“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.” ~John De Paola
You’re on the verge of burnout.
You’re unmotivated to perform even the simplest of tasks. You’re physically and emotionally isolated. Slight annoyances cause you to snap.
You may be blaming your work, other people, or circumstances. But if you dig a little deeper, you may be surprised to learn that your own choices have led to emotional exhaustion. This is good news because it means that you can alleviate your own pain without the permission or blessing of another person.
In my junior year of college, I experienced a bout of intense mental and emotional exhaustion. I was pursuing two demanding majors and the heavy workload had finally caught up with me.
Desperate to find a way to motivate myself to finish college, I bought Tony Robbins’ Personal Power motivational program after watching his infomercial on late night television.
As I delved into the lessons, I fully expected Tony Robbins to motivate me back to good emotional health. Instead, I learned that I needed to take full responsibility for my emotional state. I learned that I had all the tools I needed to nurse myself back to emotional and spiritual health.
When I was emotionally exhausted, I realized that my own body was trying to communicate its needs to me. I just needed to listen.
If you’re on the brink of burnout, here are some things your body may be trying to tell you:
1. You need to trust your intuition.
I started college as a music major. Though I’d always had a passion for music, I decided to take on computer science as well in order to be practical.
I still remember the day I made that decision. It was the second day of classes and panic had set in. I kept having the thought “I’ll never be able to support myself as a musician.” The stereotype of the struggling artist was burned into my brain.
As I rushed to my academic advisor’s office that morning, I told myself I was making a rational choice. I did well at math and science in high school and it only made sense to build on these skills in order to secure a good paying job.
Intuitively, I knew I was wrong. I already knew deep down that I would not enjoy studying computer science. I knew that I could trust my musical gifts to create income. But I decided to ignore my intuition and went with the rational choice instead. My emotional exhaustion was the price I paid for choosing this path.
While I completed both degrees in the end, it is my music degree that provides my income and enjoyment.
Are you currently pursuing something you know isn’t right for you? Are you exhausted by the emotional conflict created in choosing what’s practical versus what you love? Do you lack motivation because your life is devoid of joy, fulfillment, or meaning? Your exhaustion may be an invitation to trust your own intuition.
2. It’s okay to ask for help.
As an international student studying in the U.S., I often felt alone. My family and support systems were far away. I underestimated how vulnerable I would feel being in a different culture. My initial reaction to this vulnerability was to fool myself into thinking I could go it alone.
In the Personal Power program, I learned that we need to feel connected to others in order to feel alive. By denying my vulnerability and my need for connection, I suffered mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Once I’d suffered enough, I decided to embrace my vulnerability and reach out to others. It made all the difference.
Emotional exhaustion can leave one feeling intensely vulnerable. It can be hard to ask for help for fear of being viewed as a failure or as someone who is unable to manage their own lives. But in your exhaustion is the presence of a deep truth: It’s okay to ask for help because you were never meant to go it alone.
3. Be patient.
Collectively, we’ve lost our capacity for patience. Our deepest needs are constantly being eclipsed by our immediate wants. And all the while we struggle to tell the difference.
During my college years, I was very ambitious academically. There’s nothing wrong with ambition. But when unbalanced, ambition can give way to disillusionment and emotional burnout.
My desire for success left me feeling impatient. I took full course loads every semester. I rarely made time for leisure, play, and rest. I’d given up my need for balance in favor of assured academic success.
But my emotional exhaustion was a wake up call that this strategy was not working. It was a sign that I needed to slow down, reorder my priorities, and think about success more holistically.
Are you currently on the fast track to emotional exhaustion? It may be time to slow down.
In my quest to be in full control of my future and ensure my happiness, I nearly burned out in college.
My emotional exhaustion was an invitation to face the reality that I don’t control everything.
In his book The Surrender Experiment, Michael Singer poses this question:
“Am I better off making up an alternative reality in my mind and then fighting with reality to make it be my way, or am I better off letting go of what I want and serving the same forces of reality that managed to create the entire perfection of the universe around me?”
After years of fighting, I decided to trust in forces larger than myself. I still worked and studied hard, but I also gradually let go the expectations and pressures I’d created for myself. I created space for leisure, rest, and personal development.
Sometimes the only thing you can do when you’re emotionally exhausted is to surrender. Befriend it and allow the process to be part of your healing.
Are You Listening?
Next time you’re feeling emotionally exhausted, treat it as an opportunity to listen to yourself.
You don’t need to tough it out, double down, or assign blame.
Just take some time out to listen, reflect, and respond.
You won’t regret it.