Emotional Fatigue: Overcoming a Common Malady in Western Culture
Emotional Fatigue: Overcoming a Common Malady in Western Culture
How long has it been since you laughed deep from within the well of your soul, from your belly? When was the last time you actually spent an entire evening looking into the eyes of the one you love without distraction of any kind? How many times have you made a promise to yourself or someone you love that you’ll afford them a few hours of undivided time, only to find yourself whisked away by unanticipated obligations that rob you?
If you can relate, you’re not alone. I think most people today probably have very similar answers to those questions which reflect lives that are too busy, too stressed, and quite frankly… maybe even unhappy if we’re honest. Because true and lasting joy is found only in relationships – not in things.
We all know about physical fatigue. But what about emotional fatigue? People in every walk of life suffer from emotional fatigue. Part of taking care of the temple of God includes your soul, as well as your body. And if you haven’t already discovered, they operate together. One directly affects the other.
If you’ve ever struggled with having the appropriate feelings, or felt like you suddenly don’t know yourself anymore, and for some reason can’t get in touch, I’d like to introduce to you the possibility of emotional fatigue. In my career as an RN this is also known as ‘Compassion Fatigue’, which we are often warned about. This can occur in any individual, even in those who are emotionally stable and healthy, and is widely experienced among those in the health care industry. However, it’s not exclusive to those in my field of work. It can occur in anyone who is emotionally taxed or overworked. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, you may want to consider the possibility that you are emotionally fatigued, and explore ways to overcome it. The symptoms of emotional fatigue can be among the following:
• A general emotional dullness or numbness
• Coldness or indifference toward others
• Being irritable, touchy
• Unrelieved feelings of being overwhelmed or trapped
• Hypersensitivity to otherwise benign situations
• Experiencing emotions such as anger, frustration and guilt
• The inability to care any longer although you want to
• The lack of emotional energy to fully enjoy or engage with the things and people you love most
• Feeling a pressure that is going to make you ‘snap’
This is a very, very real problem for many individuals, especially those in a career with high demands, and for those living an isolated home life with extreme stress. If it begins in your professional life, it often overflows into your home life, and vice-versa. There simply isn’t enough of you to go around. You’re emotionally drained. The reality is you are only one person, and when you are giving out more than what is being invested in you, emotional fatigue sets in. If this goes unrelieved, emotional breakdowns can occur. Even the most compassionate people experience this fatigue, and if that is you, I’d like to offer you some comfort and practical help before things possibly get worse.
Some examples of those who experience emotional fatigue can be the following:
• Pastors, ministers & clergymen
• New mothers
• Stay at home or single moms
• People in the health care/medical industry
• Those with ‘superhuman’ careers where people and relationships are a means rather than an end
• Adults who are taking care of children as well as their parents
• Those experiencing grief and loss
• Those experiencing negative life-transitions or traumatic events
Many people who suffer do so silently, being plagued by guilt they can’t overcome. This only adds to the emotional stress. When we know we should care, but we can’t, guilt is the most common response. That can easily oppress, turning into a sense of anger, frustration, failure, and even resentment.
The above list is not exhaustive, but it’s a sample of some of the most common. There can be many reasons for emotional fatigue. And the reality is there are those who actually fit more than one of the above categories. The stress for these individuals is astronomically high, leaving them emotionally fragile. If you can relate to any of the above and you feel like flagging your arm and yelling, “That’s me!!!!” then you are not alone. In fact, you are in very good company. I want you to know that you are normal. In the Western culture, most people suffer a level of emotional fatigue without knowing it. They don’t realize the true problem, and so their issue goes ‘undiagnosed’. They can’t label it or correctly place it. All they know is the symptoms they’re experiencing. If this describes you, please take comfort in knowing that God wants to bring you strength, comfort, wise counsel, and rest. He is for you; not against you, and He understands your limitations, your emotions, and your human frailties. Please listen to His invitation:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light, (Matthew 11:28-30, KJV).
We were never created to be God. We are not perfect people. We can’t do it all. Yet we live in a world demanding a god-like perfection with little or no mercy for human frailty. Sometimes you can’t escape the situation you’re in, and the demands are absolute with no room for error. Despite your best efforts, you fall beneath. The expectations upon you are, in fact, superhuman or divine, and therefore, unrealistic. There simply is not enough of you to go around. There is no clone, and there isn’t always an easy way out. As a result, you feel trapped in this way of life or situation – whatever it may be. This lifestyle, regardless of its kind or origin, is destructive and unhealthy.
