightening your load is not as hard as we may think. You need to breathe. Deep breaths. Morning, noon, night, after an incident that brought you down, before an incident that you know will bring you down. Breathe in deeply to a count of four – and as you inhale visualize pulling all the people/situations/emotions that are weighing you down into that breath. Then hold your breath for two counts. Let your mind dump out any additional stressors that may be floating around in there to that big ball of stress breath. Then exhale. For at least 6 counts. Take that big ball of stress breath and send it out of your body. Clean yourself out. Lighten your load. Take the emotional blanket off. Do this as many times per day, or situation, as you may need to keep yourself calm, relaxed, grounded. This deep breathing method is also a wonderful way help your body get a much needed good night sleep (another antidote to the emotional exhaustion virus).

Secondly, you need to support your physical and mental health so that the emotional baggage doesn’t take them out as well. Eat your fruits and veggies and limit your processed food intake. Sometimes we find ourselves indulging in ‘feel good foods/beverages’ more when we are emotionally exhausted because they are comforting. Unfortunately, while we may feel relieved for a time, these foods/beverages will ultimately lead to physical exhaustion. They are not energy creators but energy stealers. Our bodies and minds function at their best when fed natural whole foods that are easily digestible creating healthy energy in the body, and providing much needed vitamins and minerals to keep us strong. Keep yourself strong and in good function so that you more quickly recognize and react to emotional exhaustion. Taking a walk outside will also do wonders for your overall health and ability to let ‘it’ go.

Lastly, find a positive outlet for your emotions. Make time for a date night with your partner to reconnect to the loving relationship you know still exists. Make time to do something with your kids that you both enjoy. Find a charity and donate to support a cause you feel strongly about. Get out for coffee/tea/a march/a community meeting and talk with like minded people who feel as strongly as you do about recent events. Find comradery with a coworker and create ‘constructive bitch time’ to sort through work issues. Get out of your inner self and your own cloud of emotions by finding positive outlets that help you release, relax, have fun, and maybe make a difference for the future.

Our world is getting more complex. We are getting more complex! Find ways to evolve through this added stress before emotional exhaustion takes over. 


  • Gayle Hilgendorff

    Executive Health and Leadership Coach, Thrive Global Facilitator, Author and Aspiring Blogger

    Gayle Hilgendorff Executive Health and Leadership Coach / Thrive Global Facilitator / Aspiring Blogger (corporate2carny) / Author of Live More, Work Better: A Practical Guide to a Balanced Life (Bascom Hill Publishing Group, 2015) Gayle Hilgendorff is a certified executive health and leadership coach who left her Managing Director of Human Resources position at Accenture in 2011 to found her own business focused on helping corporate executives achieve their best, professionally and personally, through better health. While at Accenture, Gayle was responsible for executive career coaching and leadership development programs for a global organization of 30,000 people. After a turning point in her own career, she realized that true leadership and professional success were founded on being a healthy person – mentally, physically and emotionally – not just working harder. Gayle’s health passion became a platform for her consulting work with corporate executives. Working with participants across the globe, she incorporates holistic health concepts into her leadership coaching. Gayle integrates basic knowledge about how eating better, moving more, and finding ways to manage stress are the true foundations for a successful personal and professional life. With science backed concepts, and easy to integrate actions, Gayle’s programs have received high praise and tangible results. Gayle’s background in the corporate world combined with her likable, easy style make her a believable, relatable coach/presenter/author who has proven success in helping people make big change.