5 Types of Exhaustion: How to become more resilient by understanding exhaustion

//5 Types of Exhaustion: How to become more resilient by understanding exhaustion

5 Types of Exhaustion: How to become more resilient by understanding exhaustion

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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.


Kamal Sarma

CEO Rezilium

Chair RUOK Conversations Think Tank




  1. DR NARANJAN SINGH December 16, 2016 at - Reply

    As a GP I see many different facets of exhaustion not only in the performance indices also in their attitude with considerable lack of interest in their trade or jobs . Even in automated jobs we find this more remarkable and sometimes leading onto early signs of depression because of repetitive tasks and long hours.. We treat not only by counselling and recommending some simple ways as per your article to stay active and continue to love their job and their duties/tasks. However treatment of the work force by management is sometimes not very conducive to create a purposeful working climate which can produce better productivity but also boost the morale of those involved .Creating a harmonious working environment with many forms of stimulus can reduce casas of so called exhaustion in different forms.

  2. Shari A Elle December 16, 2016 at - Reply

    Hi Kamal, really enjoyed the clear distinctions of these 5 forms. Values disconnect and Purpose disconnect are especially not recognised so its great to see it shared so clearly. Thank you!

  3. Nina January 10, 2017 at - Reply

    Thank you…

  4. Kris Van Son January 31, 2017 at - Reply

    Hi Kamal, this is very helpful in understanding why I am not motivated at times.

  5. Jan Collins January 31, 2017 at - Reply

    A great read

  6. Tracey Taylor January 31, 2017 at - Reply

    This is so insighful and helpful

  7. Liz January 31, 2017 at - Reply

    Thanks for this article..good to learn, define types of exhaustion. I will pass this to my colleagues.

  8. Solomon G. January 31, 2017 at - Reply

    Never heard of Purpose exhaustion before. Useful information. Tks.

  9. Olga M Druon January 31, 2017 at - Reply

    Excellent, for me mindfulness works wonders!

  10. Elizabeth Beacham February 4, 2017 at - Reply

    A good read – the basics reinforced

  11. Kylee Noble February 12, 2017 at - Reply

    Wow purpose exhaustion this one was new to me by name, but unfortunately not by recognising the signs. A very interesting read, thank you.

  12. Elizabeth Beachan March 2, 2017 at - Reply

    Thank you. A very good informative article.

  13. Pam Cussen March 6, 2017 at - Reply

    Hi Kamal
    The breaking down of types of exhaustion and questioning yourself which type you have when you are feeling exhausted, is the beginning of solving these feelings. Thanks for breaking these down into easy groups for us to all take a few moments and self recognise these feelings, which enables us to solve this in the appropriate manner.

  14. Julia Szymanski March 9, 2017 at - Reply

    Good article on exhaustion but often in corporate environments, it is not easy to take a break.

  15. Caterina Zurzolo May 11, 2017 at - Reply

    It all makes sense, of how we often feel. A very good read

  16. Vanessa July 2, 2017 at - Reply

    This is actually not what I expected to read – Really insightful and helpful.

  17. Elouise Michael July 3, 2017 at - Reply

    Wow, I didn’t realise purpose exhaustion had a name, very valuable reminders.

  18. Will July 3, 2017 at - Reply

    Great article. I’m a sucker for constantly being glued to my phone I never thought about putting away my phone when trying to disconnect and relax. Has really made me think about how to properly relax.

  19. Carly Clifton July 4, 2017 at - Reply

    Great summary. Intuitively I was aware of these types of exhaustion, but this framework really helps to bring clarity to the different types and to be able to recognise each one in both myself and in others around me. Thank you!

  20. Lisa James July 5, 2017 at - Reply

    Great article!

  21. Meagen July 6, 2017 at - Reply

    I think I just identified with all types of exhaustion..making a plan to address as we speak!

  22. Le'Arne Rattray July 6, 2017 at - Reply

    might be in need to a break after reading that

  23. Karen Skewed July 6, 2017 at - Reply

    a good article breaking it down makes a lot of sense

  24. Bronwyn Bishop July 6, 2017 at - Reply

    A really good thing to remember – if you don’t look after your own health you can’t look after your loved ones!

