Last minute unexpected events, daily tasks and obligations, tensions, frustrations, sadness, anger and the feeling of helplessness … We are a kaleidoscope of emotions. However, drop by drop the “vase of emotions” is filling up. When we don’t make sure to empty it, these negative affective states can overwhelm us. In fact, when we feel about to explode or are so tense that everything irritates us, it is likely due to an emotional exhaustion.
Encapsulated emotions, unsatisfied lives
When we feel exhausted and mentally saturated we need to stop, make a break along the way to recover our balance. However, we don’t always give ourselves that opportunity. On many occasions we ignore the signs of fatigue and emotional saturation. We push ourselves beyond the limits. Always a little more. Until we reached the brink of collapse, about to hit bottom emotionally.
In fact, emotional exhaustion occurs when we do not give ourselves the possibility to express our worries, tensions and negative affective states. If we keep all that anguish, frustration, anger or sadness inside us, those emotions will continue to grow, feeding on each other.
The repressed emotions do not disappear, they hide in our unconscious and from there they continue to exert their influence, determining our behavior and decisions. As a result of that inner tension, our nerves are on the surface and we become hyper-reactive. The slightest setback bothers us. The slightest problem puts us in a bad mood. We begin to feel fed up with everything and everyone because the emotional burden we carry is too heavy.
This emotional exhaustion not only worsens our moods and makes us more irritable, but it can also lead to a true mental breakdown. When emotions take over we find it difficult to think clearly. That emotional chaos is transferred to the cognitive sphere. Therefore, we can feel mentally blocked, it is difficult for us to pay attention and concentrate, remember things and solve problems.
In addition, the emotional exhaustion also ends up overloading our body. Muscles, joints, and vital organs take the brunt as they are constantly bombarded with hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. That is why it is not unusual for repressed emotions to end up manifesting in the body through different ailments and diseases.
Recognize, accept and express emotions
We live in a society that is deeply repressive of the natural and instinctive. For decades emotions have been considered an unwanted travel companion that we must subdue with reason. It has been conveyed the idea that emotions are an impediment and disorient our “inner compass”, when in fact is true the opposite.
Emotions are not our enemies, they are deep signals of our being telling us that we like or dislike something, it does us good or, on the contrary, can harm us. Emotions are the connection point of our deepest “self” with the environment. Therefore, to deny them is to deny ourselves. Suppressing them is suppressing ourselves.
“What you deny submits you. Everything that happens to us, properly understood, leads us to ourselves,” wrote Carl G. Jung. So instead of running away from or repressing emotions, we need to re-tune in to them. We need to learn to recognize their signals and realize the message they want to convey to us.
To do this, we must give voice to our emotions when they ask for it. If we do not allow them to express themselves, they will end up accumulating and generating unnecessary psychological tension. Instead, we need to integrate them into our life and give them back the place they deserve.
To do this, it can help us to make a list of the issues we are dealing with at the moment and write the emotions and feelings that we experience towards each of our concerns or obligations. This will help us to understand our reality from a different perspective. It will allow us to get away from the rational narrative that we weave together – often resorting to defense mechanisms such as rationalization – to build a richer and more complex vision that comes from our deepest “self”.
Do not get obsessed, the key to avoid emotional exhaustion
At first glance it may seem like a contradiction in terms. But is not. We need to know when it is time to reconnect with our emotions and when we are obsessing over it. In fact, emotional exhaustion is closely related to rumination.
For example, it has been appreciated that the way we respond to the first depressive symptoms has a decisive influence on their duration and intensity. Specifically, people who get caught up in their rumination, focusing their attention on their symptoms or possible causes and consequences, they will suffer the effects of depression longer than those who choose to be distracted.
Research has shown that people with a ruminative response style are more likely to intensify their depressed mood, increasing the risk of progressing to clinical depression. Also, rumination increases the tendency to make negative attributions, fuels pessimism and affects our ability to solve problems.
That does not mean that we should forget about emotions, allowing them to accumulate, but rather that we should not get caught in their loop. Emotional management foresees a first moment of attention that must be followed by a second moment in which we let those emotions go. To remain ruminating indefinitely about what we feel can end up aggravating that pain, anger or sadness. It’s like staying crying over spilled milk forever, feeling sorry for ourselves.
Therefore, we must make sure that once we have gotten the message that certain emotions want to convey to us, we let them go. That letting go is essential to reset the mind and regain balance. Only in this way will we avoid the emotional exhaustion that makes us feel bad.
We can also apply other ways of “emotional decompression”. Laughing, for example, is a great way to release negative emotions, as well as artistic activities in which we channel our emotions. These activities are little breaths of fresh air that lighten our emotional backpack to unload its weight and make life much more pleasant.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S. et. Al. (2008) Rethinking Rumination. Perspect Psychol Sci; 3(5):400-24.