top of page

What Does Emotional Exhaustion Look Like? Are You Emotionally Exhausted?

emotional when tired

Ever get teary-eyed after a lack of sleep or cranky around bedtime? You're not the only one who becomes emotional when tired.

It's not just for kids; there's no shame in it. There is science behind why we get emotional when we're tired.

The research paper The effects of sleep deprivation on emotional empathy examines how sleep deprivation affects emotional empathy.

Researchers found that lack of sleep leads to a decrease in the ability to recognize and respond to emotional cues in others, which can contribute to emotional dysregulation.

Causes Emotional Exhaustion | What does Emotional Exhaustion Look Like?

What does emotional exhaustion look like? It comes in many forms. It is sometimes difficult to know which is a cause or a symptom. Emotional changes when we're tired can be attributed to several factors:

  • Stress Hormones

  • Decreased Cognitive Function

  • Reduced Resilience

  • Sleep Deprivation

  • Brain Activity

  • Physical Discomfort

  • Vulnerability

  • Emotional Processing

Emotional Exhaustion and Its Impact

Emotional exhaustion is a state where you feel mentally exhausted. This is due to prolonged stress or emotionally demanding situations. Emotional exhaustion may lead to feelings of hopelessness.

It can decrease your ability to perform daily tasks effectively. It's essential to recognize the signs of this kind of exhaustion so you can seek appropriate mental health services.

Physically and Emotionally Demanding Situations

It is not good for you to be in physically and emotionally demanding situations. If you are for prolonged periods it can lead to emotional exhaustion. High-stress environments, at work or home, can make you feel mentally exhausted. It's important to take breaks and find ways to relax to prevent emotional or physical burnout.

sleep deprivation can lead to emotional distress

Everyday Causes of Emotional Exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion can manifest in many ways. Another cause is insomnia or poor sleep habits. Physical symptoms from a lack of sleep can impact your life on many levels.

If you’re not getting enough rest, your body and mind don't have the chance to recover. This makes you more prone to emotional fatigue and mental exhaustion.

Additionally, high demands at work, family or school can contribute to a state of emotional and physical exhaustion. Interpersonal relationships can leave us emotionally drained. When we feel emotionally vulnerable it can have a domino effect in other areas of our lives. 

Overcome emotional stress by choosing to spend your energy on areas of joy. Fuel positive relationships and avoid people who make it difficult for you to maintain your physical and emotional well-being. Recovery from emotional exhaustion is slow by there are strategies that you can implement. 

Likely to Experience Emotional Exhaustion

You are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion if you are often exposed to high-stress situations. Especially if this happens without adequate rest. This exhaustion isn’t only about feeling tired; it affects your well-being. Take steps to manage stress. Seeking support from a mental health professional to reduce the effects of emotional exhaustion.

Recognizing the Signs of Emotional Exhaustion

It's crucial to recognise the signs of emotional exhaustion to address it early. You might start to feel overwhelmed by daily tasks, experience mood swings, or have trouble focusing. If you often feel like you're struggling to keep up, it may be time to check your stress levels.

If you do you may be able to prevent further mental and physical health issues.

Some signs you’re mentally and emotionally exhausted include; chronic fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Symptoms may also involve emotional or physical manifestations like headaches and muscle pain. People with emotional exhaustion often feel detached and unmotivated.

Emotional Exhaustion Occurs Gradually

Emotional exhaustion occurs gradually. It often creeps up on you as you deal with continuous stress. It's important to watch your performance symptoms, such as reduced productivity.

Increased irritability is another thing to look out for. It may help you to catch emotional exhaustion early. Proactively address these issues to prevent them from escalating. This way you may avoid more severe mental and emotional exhaustion.

Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Exhaustion 

Stress Hormones

When you're tired, your body can produce more stress hormones like cortisol. Heightened cortisol levels can contribute to irritability, anxiety, and emotional reactivity. When stressed, you are not yourself. To help reduce tiredness, you can evaluate your self-care strategies, including prioritising sleep.

Fatigue and Decreased Cognitive Function

Fatigue can impair cognitive functions. It can reduce decision-making and emotional regulation. Decreased cognitive function can make managing and controlling your emotions more challenging. When you're tired, it is best to put off any decisions until you have rested.

Reduced Resilience

Tiredness can decrease your emotional resilience. Low resilience makes you more susceptible to negative emotions. Negative emotions can lead to adverse reactions in response to stressors or triggers. Low resilience makes you more likely to take things personally or ruminate on negative thoughts.