  25. shaun R July 6, 2017 at - Reply

    Very True , I have felt these many times

  26. Alex July 7, 2017 at - Reply

    This is a great article to read, understanding and working on these issues through out anyone’s life is something we all have to take into account.

  27. Carol July 7, 2017 at - Reply

    I did not realise that there are so many different types of exhaustion I will be looking at making changes in my life

  28. Tina Donoghue July 8, 2017 at - Reply

    This is a great article and I now have a better understanding of exhaustion and all the different forms. Thank you

  29. Sandra Jestrimski July 8, 2017 at - Reply

    I think I have recognise all of these types of exhaustion in people over the years, never had a name for them though or a proper understanding of each one.

  30. Jose S July 11, 2017 at - Reply

    Great article, really helpful in defining the different types of exhaustion as they can be quiet hard to detect during day to day and week to week routine.

  31. Jose S July 11, 2017 at - Reply

    Great article, really helpful in defining the different types of exhaustion as they can be quiet hard to detect during day to day and week to week routine.

  32. Brooke July 11, 2017 at - Reply

    Not what I expected, worth the read.

  33. Lois July 12, 2017 at - Reply

    a great article on exhaustion well explained. Thank you

  34. Holly July 12, 2017 at - Reply

    Great insight and awesome read, I know I struggle with a fair bit of these exhaustions really going to help me improve. Cheers!

  35. Kerstin Wallander July 13, 2017 at - Reply

    A great read and a lot I wasn’t aware of. It is ironic that in reading this it is evident we don’t even take the time to understand how we are feeling to be able find out more, put a name to it and then managing it…a new focus for me moving forward.

  36. Tony July 15, 2017 at - Reply

    Quite interesting, would anyone understand the difference between emotion and mental exhaustion?

  37. Jo Beaumont July 17, 2017 at - Reply

    I agree with you Carly Clifton it is a great reminder of what we know in our self. I particularly liked the call out around “achievement-orientated” culture as its a good callout to remember for myself individually and as a leader!

  38. leanne paganoni July 18, 2017 at - Reply

    interesting read. thank you

  39. jamie July 21, 2017 at - Reply

    values disconnect was very interesting!!

  40. Chris July 23, 2017 at - Reply

    purpose exhaustion is thought provoking

  41. Hayley Walker July 25, 2017 at - Reply

    Very very interesting read!

  42. James Rees July 25, 2017 at - Reply

    I found this a very interesting article. Breaking down the different types of exhaustion and then seeing how when they combine the effects can be very significant. I definitely need to put strategies in place to help manage the ones effecting me.

  43. Kym Lewis July 27, 2017 at - Reply

    I really enjoyed this article, being able to pin point the type of exhaustion certainly makes it easier to address.

  44. Lisa Kahmann July 28, 2017 at - Reply

    Whilst I was aware of a number of types of exhaustion the learning for me was on values exhaustion;. Thanks to this article I will be more aware of the signs for this type, as well as keeping my own levels across all at the forefront. I am definitely prone to not booking in regular holidays!

  45. Belinda August 17, 2017 at - Reply

    was good information, wasn’t aware of all the types

  46. Louise Bennett August 18, 2017 at - Reply

    Very insightful. Thank you

  47. Ian King October 2, 2017 at - Reply

    Good advice. Stop and breathe and take stock

  48. Catherine Cremasco December 13, 2017 at - Reply

    A good read that gives practical solutions too

  49. Ashleigh Ignatowicz January 15, 2018 at - Reply

    Before this article I was aware of the first three types of exhaustion however, 4 and 5 are new labels to me! I have just come back from 2 weeks break and feeling physically, mentally and emotionally refreshed but I know that the “glow” can quickly subside. A nice reminder to check in a little more often.

  50. Zeljka January 22, 2018 at - Reply

    Thank you

  51. Paul Chow January 22, 2018 at - Reply

    This was an enlightening read – even for someone who prides himself on his resilience!

  52. Marisha January 22, 2018 at - Reply

    interesting read

  53. Stewart Williams January 23, 2018 at - Reply

    As always, knowledge is power. This article will make me more self aware when not functioning at 100%. It’s also going to make it easier to identify colleagues in need of some time out.

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