We live in a fast paced world. Demands seem to never end. Deadlines at work. Important events. Building relationships. Let’s not leave out staples of wellness such as proper sleep, exercise, and nutritious diets. The thing is everything takes time, borrowing minutes from a packed schedule. Something must give. Often, instead of scheduling mental recovery, we allow our bodies and minds to force rest on us, by collapsing in fatigue. We trade our wellness for unrelenting drives to do more. We must end this madness with purposely planned breaks to rejuvenate the mind, giving our tired brain a break with some much needed mental recovery time.
World-class athletes quickly learn that more training doesn’t always improve performance. Eventually, the benefits from over-training begin to level, then performance slows and eventually plunges in exhaustion and injury. The body needs a break. The professional athletes purposely work recovery into their routine, giving their bodies space to recover from the physical demands of high level training.
“Mental Exhaustion can impact your concentration, ability to sleep, relationships, and physical health, among other things. When left unchecked, it can also cause you to struggle with mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression.”~Better Help
Success and Work
Resting goes against our culturally inherited puritan vision of work. Success takes hard work. This is a fundamental truth. However, success does not require unrelenting work. No matter how fast, hard, and long we swing the axe, if the blade isn’t sharp enough to cut the hard flesh of the oak tree, the majestic tree won’t fall.
Failing to recover from draining demands, going too hard for too long, weakens immunity, dulls mental acuity, and depletes energy reserves. Our exhausted body becomes an open invitation to physical and mental illness. Immunity to environmental nasties declines. Everything we have has already been given. Burnout, depression, and addiction reward the overworked doer. The depleted mind stumbles where self-control and self-regulation once reigned.
“Mental fatigue can put you in a bad mood. You may be short-tempered or irritated, snapping at people more often. It’s harder to control your emotions when you’re mentally tapped out.”~WebMD
Addicted to Busyness
Certainly, it hurts to pull back. We’re addicted to busyness. We honor our commitments. We fear others will judge us as undependable and weak. So, we charge forward, promising to rest our weary minds and bodies later. We muse, “I’ll take a mental recovery break next weekend—or, perhaps, the weekend after that. The cruelness of the busy mind is that short occasional breaks fail. They only open space for ruminations about unfinished work. The short recovery is spoiled, and we jump back into the fray.
I went through an eight-year stretch of working intense hours at an emotionally demanding job. Compounding the work demands was personal stresses. My normal stability faded. My mental resilience waned under the heavy load. I succumbed to unrealistic fears, worries plagued my nights, and depression invaded the serene vistas of my mind. Insignificant traumas cut deeper, leaving thick scars that refused to heal.
T. Franklin Murphy wrote in article on the diathesis stress model that “predispositions interact with stressful experiences. When life stresses disrupt our psychological equilibrium (or homeostasis), the stressful event may catalyze development of diseases and disorders” (2021).
The lesson is that even if we have a predisposition for certain disorders that a healthy life style and effective practices of regulating stress may prevent their development.
“Anything that drains a person’s emotional resources can cause them to start feeling mentally exhausted.”~Zawn Villines | Medical News Today
We are not machines. We are biological entities with limitations. Unless we honor those limitations, our bodies and minds will suffer. The injuries and illnesses common to exhaustion linger long after recovery is finally granted.
See Emotional Limitations for more on this topic
Adaptations for Managing Stress
We manage stress of heavy workloads through a variety of adaptations. Some of these adaptation include short mental recovery escapes throughout the day. Another adaptation may be mental reframing of stresses, making them less impactful. While these adaptations have value, they don’t replace the need for mental and physical rest.
“Making just small changes in your daily habits can help manage your symptoms and prevent a total emotional burnout.”~IDS Med
Hans Selye, the founder of stress research, warned “only when all of our adaptability is used up will irreversible, general exhaustion and death follow” (Maté, 2011, location 3897). Selye often reminded readers of our finite ability to manage stress. He wrote in his book Stress Without Distress that, “we can squander our adaptability recklessly, or we can learn to make this valuable resource last long, by using it wisely and sparingly, only for things that are worthwhile and cause less distress” (1974, page 28).
Our minds and bodies need to regularly close for repairs. We must moderate our schedules for sharpening the axe. Recovery is an individual practice. Our bodies respond uniquely to different practices. We must tinker with hobbies, exercises, and meditations to find our own recovery niche. Once found, use it often to provide the mental recovery necessary to stand strong and confident against life’s many demands.
Maté, Gabor (2011). When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection. Wiley; 1st edition
Murphy, T. Franklin (2021) Diathesis Stress Model. Flourishing Life Society. Published 9-7-21. Accessed 3-12-2022.
Selye, Hans (1974) Stress Without Distress. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1st edition.