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Avoiding Emotional Exhaustion: Filling Our Emotional Tank

Avoiding Emotional Exhaustion: Filling Our Emotional TankEmotional exhaustion occurs when you have exceeded your capacity for emotional stress. Many of us feel it, even when we’re not aware that we’ve exhausted our emotional reserves.

Emotional exhaustion is usually manifested both by physical symptoms and a sense of being psychologically and emotionally drained.

Signs of emotional exhaustion include, but are not limited to:

  • low tolerance to stress or stressful situations;
  • inattentiveness;
  • lack of motivation; and
  • physical fatigue.

Let’s face it, when we’re emotionally drained we have little tolerance for anything. So what can be done about it?

It’s often hard to be attentive because we are too tired to care. We lack motivation because we are too tired to do anything. Last, but not least we become physically tired because we have worn ourselves out mentally.

It is important to notice these signs of emotional exhaustion to avoid further interpersonal, work, school, or other problems. It is also important to notice these signs to prevent more physical or emotional dangers.

Emotional exhaustion can be avoided if we notice the signs in the early stages. We may be able to avoid further damage if we are able to use positive coping skills to deal with stress. There are several positive coping skills which can include:

  • relaxation
  • meditation
  • mindfulness
  • staying in the moment
  • taking things one step at a time, and
  • asking for help.

We may also avoid this if we learn to take breaks when needed instead of pushing our limits. It may also be helpful to learn how to say no, and to be OK with saying no. By saying no, we decrease the chances of taking on too much and becoming overwhelmed.

We may need to set appropriate boundaries with those who have a tendency to be emotionally draining. When we are emotionally drained it becomes extremely difficult to deal with someone who is emotionally needy. If we give what we have left emotionally to others when we have very little, what are we left with?

Thankfully, there are ways to recover from emotional exhaustion. One way to recover is to remove yourself from the stressor or the stressful event. Once you identify a person or situation as stressful, eliminate it. If you are unable to eliminate the stressor, take time to develop healthier ways to cope. Find moments throughout your day to take a walk, browse the Web, engage in deep breathing, mindfulness activities, or grounding. Choose or invent whatever will keep you sane. You may also find solace in physical activities such as exercise or yoga. Physical activities often release our happy hormones, making it easier to recuperate from an emotional exhausting time.

I often teach what I call the 4R principle — relax, rest, reflect, and release. I feel we should first relax, putting our mind and body at ease and then rest by sleeping and allowing our body to recharge. The amount of time spent on relaxing and resting depend upon the degree of emotional exhaustion. Once we have accomplished the first two, we can move on to reflecting. This involves looking back at the events that led up to the exhaustion and what we can do differently in the future to avoid the same outcome. After reflecting, we are then able to release what has taken place, no longer focusing on the past, feeling recharged, and ready to move toward the future.

By being aware of our mind and body, we can detect the signs of emotional exhaustion early and work on ways to avoid a total breakdown. If we pass the point of no return and we hit our stress peak, we have the opportunity to recover and start again. We can empty our emotional tanks of negativity and begin filling them with the things that matter most — starting with self-care.

Avoiding Emotional Exhaustion: Filling Our Emotional Tank

Donna M. White, LPCI, CACP

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APA Reference
White, D. (2018). Avoiding Emotional Exhaustion: Filling Our Emotional Tank. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 5 Jun 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.