Emotional Exhaustion: Signs, Causes, & Recovery Tips

Published on: 26 Sep 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
woman crying at table

While stress is a normal part of life and can even be healthy in small doses for short amounts of time, it has the potential to become overwhelming and lead to burnout. Emotional exhaustion is a type of burnout that occurs when accumulated stress leaves you feeling completely drained. 

People who are emotionally exhausted often feel hopeless, powerless, and with little to no energy to do anything. Thankfully, though, there are ways to cope with emotional exhaustion. Keep reading to learn more about how to cope with this stress and how to recover from burnout.

What is Emotional Exhaustion?

Stress can take a toll on your physical and emotional well-being. Chronic stress can leave you feeling unmotivated over time, whether it’s because of stress in the workplace or stress from personal matters. This state of emotional burnout can make it harder to manage stress, but even worse, it can lead to health issues if it’s not addressed.

Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Exhaustion

Many people don’t realize that emotional exhaustion can have a significant impact on you, both physically and mentally. Further, symptoms can worsen over time, which is why it’s so important to watch out for signs of emotional fatigue. 

Below we’re looking at the major signs and symptoms that are important to be aware of:


In studies, we’ve found that chronic stress (like the kind that can lead to emotional burnout) is linked to an increase in anxiety-like behaviors. 

Experiencing constant stress can put you on edge and leave you worrying about what might happen next. At times, this anxiety can become so severe that it leads to insomnia and physical and mental ailments like migraines, stomachaches, or depression.


Not only can burnout leave you feeling emotionally drained, but it can also cause physical symptoms such as exhaustion. Ironically, when you have high emotional exhaustion, you might struggle to fall or stay asleep at night, leaving you even more drained during your days.

“Emotional exhaustion is often a sign that a person isn’t able to have a healthy balance between work and life. This imbalance leads to feeling anxious, resentful, stressed, or having a lack of motivation to try to perform at a normal level. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of emotional exhaustion. Some may even call it burnout.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Lack of motivation

The stressors associated with high emotional exhaustion can leave you feeling pessimistic or even trapped. When you start to feel hopeless about your situation, it can be incredibly challenging to motivate yourself to make positive changes. If you notice yourself experiencing this burnout symptom, it’s important to give yourself a break.

Irrational anger

People who are emotionally drained often feel angrier and more irritable than usual. You may start to experience mood swings or find yourself snapping at others. Even minor inconveniences can cause severe frustration. This behavior can damage relationships and lead to social withdrawal.

Lower workplace commitment

The physical and mental impact of emotional burnout can make it difficult to function in the workplace. Workplace stress often leads to missed deadlines and an increase in workplace absences. 

When you’re emotionally exhausted, you might feel disconnected from what’s around you, leading to a lack of interest in work.

Performing work duties more slowly

Burnout can have a significant impact on cognitive functioning, but until recently, there hasn’t been a lot of research on its exact effects. However, a systematic review of 15 articles published over a decade shows that burnout is linked to multiple cognitive deficits, including memory, executive functioning, and attention. 

It makes sense then that emotional exhaustion and job burnout can make it difficult to complete tasks at work. It can have an adverse effect on the areas of cognitive functioning that all influence job performance. Physical exhaustion can also interfere with your ability to complete tasks promptly. 

Causes of Emotional Exhaustion

There are many ways to cope with stress, but people who develop emotional exhaustion can be under so much duress that it eventually becomes unmanageable. 

High concentrations of stress hormones have been found to interfere with bodily functions, eventually leading to health issues. Understanding the causes of emotional burnout can help you identify problem areas in your life if you need to make changes. 

Some of the most common causes include:

High-pressure jobs

Some job fields require long hours, involve emotional work, and have serious consequences for mistakes. Healthcare, social work, and the legal fields are all associated with high levels of workplace stress. 

While these jobs can be rewarding, they can also be emotionally draining, especially if you don’t have solid ways to cope with your stress.  

Lack of work-life balance

When you have a demanding job or your employer doesn’t respect your work boundaries, you might struggle to fulfill your personal and professional responsibilities. 

A poor work-life balance can lead to family conflicts and work-related fatigue, which are major sources of job stress. It can also interfere with your ability to relax outside your job, so you never really give yourself the chance to recover.

Poor self care

Many people who develop emotional exhaustion neglect their own needs. When you fail to take care of yourself, it can make it harder to deal with stressors and manage issues that arise.

A lack of self-care can also make it harder for you to notice the early signs of burnout, making it more difficult to course-correct once you do realize that you need to make changes in your life. 

Treatment and Recovery

If after reading this far, you’ve recognized signs of emotional exhaustion in your own life, it’s important to acknowledge and address the feelings you’re having so you can start to recover. 

Chronic stress that results in you becoming emotionally drained can be damaging to your health and psyche and interfere with personal and professional relationships. This is why seeking treatment is so essential. Rest assured, it is possible to recover from emotional burnout and lead a healthier and happier life. Here’s how:

Reduce stress

The most effective way to treat any type of burnout symptom— emotional or physical — is to reduce the amount of strain and stress in your life. 

Although it’s not always possible to eliminate every major stressor, you can still bring your stress levels down by: 

  • Setting boundaries
  • Learning to say no
  • Practicing self care
  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Doing breathing exercises 

All these easy-to-use, effective techniques are great ways to help you to manage your stress levels when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Lifestyle choices

If you want to know how to avoid burnout, healthy lifestyle changes can improve your body’s ability to cope with stress. A balanced, nourishing diet can help keep your energy levels high and prevent digestive issues. 

Sleep is essential to your physical and mental health as well, and creating a sleep routine can help you get the rest you need. You may also want to consider avoiding caffeine and alcohol or reducing your intake.

Good work-life balance

While it can be difficult to pull away from work, research shows that a better work-life balance can actually make you more productive. 

Give yourself breaks throughout your workday to lower your occupational stress, even if you just take a minute to stretch. Don’t be afraid to say no or to ask for help when you have too much on your plate. 

“Having a healthy work-life balance and engaging in self-care routines can help in greatly reducing emotional exhaustion and having more mental health stability. Speaking with a mental health professional about rebalancing and prioritizing goals can help in reducing and managing this exhaustion.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

See a therapist or doctor

Making positive changes in your life can be difficult, especially if you’re feeling tired and unmotivated. If you don’t feel like you can cope on your own, reach out to a doctor or a healthcare professional. A therapist can give you tools that will help you manage your stress more effectively so you can recover from your emotional burnout and live a full, rewarding, peaceful life. 

When emotional exhaustion isn’t treated, it can lead to more serious physical and mental health problems. Thankfully, this condition is highly treatable. With the help of a healthcare professional, you can lower your stress levels and take control of your life. Look into online therapy or in-person therapy with Talkspace today to work on overcoming emotional exhaustion. 


1. Bouter Y, Brzózka M, Rygula R et al. Chronic Psychosocial Stress Causes Increased Anxiety-Like Behavior and Alters Endocannabinoid Levels in the Brain of C57Bl/6J Mice. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2020;5(1):51-61. doi:10.1089/can.2019.0041. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7173677/. Accessed August 21, 2022.

2. Deligkaris P, Panagopoulou E, Montgomery A, Masoura E. burnout and cognitive functioning: A systematic review. Work & Stress. 2014;28(2):107-123. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02678373.2014.909545. Accessed August 21, 2022.

3. Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057-1072. Published 2017 Jul 21. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/. Accessed August 21, 2022.

3. Wong K, Chan A, Ngan S. The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on Occupational Health: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from 1998 to 2018. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(12):2102. doi:10.3390/ijerph16122102. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6617405/. Accessed August 21, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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