When Doing Nothing Isn’t Enough: The 7 Types of Exhaustion and Their Antidotes

These days many of my coaching clients tell me they are deeply, deeply exhausted.  The remedies that used to work to reduce exhaustion are no longer working, and they don’t know what to do.


Step 1: Work Less

Healthcare workers, clergy, teachers, managers and more have been seriously overworking throughout the pandemic.  If that is true in your life, a first step to address exhaustion is to put into place is to make a commitment to work less, be imperfect, not get it all done, and be OK with that for a time.  

Sometimes this means scheduling your vacation days.  For others, it means committing to working no more than a 40 hour week.  And for a number of others, it means going to your boss, HR department, or board and asking for 2 or 3 or 6 weeks away.  (Work Institutes Reports show that replacing an employee costs about a third of their annual salary.  Giving you 6 weeks off to recover from a year like no other and come back refreshed?  What a bargain!)

Once you’ve gotten some discretionary hours back into your life, the next step is to use them in ways that actually do lessen your exhaustion and lead you back to feeling like yourself.  But not every type of exhaustion is cured by soaking in a tub, reading a good book, or a sunny seaside vacation.  Knowing what kind of exhaustion you have helps you know how you should spend your time in rest and relaxation.

Then Learn The 7 Types of Exhaustion

Dr. Shaundra Dalton-Smith describes seven types of exhaustion in her book, Sacred Rest: Recover your life, renew your energy, restore your sanity.

The 7 types of exhaustion Dr. Dalton-Smith names are:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Spiritual
  • Emotional
  • Sensory
  • Social 
  • Creative


Study after study shows that over thirty percent of us are chronically sleep deprived.  We’re tired all the time.  Symptoms of physical tiredness include not only sleepiness, but also achy muscles and just not wanting to move or do much of anything.  

Antidotes for being physically tired include the most obvious: getting more sleep.  Try going to bed a half-hour earlier or sleeping a bit later.  Regular massage or stretching can also help a body prepare for sleep and be more able to repair itself.  

Yoga Nidra (nap yoga!) is one of my go-to suggestions for physical exhaustion.  At times when I struggle with insomnia, yoga nidra is a wonderful management tool.  It is said that one half-hour yoga nidra session can be the equivalent of 2-3 hours of sleep.   


When we’re emotionally exhausted it can manifest as compassion fatigue–or on the other end of the spectrum: feeling undervalued and unappreciated. Some people ratchet up their competitiveness when emotionally exhausted. Anxiety and depression increase when we’re emotionally exhausted, as well as anger or disconnection.  One clear sign of emotional exhaustion is reactions that are much greater than expected.  

Antidotes to emotional exhaustion include time away, connecting with friends and family and people who love you, therapy, and the whole host of typical “self care” action items.  


When we’re mentally exhausted we can have a hard time thinking through complex issues–or even simple ones.  We may have brain fog, or we just can’t seem to turn off our thinking.  Other less obvious symptoms of mental exhaustion include getting irritated easily–or the opposite: not really caring about anything.  If you notice an uptick in your snarkiness or cynicism, that might be a sign of mental exhaustion.

Antidotes for mental exhaustion involve helping the mind relax.  Centering prayer, mindfulness, and yoga nidra all can give our minds needed rest.

Some minds aren’t quite ready to jump into full relaxation mode and need an intermediate step. Things like physical books of sudoku, brain teasers, mandala/coloring books and word puzzles can be a helpful step on the way to resting your mind.  


Spiritual exhaustion symptoms include feeling disconnected from God or faith or nature. They may also include losing a sense of value about yourself or things you used to care about.  Signs include feeling empty, purposeless, or deeply weary.

Antidotes for spiritual exhaustion include volunteering (especially when it involves helping strangers and connecting with others), engaging in a creative hobby, and meditation.  For folks who do have a prayer life but are feeling spiritually empty, a good next step is to try a whole new type of prayer for a season.  


When we think about sensory exhaustion, screen time immediately comes to mind.  Screens are definitely a major contributor to sensory exhaustion but not the only one.  Light and noise and even smell can contribute to being hyper-stimulated through our senses.  

If you notice yourself feeling distracted, overwhelmed, or jumpy then sensory overload might be a contributing factor.  Headaches and eye strain are also common symptoms.  

Antidotes for sensory exhaustion include decreasing screen time and noise, using less light in the evenings, and waking to natural light.  Other ways to counteract sensory overload include being in nature and actually noticing what is around you, or a more defined nature practice like forest bathing or walking barefoot on the ground.  If getting into nature isn’t possible for you, breath work or chanting can help recenter yourself away from sensory overload.  


The pandemic actually increased social exhaustion for many people.  Hours spent on Zoom with so many faces looking at you can quickly max out most people’s social reserve.  Those of us who are producing online content with minimal feedback feel social exhaustion because we are investing ourselves in ways that are not reciprocal.  

As we move to the far side of the pandemic, sharing space with crowds, or even gathering with a group ofl friends, can be surprisingly exhausting.  A sign of emotional exhaustion is feeling overwhelmed by others’ demands on your time — whether that be from work, your children, your spouse or your friends.  

Antidotes to emotional exhaustion have three broad categories:  A) Retreat, B) Fill Up, C) Boundaries.  Retreat from social overload by–at least temporarily–finding ways to remove yourself from the situation.  Say “no” to the gathering. Have your partner do bedtime for the next three nights. Take time off work.

Fill Up to counter social exhaustion by making choices to avoid those who are exhausting to be around. Instead, commit to time with those who build you up, who know you deeply, and who help you be the best version of yourself.

To sustain your social energy, clarify and commit to the boundaries you need for this season of your life.  Be bold in claiming what you need, whether it be more meaningful interactions with those you love, or fewer interactions with others.  


Creative exhaustion can be felt as a lack of motivation or focus, feeling “dried up,” just muddling along, or having a lack of desire (for anything).

Interestingly, combating creative exhaustion does not require being creative.  Instead it requires being attentive to beauty.  One of my Facebook friends takes time each weekend to do things in nature that fill her “Awe Bank” and shares photos of what she sees.  Another makes a practice each day of taking a photo of something beautiful in the world.  Author Julia Cameron suggested making Artist Dates with yourself to take a half-day to look at art or beauty.  To overcome creativity exhaustion, we need to find ways to be filled up with beauty, goodness, and awe.  

And You?

Have you been feeling exhausted?  What type of exhaustion are you dealing with?  What ideas might you try now?  Maybe you have other suggestions.  I’d love to hear!  Comment below or e-mail me.

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