Working in Hong Kong can mean long hours with little to no breaks. Coupled with a prevalent overtime culture, pressures at home, and overstimulation of city life, these factors have made Hong Kong the fifth most stressed population globally. In fact, in a recent survey by Cigna, 92% of people say they face daily stress in their lives, with a further 17% expressing that they’re unable to manage this stress.
Constant and high levels of stress and anxiety have a lot of negative effects on our health — often intensifying emotions like anxiety, and eventually we can become burnt out or emotionally exhausted.
What is emotional exhaustion?
Emotional exhaustion is wider-ranging and longer-lasting than just having a ‘bad day’ or ‘bad week’. Emotional exhaustion is when we feel emotionally worn out or drained due to stress and fatigue accumulated from work, school, personal experiences, or most times, a combination of both. It happens when stress and fatigue begin to reach chronic levels in the body and can significantly impact your quality of life and bodily functioning.
Symptoms and signs of emotional exhaustion
Emotional exhaustion can have both physical and psychological effects on individuals. Many symptoms can be mild at first but build up to be more severe over time. Furthermore, not many people will recognise their symptoms and will continue with their daily routine. But eventually, emotional exhaustion can take a severe toll on both your mental and physical health if left unchecked.
Here are some common symptoms to watch out for:
- Mood changes causing headaches, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of hopelessness
- Thinking difficulties accompanied by a sense of dread and irrational anger
- Trouble sleeping causing irritability
- Physical changes such as a lack of appetite
- Adverse effects on relationships due to absent-mindedness
- Lack of motivation
Causes of emotional exhaustion
Experiencing stress is normal, sometimes even beneficial for your health. Stress releases adrenaline, a hormone that gives you a burst of energy to cope with certain situations, making you more alert and responsive. But constant, longer-term stress can significantly reduce your health and even worsen ongoing medical conditions. So if you’re showing the above symptoms for a prolonged period, it’s essential to look at your daily life and see what could be causing the issue.
It’s important to note that not everyone experiences stress the same way or handles stress equally. Taking a look into your daily routine is crucial, but here are some of the most common causes and triggers:
If your job is very demanding, you’re more likely to experience a lot of stress and fatigue. For instance, bankers show more stress at the early stages of their career, according to a study. Being overworked can lead to burnout in the long run.
Home might not be a sanctuary of peace to everyone, and those who fall into this category tend to get stressed a lot. For example, negotiating with a parent, sibling or partner might be a challenge in some situations and could raise your stress levels.
Your lifestyle certainly has its way of influencing your stress levels. For instance, are you taking on too much work, doing enough exercise, and having a healthy, balanced diet? A Vitamin B12 deficiency, for example, not only causes anaemia but could also lead to irritability and depression.
4 ways to manage stress
Generally, you can manage the symptoms of emotional exhaustion by making a few lifestyle adjustments. Once you recognise the underlying cause of your stress, you can cope by trying to lessen that stressor in your life.
Here are four ways to help you release stress:
- Reduce stress — One of the most effective ways to handle stress positively is to stay active and exercise regularly. It enables you to clear your thoughts and relieve the emotional intensity you feel when you are stressed.
- Adopt a healthier lifestyle — Living a healthy lifestyle can enhance your resilience to stress by boosting your physical and mental health. For instance, you can establish a sleep routine, avoid smoking and drinking, and maintain a balanced diet.
- Maintain a healthy work–life balance — You should make sure that work or family doesn’t take over your life. You can plan out vacation and rest days to ensure you have the time to do the things you love, such as reading, watching films, or just spending time in the park, etc.
- Practise mindfulness — Research has found that mindfulness helps reduce anxiety and depression. This is a mind–body approach to life that helps us manage stressful situations. Some simple mindfulness practices such as reading and meditation can be practised anytime, anywhere.
Therapy and counselling
Therapy is an effective way to treat anxiety, depression, stress, and control negative thoughts. Speaking to a therapist can be a beneficial way to explore your stress. They can aid you to identify the underlying causes of stress and equip you with the skills to cope in future situations that could cause you stress.
Psychiatrists can also help by prescribing antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or medications to improve sleep for individuals facing extreme burnout and exhaustion.
How we can help
Emotional exhaustion can severely impact your health if left untreated. If you’re feeling extremely fatigued or exhausted, know that it’s okay to seek help.
At OT&P, our dedicated mental wellness clinic MindWorX, has a range of mental health professionals including therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists — all of whom have the experience and resources to help you manage your stress and anxieties.