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Recovering from Mental and Emotional Exhaustion

A few years ago I shared an article regarding signs of mental and emotional exhaustion on our Life Care Wellness Facebook page. The article was originally posted by the Unexpected Project, a worthy endeavor giving a voice to survivors of pregnancy-related death and near-death in the US, started by a college friend of mine, Anne Garrett.

A reader of the exhaustion post commented “Some better suggestions on how to cope would have been great!!!!!! Wow you are stressed so you need to get away DUH!!” I understood her frustration. The article targeted those who haven’t yet conceptualized their symptoms as mental and emotional exhaustion. The article gave little direction to those who already know they’re exhausted. I validated the reader’s frustration and went on to respond more on recovering from exhaustion. Here’s the rest of my reply to her (with a few edits for clarity):

The bottom line for healing and recovering from exhaustion is taking time for the body to heal. But in our go-go-go society, that’s not easy. Healing can be done, though, by breaking that time into little chunks and doing those chunks frequently.

The One-Minute Meditation

For example, doing the “One-Minute Meditation” once an hour (or just start with 3 times – or even 1 time – daily – you could start every time you use the washroom, for example). Here’s the meditation: close your eyes and imagine a beautiful and peaceful conflict-free place (many people choose the beach, for example). Now in your mind’s eye:

  • Take 10 seconds to look around at the imaginal scene and really see what’s in that environment – as if you’re seeing it for the very first time. Notice colors, shapes, sizes, textures, etc.
  • Then take another 10 seconds to notice what you hear in your mind’s ear: sounds in that scene that are close, sounds that are further away – the breeze through the trees, the birds, laughter, boat horns, etc.
  • Next, take 10 seconds to notice what you smell in that scene – the aromas of the ocean, sunscreen, your sweat, etc.
  • Take another 10 seconds to enjoy what you feel on your skin: the warmth of the sun, the breeze, the textures under your feet, etc.
  • Now, take 10 seconds to savor a taste there – maybe a pina colada or another beverage.
  • Finally, take 10 seconds to just enjoy your emotions and feel what your body is experiencing in that place – as if you were actually there in real life.
  • Now, open your eyes and take just a moment to check inside – how are you feeling now compared to before you started the meditation? Yes, you still have all those things waiting for you, but do you feel slightly more relaxed than you did before you started the meditation? Savor that for just a moment.

Even though it literally just takes one minute, doing this meditation serves to bring the parasympathetic nervous system online. That part of the autonomic nervous system is the “brake” for our always on-the-go sympathetic nervous system (the “gas”). Our culture unfortunately stokes the sympathetic system to “flight or fight” status too often, which exhausts the system. So the more you “pump” your parasympathetic “brake”, the more your system relaxes.

Related Reading: 5 Somatic Experiencing Exercises that Anyone Can Use to Stay Grounded

Combine this frequent, brief meditation practice with going to bed early 3 nights in a row (to get 8+ hours of sleep nightly) and you should notice another small shift in your exhaustion level. Do it consistently for a week and feel a definite shift. You still will be depleted, but you’ll have a bit more energy to initiate another energy and life giving practice – something like exercise, adding an adrenal supplement, taking an occasional day off, expanding a meditation practice, beginning therapy, etc.

Bit by bit, in small chunks like this, you will give yourself the time and care necessary for beating back the exhaustion and coming back to health.

If you feel that your exhaustion is more than you can manage on your own, therapists at Life Care Wellness are ready to help you. Please reach out to us in our northern Illinois locations in Glen Ellyn, Chicago (Jefferson Park)Sycamore, and Yorkville.

Rhonda Kelloway is the owner and principal therapist at Life Care Wellness, a group psychotherapy practice in Glen Ellyn, Sycamore, Yorkville, and Chicago (Jefferson Park neighborhood), Illinois. She is a trauma specialist utilizing a Somatic Experiencing framework to utilize the body’s wisdom in healing. She also uses EMDR and a variety of traditional psychotherapy approaches in her work. In addition to being a psychotherapist, Rhonda is a trained divorce and family mediator.