The effects of stress are far reaching and universal, affecting people of all ages around the world.
In fact, stress is regarded as a leading contributing factor in the development of chronic diseases (1).
We can't get rid of stress however it's how we manage it and support ourselves when we do experience stress that makes all the difference.
The problem isn't that we experience stress, our bodies are actually built to handle stress quite brilliantly however it isn't meant to be experienced chronically and without recovery periods. So often nowadays we are living in a perpetual state of stress without giving ourselves adequate time and space for recovery, therefore our system is continually activated in fight or flight.
As a result, this accumulation of stress builds up over time in the body and can lead to a state of both physical and emotional exhaustion, and even burnout.
Every person has a different stress threshold, or the amount of stress they can handle until it is unmanageable by the body. This means that it's important to regularly check in with yourself to assess your stress levels and manage them appropriately. In this day and age being busy or stressed has almost become a badge of honour and symptoms of chronic stress are often overlooked or disregarded. It's essential that you take your stress seriously and act preventatively in order to avoid emotional and physical exhaustion if possible and the detrimental impacts that stress can have on the body, and mind, over time.
Signs of physical and emotional exhaustion:
Signs and symptoms of physical and emotional exhaustion can vary depending on the person and can range from mild to more severe. The effects of chronic stress can show up mentally, emotionally, and physically:
- Low motivation
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in weight
- Muscle aches and tension
- Increased absence from work
- Social isolation
- Issues sleeping
Causes of emotional and physical exhaustion:
Though every individual is different, emotional and physical exhaustion is most often a result of accumulated stress on the system over time until it reaches a breaking point.
Common triggers and contributing causes of physical and emotional exhaustion may include:
- high pressure job
- working at a job that you hate
- financial stress
- being a caregiver
- poor nutrition
- lack of social support
- poor sleep
- a significant life change such as a death, birth, or move
- raising kids
- managing multiple responsibilities at once such as work, school, and family
6 ways to decrease physical and emotional exhaustion:
It's not realistic to completely eliminate stress, though we can reduce it, however we can approach stress differently. What often overwhelms us is the lack of resources and support to answer to the demands of our lives but also our perception of what is actually going on. This is why it's important to tackle stress from a holistic approach in order to improve your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
Identify what is causing you stress
Awareness is always the first step to changing anything. There can be a multitude of factors contributing to your stress, as mentioned above, that you might not even be aware of, yet.
You may realize that you may not be supporting your physical body properly, are lacking self-care, creating worst case scenarios in your mind, or that you are taking on too much without the right support.
Identifying what may be causing you the most stress then allows you to take the necessary action to alleviate these stressors.
Often times we take on too much from the illusion that we have to do all of these things when really they aren't all necessary or urgent.
This simple practice can also be stress relieving in itself because it allows you to externalize your thoughts rather than allowing what may be bothering you to take up space and energy in your brain.
Ask for support
Building on our first tip, if you come to realize that you are taking on more than necessary, it might be time to ask for support.
This may look like delegating tasks to family members, hiring a nanny or cleaner, but this also may look like establishing a social support system such as a circle of friends, a therapist, or a medical practitioner.
Asking for support is an essential part of managing stress and taking care of your emotional and physical health. The truth is that we were never meant to navigate all of life's ups and downs by ourselves yet most people lack support more than ever at a time when they need it the most.
Practice saying no
Setting boundaries allows us to protect our energy, and that involves saying no. Though this can feel uncomfortable at first it will provide tremendous relief in the long run by creating more room, space, and balance in your life. When we don't set the necessary boundaries or avoid saying no, this often ends in resentment and overwhelm which doesn't help anyone!
Saying no and setting boundaries not only honours and respects our own time and energy but it is also a great reminder for others to do the same.
This might look like putting your phone aside at a certain hour at night, turning off your work notifications when you get home, or not accepting every single invitation you receive.
Meet your basic needs
If you change only one aspect of your life you may notice subtle shifts however it is rarely enough. This is because it is most often a multitude of factors that have contributed to the physical and emotional exhaustion and you will likely need to explore additional needs:
The body needs rest to recover yet sleep is often neglected with the 21st century busy lifestyle. Quality sleep not only promotes good physical health, but also mental and emotional wellbeing. If we continually bypass our need for sleep, the body will eventually let us know.
Create a bedtime routine that will help you to more easily fall asleep and aim for 7-9 hours of sleep nightly.
Healthy balanced meals as well as sufficient water intake not only provide much needed fuel for the body but also the brain, meaning our food and drink choices affect us physically and mentally.
The nutrition we receive provides the building blocks for healing and becomes more in demand during times of stress when the body needs more support.
The body needs rest but it also needs movement!
Over exercising can become a stressor in itself however the right type and amount of movement can act as a stress reliever. Now don't get too caught up in the "perfect" exercise routine, the best way to gauge whether yours is supportive for you or not is to assess how it makes you feel. Stay away from any sort of workout that leaves you feel depleted and slow down if you need to.
Daily gentle movement like yoga, walking, or even gardening can help to bring down cortisol levels, boost mood, and lead to greater mental and physical wellbeing.
Developing some sort of community in the form of friends and family who are a safe space is essential for emotional wellbeing.
As humans one of our core needs is community, we aren't meant to be lone wolves, and our physical and emotional health is greatly impacted by the relationships we have in our lives or the lack thereof.
We come from nature yet we are more disconnected now than ever before, often sitting inside all day surrounded by artificial lighting and electronics.
Taking time to be in nature is immensely beneficial for boosting physical, mental, and emotional health. Daylight exposure in the outdoors provides many benefits for mental health and mood and contact with nature has been shown to reduce psychological stress (2).
We've spoken of adaptogens before, a group of herbs that support a more balanced response to stress and help the body become more resilient in the face of stressors.
During times of inevitable chronic stress, adaptogens can be one of your best allies to support you in adapting to life situations when they arise.
These herbs are particularly nourishing to the nervous system and help to reduce the negative effects of stress on the mind and body.
Mindfulness is all about bringing your awareness back to the present moment. This can feel like a foreign concept when we're so often thinking back to the past or forward to the future at any given moment completely bypassing what is happening now. This way of thinking can create more stress that is unnecessary.
Mindfulness can be practiced throughout your day with even the most simple daily activities like sipping your cup of coffee, eating a meal, petting a dog, or walking outside.
It also means observing yourself and being present with the feelings and emotions that might be emerging without judging them or trying to change them.
Some popular mindfulness practices that can help you to get more centered and present include yoga, meditation, or breathwork.