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Feeling exhausted lately? You’re not alone.
Recently, after a full nine-hour night of sleep, I realized I still felt tired. While I am not 100% certain of my fatigue’s root cause, I believe that one culprit is emotional exhaustion.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of emotional exhaustion, Healthline defines it as:
A state of feeling emotionally worn-out and drained as a result of accumulated stress from your personal or work lives, or a combination of both. Emotional exhaustion is one of the signs of burnout. People experiencing emotional exhaustion often feel like they have no power or control over what happens in life. They may feel “stuck” or “trapped” in a situation. Lack of energy, poor sleep, and decreased motivation can make it difficult to overcome emotional exhaustion.
This state of long term stress keeps us in a regular space of heightened emotional processing. It is particularly common during the COVID-19 pandemic and the heightened awareness of our society’s injustices. At a time when our circumstances are so different than we expected them to be in 2020, emotional exhaustion has the potential to use up all our energy.
So, if this is what I am experiencing, what can I do? How do I support the people in my life and be a part of a community without burning out?
I’ve found it helpful to reflect on what emotions are and their role in our lives. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote that: “Man possesses two kinds of susceptibilities: the natural emotions, which are like dust upon the mirror, and spiritual susceptibilities, which are merciful and heavenly characteristics.”
The Baha’i writings emphasize that we were created to rise above our egos and selfish tendencies and express our care for all of those around us. When we do this, we express those spiritual susceptibilities and heavenly characteristics. Indeed, Abdu’l-Baha also wrote that:
… man was created to be a man — to be fair, to be just, to be merciful, to be kind to all his species, never to be willing that he himself be well off while others are in misery and distress — this is an attribute of the animal and not of man. Nay, rather, man should be willing to accept hardships for himself in order that others may enjoy wealth; he should enjoy trouble for himself that others may enjoy happiness and well-being. This is the attribute of man. This is becoming of man. Otherwise man is not man — he is less than the animal.
Abdu’l-Baha also wrote about the radical spiritual obligation to extend true friendship to all people:
Be kind to all peoples; care for every person; do all ye can to purify the hearts and minds of men; strive ye to gladden every soul. To every meadow be a shower of grace, to every tree the water of life; be as sweet musk to the sense of humankind, and to the ailing be a fresh, restoring breeze. Be pleasing waters to all those who thirst, a careful guide to all who have lost their way; be father and mother to the orphan, be loving sons and daughters to the old, be an abundant treasure to the poor.
When I first read this passage, I thought about how “all the peoples” could mean people of all different races, ethnicities, classes, and experiences. But then I realized that this quote could also refer to everyone generally. In my initial interpretation, I forgot to think about how it included myself. To stick around and be my best self while supporting others, I also have to remember to tend to my own needs — physical, emotional, spiritual — and well-being.
I realize that I have a radical spiritual obligation to extend to myself the same love and care that I try to provide others. I’m still figuring out what this looks like in practice. More meditation, more time in nature, monitoring my self-talk, feeding myself nourishing food, and balancing my time with loved ones with my time in my own company for deepened reflection — in this way, I can prevent and address emotional exhaustion.