How To Bravely Initiate Change
In extreme circumstances, sometimes we have to initiate change. And the Lord can help you do just that. When you come to the Lord, He relieves you of all those unrealistic expectations the world puts upon you. Those superhuman expectations are not from Him. They are of this world. He is able to bring the peace that surpasses all understanding, guarding your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. He is full of compassion, and He never grows weak. God’s expectations are never outside His grace and provision. Jesus is the only superhuman who ever lived. He is divine.
If you’re experiencing emotional fatigue, it is understood that you both want and need change. Initiating change is best done in small increments because change itself is stressful, even when it’s good. Making drastic changes all at once is not always wise or healthy. Unfortunately, making the necessary changes you feel you may need aren’t always possible – at least immediately. Change comes in stages and degrees. You may feel overwhelmed by the changes that need to happen, and feel like it’s out of reach. I don’t believe that is true. Often our perspective is skewed by our own lack of emotional and spiritual energy. So instead, let’s focus on the things you can immediately change or modify that can bring you some relief right now.
If you are suffering from emotional fatigue, you’re way past physical fatigue.
If you are emotionally fatigued, you are already beyond physical fatigue – that is a given, and that is not a good sign. You need immediate relief. Some of these changes I’m going to talk about are very practical, and others may require a temporary investment. I encourage you to utilize all your resources and get creative. I’m going to provide a list for you to review that I believe can provide you some emotional and physical relief. When that relief comes, you’ll be better equipped to assess further changes and implement them wisely.
You are the temple of God in body, soul and spirit. Here are some things I’d like to suggest that can help you steward your temple with wisdom as God designed and intended. They are pretty simple, but they’re very powerful when implemented. And I believe these points will help get you through this difficult season and make necessary changes.
1. Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling. Don’t punish yourself for having human emotions. Emotions are often clear and valid indicators of what is going on in our soul. Guilt will not help you, and God does not want you wallowing in guilt. Guilt is debilitating. He would much rather you work through what you’re feeling with Him in a constructive manner that brings healing and wholeness. With that being said, disregarding your emotions is one of the most unkind things you can do to yourself. There is a reason you are feeling this way. I encourage you to work through these feelings, because they can be toxic if ignored. Respect your emotions. Emotions are often like physical pain: they provide a signal, alerting us that something is wrong. You may want to consider beginning a journal. Get it out of your system. Give it to God. Talk to Him about what you’re experiencing and allow Him to touch you in that place, breathing new life, wisdom and comfort. Give Him room. Pray it through. If you feel led to do so, consider getting some therapy as well. What comes to light may shock and surprise you.
2. Stay in the Word of God and prayer. Your time with God is a vital part of your overall health. Allow God to minister to you in that specific area you’re struggling with. Tell Him everything and use this as an opportunity to cultivate intimacy with Him. He is the safest person you could possibly go to. He cares and is able to comfort you and strengthen you in ways no one else can.
3. Listen to therapeutic music. Silence is golden, but it can also create a playground for a restless mind to wander unnecessarily. I personally love praise and worship, but soothing instrumental music is wonderful, too. Put it on in the car on the way to work or play it when you’re at home cooking, doing chores, bathing, or getting ready for bed. Nature sounds are always soothing. God knew what He was doing, so utilize the sound of rain, ocean waves, birds and the hum of crickets to your advantage.
4. Give time for yourself every single day. Even if it’s a few moments each day, you need time just for you that is uninterrupted. How you spend that time is up to you, and it should be spent doing something you love to do that nourishes your soul and body. I am a firm believer in at least one hour you can call yours every single day. This is your time that is not allocated to anything or obligated to anyone. I encourage you to be bold and learn to turn off your phone. Believe me – you’ll live (and live better).
5. Set a schedule and develop a routine, including your sleep hours. A structured day can alleviate unnecessary stress. The key is making sure it’s realistic. Dove tail tasks. If you have a long commute, utilize that drive time for prayer, worship and relaxation. Get your mind set for the day ahead. Have set days for certain tasks. The laundry and the dishwasher can work simultaneously. If you throw in a load before work, switch it when you get home. What seems overwhelming all at once can be segmented into what takes minutes.
