This is a question for you.

What do you find to be the most exhausting thing?

  • Working out physically to exhaustion
  • Studying and tiring out mentally to exhaustion
  • Getting into a fight with a friend or colleague to emotional exhaustion

I think it’s the last option – the emotional upheavals – that really tire us and exhaust us. What can we do about this?

Should we ignore heavy emotional items? Should we swim through them? Should we take a lighter attitude toward them?

What works for you?

And which was the most exhausting for you from this short list?

Update (1/29): Are you exhausted because of attribution theory?


  1. Michael Felberbaum
    Posted Tuesday January 27, 2009 at 5:35 pm | Permalink


    Thanks for the interesting question. For me, exhaustion primarily comes from overexertion, stress and worry. Emotional upheavals catalyze this for sure, since it’s easier to avoid conflict and confrontation than to approach it with some sense of letting go, openness and forgiveness.

    A lot of times I don’t recognize exhaustion as exhaustion, especially if there’s something worrisome or seemingly crucial. It’s often this sense of having to get something done, or something that needs to be done right now, that is both a symptom of exhaustion and leads to further exhaustion when acted upon, especially if I feel something is wrong or I’ve been hurt or pained in some serious way. It’s certainly a vicious cycle.

    Fights, conflicts and emotional upheaval are particularly pernicious especially if there’s a sense that nothing can be done about whatever it is. Blame is HUGELY exhausting. I think blame is perhaps the most exhausting of all emotions (if it is an emotion). The reason is that all that bitterness, resentment, sense of unfairness, wrongness, etc. that’s directed at someone else eats us up inside. We tend to think that acting on it somehow will make us feel better, but it doesn’t. It’s exhausting just thinking about all the energy in blame.

    What I find to help exhaustion is daily meditation to cultivate a sense of openness, honesty and gentleness. We all intuitively know that we criticize ourselves a lot, blame ourselves, fight with ourselves and just generally struggle. We spin out beliefs like “life is hard” or “life isn’t fair” or “I’m stuck.” Accepting and making peace with all that is so important to break that cycle of moving from one set of exhausting circumstances to another!!

    Well that was a long-winded answer to a simple question!!


  2. Posted Tuesday January 27, 2009 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    You thought provocateur, you. What a good question. I’ve learned that I get exhausted whenever I’m doing something that does not add to my happiness: waiting, fixing, explaining,moving to another person’s rhythm, etc. If it’s something that cannot be ignored or put-off (because it threatens life or limb?)then I try to change my thoughts about it so I can flow with it rather than try to swim through it.

    The feeling of exhaustion is just a cue for me to stop paddling upstream. Enough with calloused hands!

  3. Posted Wednesday January 28, 2009 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    Michael and Barbara,

    Thank you so much. That’s exactly how I feel.

    Michael, about the BLAME. Do you think that is the blame of blaming others or self-blame? It’s a lot of energy. That’s interesting that you say that we tend to think acting on this will make us feel better, but it doesn’t; it’s just energy sapped away. I agree. I love what you write about daily meditation and a sense of openness.

    Barbara, I find that to be super-hard. Even though I know some of the techniques (like ABC), I find it a chore. And – strangely – one that doesn’t get easier with attempts to distract myself and to swim through it. I like what you say about the feeling being a cue. You thought provocateur, yourself! That’s a great title!

    Thank you both.
    I’ve been thinking about this in the context of attribution theory. So much of what we get upset at is just us attributing intentions or beliefs to other people – Michael, like you said, attributing blame.

    Will keep thinking about this….
    Thank you, both!

    My best,

  4. Michael Felberbaum
    Posted Thursday January 29, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Senia – I guess I have a lot to say on this subject! So, I figured I’d do another little braindump…

    Yeah, attribution theory is a big deal. In my opinion, self-blame is a huge contributor to stress and exhaustion. It’s like there is some standard that we can never really reach, and if, for a fleeting moment, we reach it, then we experience RELIEF not joy or relaxation. Success doesn’t make us relax and unwind; it makes us want to hold on and grip harder. It’s more exhausting! And if we don’t reach our standard or goal or whatever, then, WHACK! bad news, beating ourselves up.

