Though the message often gets submerged in our workaholic culture, it’s okay to just want a break. Taking a vacation is a wonderful way to reconnect with yourself and your loved ones. Breaks build resilience, helping you to perform better when you return, and they allow you a space for reflection and insight. If you want a vacation and can afford to take one, you probably should.
That being said, for the sake of your physical and mental health, it’s important to be able to tell the difference between wanting and needing a break. In my years spent working with leaders, I’ve noticed that exhaustion can take on many forms and not all of these forms are commonly recognised or addressed… But all of them can lead to severe consequences if ignored. It’s therefore essential to learn how to separate these feelings of deep tiredness from an uncomplicated desire to kick back and relax.
Identifying Exhaustion: The 5 Forms Of Deep Tiredness
- Physical exhaustion. Out of all the types of serious exhaustion listed herein, this one is the easiest to identify and treat. Physical exhaustion often arises from an obvious cause (such as sleep deprivation) and produces recognisable symptoms like sluggishness, “brain fog,” and irritability.
When dealing with physical exhaustion, it’s important to remember to listen to your body. Don’t try to force yourself to stay awake through the use of stimulants like sugar and caffeine; take a couple of days off to rest instead. With prompt attention, physical exhaustion can often be resolved quickly.
- Mental exhaustion. The human brain simply is not designed to maintain ceaseless focus all day, every day. Unfortunately, many of us feel like we have to be “on” all the time and therefore push ourselves to focus beyond our natural capacity. Why? In addition to the pressures of our “achievement-oriented” culture, we’re constantly connected to devices that remind us of our personal and professional obligations.
Mental exhaustion is often marked by an inability to concentrate, a feeling of being “flat” and uninspired, and problems with short-term memory. If you notice these symptoms, try taking a week or two-week break to completely “disconnect” from the world (including the internet and your smartphone). This will usually work wonders to improve your mental state. Consider meditative practices such mindfulness, yoga or Tai Chi to get a handle on this type of exhaustion.
- Emotional exhaustion. Emotional exhaustion is typically brought on by persistent relationship friction, a period of grief, or constantly acting in a “caretaker” role at work or at home. If you feel like you have nothing left to give and your mood is persistently low (marked by feelings of depression and/or anxiety), you could be emotionally exhausted.
Treating this form of exhaustion is more complex and time-consuming (vs. the types above). In addition to taking at least a few weeks off, you will probably benefit from the aid of a counsellor, coach or mentor. He or she will be able to guide you on making any long-term lifestyle changes you need to make.
- Values disconnect exhaustion. Values disconnect exhaustion is more subtle and insidious than other forms of deep tiredness, but it’s no less damaging over the long-term. Values disconnect occurs when a person has to compromise their own character and beliefs in order to meet the expectations placed on them. This account from the Ivey Business Journal illustrates the phenomenon well:
“When Ken Bradshaw (not his real name) was appointed CEO of a large Canadian public company 18 months ago, he had a reputation for being a results-focused executive and a straight shooter. As an 11-year veteran of the organization, including its vice-president of sales and marketing, he was respected for his openness and ability to tackle difficult problems.
Today, however, the 53-year-old Bradshaw is feeling distinctly uncomfortable in the top spot, and he talks about putting on a corporate “mask” when he goes to work. Bradshaw feels and exhibits a certain disconnect — he behaves differently at home than he does at the office. Moreover, Bradshaw is not alone. In our survey, we discovered that one-third of the CEOs admitted that “feeling disconnected” is one of the three most difficult issues they face.”
Developing a more authentic, connected, and empathetic leadership style can often heal value disconnect exhaustion. Doing so will take time and practice, of course, but the benefits will eventually be felt throughout your organisation.
- Purpose exhaustion. Purpose exhaustion is the most difficult form of exhaustion to recognise and address. If you’re doing well physically, mentally, and emotionally—if your life is basically “good”—yet you persistently feel like something is “missing,” purpose exhaustion may be the culprit.
Many people in this situation try to ignore their feelings, labelling them as a form of ingratitude, but this inevitably leads to future regret. Rather than repressing these feelings, if you don’t feel like you’re operating with purpose, take the time you need to get back in touch with yourself again. Taking a sabbatical to travel, going back to study, or experimenting with different industries (ideally through low-risk methods like volunteering) may help you to identify what’s missing.
Remember, if you feel like you are just existing not really living life, chances are good that you more than just “want” a break. As you enjoy this holiday season, why not take some time to review the various forms exhaustion can take and reflect on your levels of energy, inspiration, and total satisfaction? Even if nothing turns out to be amiss, self check-ups can help you to foster a sense of direction and self-awareness.
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