6. Begin to solicit help. Not everyone is able to do this, but if you can, by all means consider it, at least for a time. If you can hire help to relieve you of some stress – even if it’s temporary – it could be well worth the investment, paying you back double. It may mean a babysitter, a housekeeper, some one to do light duty, fix a meal, run an errand, or mow the lawn. It’s worth considering if it means your sanity.
7. Learn to ‘Take five’. Seriously. Politely excuse yourself and discreetly make your exit. Most anything can survive five minutes. When things get heavy go in the bathroom and lock the door. Go where you are guaranteed privacy. Pray. Drink some water. Gather your thoughts again. Simmer down. Five minutes with God could mean the difference between doing or saying something you shouldn’t have. Taking five minutes can literally save you. Anyone can and should respect an individual who excuses themselves for five minutes. Most people will get the hint.
8. Begin developing healthy boundaries. You don’t owe anyone a justification for your reasons. Respect yourself enough to say, ‘No’. If you’re where you are because you’ve over-committed yourself, then come to terms with that honestly. No one runs your life or makes your schedule but you. With God’s help, you can begin to make healthy choices every day by finding out what He would have you accept and decline. Just because someone asks of you does not mean you are obligated. Nor does it mean it’s God’s will for you. Many times what we believe is obligate is actually optional. By the same standard, set your priorities and be faithful to them. Protect who and what is important in your life by granting them the priority they deserve.
9. Develop healthy rest and sleep cycles. Sleep hygiene is extremely important and yet very overlooked. Your body creates and secretes key hormones during sleep that it cannot produce at any other time, which bring cellular restoration. Therefore, creating a peaceful sleep environment that brings restoration is essential: a dark room, a quiet environment, proper bedding and sleepwear, the right temperature, air circulation, etc. All of these are factors. I personally believe that your bedroom, above all things, should cater to your sleep regimen. Restorative sleep is absolutely essential to good health. Also, if you can, schedule a nap, or time to simply recline and rest. Consider beginning a bedtime routine about an hour before sleep that winds you down such as a hot bath or reading a book. Cut the p.m. caffeine. Learn how to turn your phone off and put it away. Be kind to yourself and say good-night to the world. And if you are falling asleep when you shouldn’t be, this is a clear sign you are sleep deprived. So, listen to your body.
10. Eat well and drink plenty of water. This almost sounds insulting it’s so basic. But it’s surprisingly very needed. Most overly stressed people eat and drink quite poorly. They are often overfed with empty calories, and dehydrated by caffeinated beverages and alcohol. Fast foods, processed foods, and the indulgence of sweets, coffee, and sodas are all too common and come at a very high price creating weight gain, hypertension, and poor immunity. They are full of calories, yet devoid of nutrition. As a result you eventually suffer poor health. Begin to eat simple but healthy: raw fruits, veggies, lean meats on sandwiches, salads, etc. These are all excellent options that can be prepared quickly. Foods high in Vitamin C and protein are important. Grab and apple or orange. And when necessary, sometimes a quality meal means dining out. For quick snacks grab raw nuts and seeds. B-vitamins are vital for cellular health. Stay away from alcohol, soda, processed foods, sugars, salt, and large amounts of caffeine. If you need caffeine, consider green tea. Drinking plenty of water will bathe your vital organs, ridding you of toxins and cellular waste, and keeping you moist. Remember, there is no replacement or substitute for pure water.
11. Get outside and get some sunshine, fresh air and exercise. I’m not talking about overexposure, but you need adequate amounts of sunshine for optimal health. The best is morning and evening when the light rays are longer and more indirect. Our eyes were created for light. We thrive in sunshine. Also consider getting your vitamin D level checked. Even if you don’t have the energy to walk, get outside and bask. Sit under a tree and read a book. Take a picnic in the park. The simple sounds of nature and fresh air do wonders. Practice breathing deeply while at rest. You don’t have to jog a mile. This lowers blood pressure, perfuses the lungs, oxygenates the blood, and clears the airways of stale air. Despite your physical fatigue consider forms of exercise for a shorter duration that are relaxing and low impact such as walking, yoga, and simple stretches. Exercise stimulates the flow of lymph fluid, which is dependent upon the contraction of skeletal muscle. When lymph does not flow, toxins take up residency in the tissues creating fatigue and pain. You’ll feel better, and the benefits are lasting. Your body will thank you.