    So much of our social and cultural beliefs frame life as work and work as hard and painful. So, exhaustion is expected because, well, life is hard and work is what’s necessary to break down the walls that block us. Hard work even if it’s totally unsuccessful is exhausting.

    The idea of “challenge” is very important because challenge inherently means surmountable. If someone frames a problem or issue as a challenge, there is some intuitive sense that it can be overcome. It’s when we perceive our ambitions, goals, etc. as not challenges, but rather just there – burdens, work, responsibilities – there is this heaviness that is absolutely exhausting to carry around.

    Ironically, we try to cast that sense of burden off by working harder. But this only feeds the sense of just how big that burden is because it doesn’t go away. It’s like we can’t stop ourselves long enough to see just how high the mountain is to climb. We climb, climb, climb, get exhausted, but the need grows stronger that we need to get to top, so we climb more. We get frustrated with ourselves that we’re not there yet – so what’s the answer? Work harder. We don’t see challenge, we see the exhausting reality of continuing to climb. We don’t step back and think about just how long and how difficult it really is to climb. Those thoughts are elusive because of the growing furious need to get to the top and the conditioning about working hard to get there. Somehow, deep down, we believe it is SUPPOSED TO BE painful and agonizing and exhausting.

    You had written earlier about emotional upheaval. Relationship stress and emotional exhaustion from this is important to consider because often, the pain and exhaustion of conflict is not framed as challenge. It’s framed as that kind of heavy burden – like a responsibility that can’t be met, or a swarm of ants that you just can’t get rid of – There’s no sense that it can be resolved and a kind of hopelessness around the whole thing. There’s no work to be done, nothing to do at all about it. Most of us, I think, have trouble dealing with that. We feel the need to do something, and so we go into our habitual mode and “work” and that involves some sense of pain and suffering and hardship, and we wind up making things worse – and so we get ourselves into a more difficult situation.

    It’s interesting because the opposite of exhaustion is energetic – feeling energized, buoyant, light. Most of us know very well how to get ourselves exhausted, but we don’t know how to get ourselves energized and feeling buoyant. There’s a sense that that can’t be done because it’s not something that can be worked on; it just comes. Or, if we work at it, we do it in such a way that it is like when tells you: “You’re going to do this and you’re going to like it!” There’s no necessity or vicious urgency when we feel energized; it’s not heavy like that.

    My sense is that we reduce our exhaustion and increase our energy not by doing anything, but by feeling our exhaustion completely. We feel it in our head, our mind, our body, our relationships, everywhere. Then, we start to see the toll it takes. And, all the attention we put on our exhaustion is helpful because we start to take responsibility for the fact that perhaps this high standard is not clear at all, or perhaps there are too many commitments, or perhaps I really can’t change this person – and perhaps there are more things I can live with. This is not the kind of news most of us want to hear. We want to work – especially at what we perceive as problems and things that bother us. If we can feel that strong desire, something shifts and we start to see that perhaps just because we want it some way or something bothers us, we’re still here and still part of the living world.

  5. Posted Thursday January 29, 2009 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Michael, it’s so interesting because a lot of what you say – especially about really feeling the exhaustion – sounds so much like mindfulness. I’m going to tell my friend Wayne about this thread too. He is Mr. Mindfulness. He believes it’s the most important concept, and has thought deeply about it.

    Your thoughts about how we believe it’s SUPPOSED TO BE painful – I agree – it’s like demonstrating to a little girl or boy your emotions, and having them imitate you, including the intensity of the emotions. Maybe we are the same way with ourselves.

    And, Michael, the funniest thing about self-blame is that we know what we wanted to achieve in our heads, so we measure ourselves against that. And others don’t know. So we think we failed on many occasions relative to what’s in our head, and others think we did well, and we would have thought so too had we not known everything we wanted to accomplish!

    My best,