Sleep Deprivation

Chronic sleep deprivation can significantly impact mood and emotional well-being. Lack of sleep can lead to irritability, mood swings, and heightened emotional sensitivity.

If not getting enough quality sleep has become a regular occurrence, it is time to evaluate your lifestyle habits. Start to question your sleep hygiene. Are you going to bed at a reasonable time and winding down properly without screens? Have you limited your caffeine intake to the morning or stopped it altogether?

If there is no issue with sleep hygiene. Try to practice mindfulness strategies and investigate other potential issues. See your doctor if you think a medical condition causes your sleep deprivation.

Brain Activity

Fatigue can alter the function of the prefrontal cortex. The cortex is the brain region responsible for executive functions like emotional regulation.

Fatigue can result in reduced impulse control and emotional outbursts. When you feel fatigued, the tears come flooding, or you pick a fight for minor reasons.

Physical Discomfort

Being tired often comes with physical discomfort. Discomfort could be muscle tension, headaches, and a general feeling of unease. Waking up with any of these symptoms can start your day off on the wrong foot, as these physical sensations can contribute to emotional distress.


When you're tired, you may be less resilient to external stressors. It is easier for everyday challenges to provoke emotional reactions. Avoid putting yourself in stressful situations when possible. Self-awareness can help you acknowledge how you are feeling and allow you to moderate your emotions.

Emotional Processing

Fatigue can affect your ability to process emotions effectively. You may find it harder to express and understand your own emotions and the emotions of others. Avoid emotional exhaustion and give yourself time to recharge.

Experiencing Emotional Exhaustion

Experiencing emotional exhaustion can make everyday tasks feel overwhelming. You might start to feel disconnected from your surroundings. You may be less interested in activities you once enjoyed.

This state can also lead to emotional burnout, impacting your relationships and productivity. It's essential to acknowledge these feelings and seek help when needed.

Warning Signs of Emotional Exhaustion

Recognizing the warning signs of emotional exhaustion early. Early intervention can help prevent a mental breakdown. If you find yourself frequently feeling tired, easily agitated, or detached from loved ones, these might be signs you’re mentally and emotionally exhausted. Addressing these signs early can prevent further deterioration of your mental health.

Warning Signs of Burnout

Burnout is a severe form of emotional exhaustion. It occurs after prolonged stress and overwork. Warning signs include chronic fatigue, cynicism, and a sense of ineffectiveness. If you often feel like you're unable to cope, it might be a sign that you're nearing burnout.

Addressing these signs of mental and emotional exhaustion early can help. It allows you to take steps to recover and prevent further decline in your mental health.

Coping with Emotional Exhaustion

Finding ways to cope with emotional exhaustion is vital. There are ways to maintain your well-being. Engaging in activities that help you relax and unwind can help you feel better. Seeking support from a care provider or a mental health professional can provide strategies. Emotional exhaustion may be managed to prevent burnout. Remember, taking time for self-care is not selfish; it's necessary.

Treat Emotional Exhaustion

To effectively treat emotional exhaustion, consider making some lifestyle changes. Incorporating regular physical activity and practising mindfulness can help manage stress levels.

Engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation can also improve your well-being. Consulting a provider or a mental health professional. They can provide additional support and strategies to cope with stress.

Recover From Emotional Exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion can become a downward spiral. If it is not caught it may lead to burnout. Before this happens try:

  • Self-care

  • Establish routines to reduce chaos

  • Introduce sleep hygiene 

  • Exercise

  • Eat Healthy 

  • Practise mindfulness and meditation 

  • Speak to a friend or family member

  • Speak to a medical professional

Preventing Emotional Exhaustion

To prevent emotional exhaustion, it's important to manage stress. Set boundaries, take regular breaks, and engage in activities that bring you joy. These strategies can help maintain your physical and mental health.

Practising mindfulness and relaxation techniques can also reduce stress levels. By addressing the signs of emotional exhaustion, you can take proactive steps to protect your well-being.

Emotional Exhaustion and Mental Health

Emotional exhaustion can impact your mental health. It can lead to emotional instability and decreased motivation. Emotional exhaustion tends to make you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Addressing these issues early by seeking help from a mental health provider. It may prevent more severe health problems.


It's essential to prioritise sleep and practice self-care to manage stress to lessen the impact of emotional tiredness. Adequate sleep, mindfulness techniques, and stress-reduction strategies can help improve emotional well-being. Self-care can enhance emotional regulation and reduce emotional disturbances when tired. Remember to be kind to yourself.

For more on this topic, read Emotional Exhaustion: Causes and Coping.


bottom of page