Five Types of Tiredness
by Ami Kunimura, MA, MT-BC • December 2020
Sometimes it can feel cathartic to exhale and say, “I’m tired.”
It’s necessary to acknowledge when we are feeling tired. However, it can also help to be specific with ourselves in regard to what kind of tiredness we’re experiencing so we can choose more effective self-care.
It can also help to communicate to other people the nuances around fatigue you feel so they can better support you. Saying, “I’m tired” might not be enough information for other people to understand what you are experiencing.
Here are five different ways we can experience being tired –
1. Emotionally tired
This is one of the most common types of tiredness felt by helping professionals, and emotional exhaustion is an important symptom of burnout to be aware of. Empathetic distress or compassion fatigue can also fit in here. A mentor of mine once told me that we all have a certain amount of emotional dollars to spend each day. We need to be careful not to spend more than we have so we don’t end up in a state of emotional debt. We can become emotionally tired when dealing with the emotions of others or become drained with having a large output of emotional labor.
Our own emotional ups and downs can also take up energy, space, and time. However, what can be more tiring than dealing with our own difficult emotions is the energy drain that can come from suppressing our feelings or not dealing with the feelings that are there.
2. Physical fatigue
We often expect a lot of our bodies – to sit at a computer for long periods of time, to sleep when we want to sleep, to digest and metabolize food, or to maintain a state of health. We can also experience physical fatigue from too much or from too little physical activity. And, the physical fatigue we feel can be impacted by our diet, sleep, biochemistry, and physiology.
We each have a responsibility to honor our own bodies and to attend to and monitor our body’s changing needs. With physical fatigue, it’s important to remember that rest is not always the immediate answer, because we may first need to do things that support quality rest and sleep such as regular movement, not eating too much sugar, and setting boundaries with technology.
3. Mental fatigue
Your brain uses up a significant amount of your body’s energetic resources. Have you seen The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix? Stanford professor of neurology Robert Sapolsky said that chess grandmasters can burn 6,000 calories a day in tournaments. Mental exercise requires endurance, and the amount of decision making, changes, strategy, stress, uncertainty, focus, and thinking our brains have had to do this year has required a lot of energy.
Before getting frustrated with yourself when you’re having a hard time making decisions, solving problems, thinking, or planning, it can help to first check-in to see if your brain is tired and to be realistic about your cognitive resources.
4. Social fatigue
We can become tired from too much social interaction, too little social interaction, or from not engaging in the kind of social interaction that aligns with your personality. Being socially tired can also involve your virtual interactions, social media use, or involvement in social, political, or global movements.
Loneliness can also contribute to fatigue and can be experienced in the body as stress, as can spreading yourself too thin amongst too many people. Communication with others also uses up our energetic resources and social fatigue can also be brought on even by one energy vampire who might be draining you.
5. Soul exhaustion
If you are feeling all the types of fatigue above or feeling like fatigue is coming from a deep place within that is hard to describe, this could be tiredness on the soul level. It might sound scary, but soul exhaustion is not something to panic about. It can be a natural part of our soul’s growth and learning process.
Like the way a spiritual crisis can lead to a spiritual awakening, soul exhaustion can be an important time of recalibration, rebirth, and reflection. Soul exhaustion is not an easy experience, but our souls are resilient and it’s okay for our souls to be tired at times.
It is also important to remember that we can feel tired not just from doing too much, but from a lack of engagement in things that are meaningful and purposeful to us on the soul level.
Remember, these types of tired are not always bad, they can be natural cycles in our human experience. Sometimes fatigue can come after a big accomplishment or after you’ve invested yourself in something meaningful. In life we are not trying to avoid being tired, and try not to be hard on yourself for being tired when you are.
However, we are trying to avoid levels of exhaustion that are unhealthy and we also do not want to go through life feeling tired all the time. We also want to be careful of not normalizing or glorifying the experience of being tired, and we don’t want to use tiredness as a measuring stick for productivity or success. We also need to be aware that persistent fatigue can also be a symptom of depression and it can be a good idea to seek professional support if you feel confused or concerned about your experience of being consistently tired.
All of these types of tiredness can be overwhelming, so be patient with yourself. Take a moment to try to understand your tiredness before making assumptions.
It may also help to not always assume that rest will always help. Although rest and relaxation might seem like the obvious solutions to fatigue, this is not always the case. Tiredness can come from being overstimulated/overwhelmed, understimulated/underwhelmed, or being exposed to a stressor that’s draining you (like a loud inner critic or a stressful situation). Sometimes tiredness is calling for change, action, or support.
The next time you find yourself thinking or saying “I’m tired,” gently nudge yourself to be more specific with what being tired means to you.
Pushing against tiredness can lead to exhaustion. Instead, gently pull it in and listen with patience and compassion.
Ami Kunimura, MA, MT-BC is the founder of the Self-Care Institute and the creator and facilitator of Resilience Over Burnout: A Self-Care Program, an in-depth online program that guides professionals out of burnout and stress cycles through research-based self-care practices. Ami has presented on self-care and professional burnout at international events and conferences. Ami (pronounced ah-me) was born in Hawaii and currently lives in Southern California.
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