12. Surround yourself with healthy people. Have some choice friends and family whom you can turn to for support. Choose these individuals wisely. Be open enough to let trusted friends and family know what you’re going through and ask for their help. If they ask you what they can do, be ready to give them a clear answer. You may just need to talk. Let them know you need their moral/emotional support and prayer. Whatever you do, don’t become a recluse. Consider a walking buddy, weekly lunch dates, etc. Have them keep you accountable for the changes you are implementing in your life. And if you can’t see them in person, set phone dates.
13. Take some time off. I’m a firm believer in the routine get-away. These little excursions are extraordinarily nourishing to the body, soul, and spirit, and they do not need to be expensive. If you can and it’s possible, just get away. Cut loose for awhile. If you can afford it, plan to take a vacation. Even if it’s for a weekend, go somewhere. Go anywhere. Sometimes small towns are actually the best. Lose the buzz. Cut the grind. There are retreats available which are funded by donations. These are often affiliated with churches or other organizations. I encourage you to research these online. This might be an affordable option for you. Even if you can’t afford to leave town, take some time for you right at home. Create your own retreat. Make the most of any free time you have.
14. Consider a move or career change. This may be what is actually necessary for you. If this is the case, take your sweet time in making such decisions. This is perhaps the most drastic of any change to make, but if this applies to you, and you feel it’s time and it’s the right move, then I encourage you to investigate it. It can’t hurt to explore your options. It’s time to do something you love; something you’re passionate about. It’s time to live again. Are you really doing what you want to do with your life? Are you really doing what you were created to do? Are you where God wants you? If you dread getting up in the morning and going to work, I think these are valid questions to ask yourself.
15. Begin assessing your decision-making process. Last, but not least, your decision-making process needs to be assessed. Have you ever considered how you really make decisions? Some questions to ask and then prayerfully answer would be: Are my decisions emotionally driven leading to impulsivity and regret? Or do I seek God first? Do I have clear boundaries in life that govern my decisions and choices? Do I seek God before making decisions and rely upon Him to give the green light? Do I give things enough time? Do I allow others to pressure or obligate me to things I know I can’t commit to? Am I moved by the needs of others beyond my own capacity or ability? In those situations when I can’t rightly meet another individual’s needs, do I help them by giving references for someone else that would be better suited for their situation instead of assuming that responsibility myself? When we assume responsibility for something we already know we can’t deliver on, we do ourselves and the other person an injustice. It’s far better to decline respectfully and recommend someone else, than to try and help ourselves and then fall through or fall short. Do what you can, but know your boundaries. How you make decisions can lead to patterns in your life that would otherwise go undetected. Perhaps it’s time for an investigation if such patterns exist.
I encourage you to do a quick assessment regarding the list above. Sometimes we don’t realize what we’re doing to ourselves, or even recognize the kind of patterns we’ve blindly fallen into. Most of the time they are so gradual we’re not even aware of them. So, make a realistic assessment. Many of these changes are things you can do for yourself that will empower and enable you to endure the present situation until you can achieve the long-term changes you need or desire.
In conclusion, sometimes life gets the best of us. We all go through seasons when we are overtaxed mentally, emotionally, and physically. Some of us have chosen exhausting ‘superhuman’ professions, careers, and lifestyles, believing we could handle them and even succeed in them, only to find out what the harsh realities behind them really are. When we get to the top we often wonder if it was worth it. If only we had known… right? Well, we’re only human.
Don’t buy the lie that you’re stuck here.
No, you’re not.
Life has a way of rudely awakening us to what is truly important. But we only have one life to live. Don’t ever buy into the trap of “I’m stuck here”. No, you’re not. There is a whole world out there, and with God all things are possible. You may be facing impossible odds, but go ahead and ask Him for the impossible. Ask Him for miracles. You have absolutely nothing to lose, and you have the Almighty God on your side.
Whatever the case may be for you, know that it’s okay to be weak, and that you are not alone. I believe that emotional fatigue is more common than people realize. The average person is stretched far beyond their limits, and for extended periods of time that are no longer situational, but a daily lifestyle. If this is you, use this fatigue to your advantage by learning from it. It’s a signal for change. God did not create us to live this way. Remember, He is the God who commands us to rest. If God rested from all His work, how much more should we? Make the changes you can and take comfort in knowing the Lord is with you. He is the Wonderful Counselor, Helper and Comforter who will bring you divine counsel, comfort and strength. I wish you hope, health and healing in the days to come. May all His blessings richly be yours. In closing, I leave you with this final encouraging word from Him:
Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31, KJV)
Take care of yourself.
Cheers & Shalom,