9 Signs You’re Struggling with Mental Exhaustion

Does getting out of bed, even after a good night’s sleep, feel nearly impossible on certain days? Do you feel overwhelmed with all the things you need to do, but are unable to focus on any of them? Are you feeling apathetic about work, friendships, or life in general? If so, it’s possible you’re struggling with mental exhaustion or mental fatigue.

Activities that require a lot of cognitive or emotional resources are a major cause of mental exhaustion, especially if an individual does not have time to recover or take time for mental breaks. Click To Tweet

While our brains are built to handle a certain amount of stress, too much of it will take a toll. This is the case whether you’re pushing cognitive abilities too hard for too long, experiencing many stressors at once, or working under relentless pressure or deadlines.

Mental burnout can cause problems in relationships, work performance, general cognition, mood, energy levels, motivation, physical health, general well-being, and more.

Here are the signs of mental overload and how to treat it.


When your brain is overused or overtaxed, it can become mentally exhausted just like your body does if you overdo physical activity. Your brain can get overloaded from a variety of things, but mental fatigue usually happens after an individual has experienced some type of prolonged stress.

Activities that require a lot of cognitive or emotional resources are a major cause of mental exhaustion, especially if an individual does not have time to recover or take time for mental breaks.

Common drivers of mental burnout include:

  • Experiencing prolonged financial stress
  • Having a child
  • Loss of a loved one or animal
  • Having too little emotional support
  • Overworking without time to restore/relax
  • Caregiving for a loved one or special-needs individual
  • Having a demanding, pressure-cooker job
  • Job dissatisfaction or having a toxic work environment
  • Uncertainty
  • Family issues
  • Juggling multiple commitments
  • Chronic stress

When your brainpower and/or emotional resources are relentlessly stressed, it can activate the sympathetic nervous system, research shows. This can trigger the stress response and elevate stress hormones.

Research shows that chronic stress can lead to maladaptive reactions such as low mood, anxious feelings, problems with cognition, and even heart health issues.

Indeed, when you’re mentally exhausted, your stress tolerance is lowered, making it difficult to balance emotional responses. Mental burnout can additionally impact your attention span, focus, memory, and ability to process information.

You may feel both mentally exhausted and physically exhausted, even after a good night’s rest. Mental exhaustion symptoms can impact your life in a negative way. It’s important to be able to identify them in order to get treatment and feel better.


Mental exhaustion symptoms can vary from individual to individual. In addition to the core symptoms already mentioned, here are additional recognizable indicators of mental fatigue:

1. You have trouble sleeping at night.

When you’re pushing your mental capacity to the limit, you might think you’d sleep like a baby from the mental exhaustion. However, research shows work-related mental fatigue, caused by a high cognitive workload, is a high risk factor for insomnia. Additionally, experiencing persistent stressors is a major contributing factor in chronic insomnia.

2. You’re irritable, restless, and short-tempered.

Mental burnout makes it hard to have emotional restraint. You may be cranky and irritated with others, snapping easily. You may also feel restless, unable to sit still or relax.

3. You have trouble getting work or tasks done.

When you’re mentally overloaded, it’s hard to get motivated and concentrate. Paying attention is difficult. You get easily distracted. Doing a simple task can be overwhelming. When you do attempt to work or complete a task, you’re more likely to make mistakes. You may also struggle with “hazy” thinking and forgetfulness, adding to the difficulty with getting things accomplished.

4. You engage in numbing behaviors.

If you struggle with substances—alcohol, cannabis, or drugs—your ability to handle stress and exert impulse control is impacted. The stressors that lead to mental exhaustion can trigger your addiction.

This applies to addictive behavior too. An individual might eat more refined carbohydrates, high fat, or sugary foods. Another person might engage in too much social media, video game playing, or online shopping.

5. You feel down.

Both your energy and mood can be low when you’re mentally fatigued. It may feel like you’re operating on slow speed. You may feel apathetic or numb and lack interest in things you usually enjoy. Your appetite can change.

You may get depressed and feel like it is hard to do anything including work or simple daily activities. You may become more cynical.  Your down feelings may cause you to isolate from others. You may even feel hopeless or suicidal.

6. You space out frequently.

Considered to be a mild form of dissociation, spacing or zoning out can occur when you have mental burnout. It can be a temporary coping mechanism, providing an escape from mental and emotional stressors. It allows a tired or overloaded brain to find a moment of refuge to recharge and reduce cognitive load.

Typically, your mind wanders for a short period of time and you may feel disconnected from things happening around you and from your senses. Your reactions to things may be slowed, which can be a risk factor in some situations. For example, mentally exhausted people are more likely to get in car accidents, research has found.

7. You’re anxious and worried.

As mentioned, mental overload activates your sympathetic nervous system, which can trigger your “fight or flight” stress response. This can increase anxiety and produce a feeling that something is wrong.

When you’re mentally exhausted, you might feel worried all the time, and even panicked. This can co-occur with low mood or depressed feelings.

8. You feel more pain and other physical symptoms.

Mental exhaustion can affect you physically. In addition to feeling physically exhausted, you might experience more headaches, back pain, sore muscles, or stomach aches.

If you already struggle with pain, your mental exhaustion can make discomfort worse. Your digestion may be affected. Some people may experience increased heart rate or blood pressure. You may catch colds more easily too.

9. You feel overwhelmed and procrastinate.

When you’re mentally overloaded, you may be in a constant state of overwhelm. Your mind may race thinking about all the tasks that need to be done. You may feel that everything needs to be done right now.

With everything needing immediate attention, it’s difficult to focus on one thing, so you procrastinate. This can turn into a vicious cycle.


Here are some steps you can start taking today to reduce your mental fatigue.

1. Eliminate stressors.

You might need to take a day or more off work immediately. Consider it a mental health holiday. Or you may need to cut back on your work or ask for help on a project.

If you’re overscheduled, cancel a few things. Only you know what’s stressing you. Eliminate what you can to stress less and find instant relief.

2. Increase fun and restoration.

Immediately make time for rest and recreation. Spend an afternoon at the beach. Play a round of golf. Take a walk somewhere beautiful. Connect with a dear friend. Engage in hobby.

If you’re too exhausted, sleep and rest until your energy comes back. As you recover, sprinkle fun and restoration into every day to ensure you don’t get mentally exhausted again.

3. Take care of your needs.

Ensure you’re getting enough sleep, nourishing foods, gentle exercise, mindfulness or relaxation activities(deep breathing, yoga, meditation), and social time with others. Take excellent self-care.

4. Take a digital detox.

Too much screen time is associated with mental burnout. Give your brain a break. Delete your social media apps for a day or a week.

Take a break from any extraneous online shopping or information gathering. Choose a real book rather than reading off your phone. Only use your phone for necessary communication.

5. Try something new.

When you’re exhausted, trying something new may seem like a tall order. But perhaps after eliminating stressors and getting some sleep, you’ll be able to do something new.

Engage in a hobby. Drive somewhere new. Take a sewing or language class. Paint. Trying something new helps your brain to make new neural connections and builds resilience.

6. Heal your brain.

If you feel like you can’t relax, it may be due to underlying brain issues. For example, your emotional brain may be overactive, your brain may want a dopamine rush, or your sympathetic nervous system may be stuck in overdrive.

Seeing a qualified mental health professional and getting a brain scan can be an important step in the healing process. Identifying brain dysfunction can be the key to finding a targeted treatment plan. With the right help, you’ll develop more mental energy, so you can power through your days the way you want to.

Mental exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


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