The term "exhaustion" has a wide and varied meaning. A dictionary definition suggests that exhaustion may include tiredness, fatigue, weariness, lassitude, feebleness, prostration, debilitation and enervation. However, from the medical perspective, exhaustion is associated primarily with an extreme state of fatigue, which may encompass a sense of tiredness, languor and lack of interest. The National Cancer Institute suggests that exhaustion or fatigue may be either acute (temporary and severe) or chronic.
Exhaustion can take two forms--mental or physical. Physical exhaustion is caused by engaging in activities that make you physically tired. Physical exhaustion may occur because of overwork, insufficient sleep, hard manual labor or other activities that cause your body to physically become worn down and in need of a rest. Mental exhaustion, on the other hand, may be caused by engaging in activities that tax your brain. Chronic mental exhaustion or a feeling of being tired mentally all the time, may sometimes be caused by emotional problems that make you feel tired even though your body is not physically in need of sleep. Mental exhaustion is more difficult to diagnose and treat because unlike in physical exhaustion, the signs are not obvious.
Acute exhaustion simply means you are tired and unable to function properly at the time. Acute exhaustion is usually associated with physical exhaustion, as opposed to mental exhaustion. However, if you engage in a mentally difficult task and your brain becomes tired from doing the task, acute mental exhaustion can occur. Resting can resolve acute exhaustion.
Chronic exhaustion, on the other hand, is a pattern of consistent tiredness and lack of interest. Chronic exhaustion, when caused by a physical issue, may be indicative of a more serious physical problem, such as cancer. Chronic mental exhaustion is usually caused by depression or a related condition. The signs of mental exhaustion include, but are not limited to, a feeling of inertia, experiencing a lack of interest in most activities and feeling worn out all the time.
Both acute and chronic exhaustion can be diagnosed by a consultation with a doctor or psychiatrist who can evaluate your symptoms.
Acute physical or mental exhaustion is relatively easy to treat, especially if it is caused by a defined activity such as physical exercise or a specific mental challenge. You can recover from this type of exhaustion by resting and/or refraining from doing the activity that caused the condition to occur.
The focus of treatment for chronic exhaustion is to identify the source. If a physical problem is causing chronic exhaustion, it must be treated. If the chronic exhaustion is mental exhaustion, the solution is to try to trace the cause. Generally, emotional disturbance is the cause of chronic mental exhaustion. You may need to speak with a counselor or therapist to overcome this problem. Antidepressants or other related drugs may also be prescribed to help you feel better if a chemical imbalance in the brain is causing your chronic mental exhaustion.
Left untreated, exhaustion can have serious consequences on a person’s personal and professional lives. It can also affect your response to medication, as it can drastically diminish the function of your immune system.
Some possible effects of chronic exhaustion include depression, adrenal fatigue and a condition called chronic fatigue syndrome, which is characterized by cognitive problems such as short-term memory loss and lack of concentration towards daily tasks among others.
Preventing acute exhaustion involves avoiding overly taxing mental or physical activities.
To prevent chronic physical exhaustion, visit your doctor regularly to ensure you are in good health. Eat a proper diet, and ensure your immune system is strong and able to fight off infection. Rest or relax regularly, and ensure you are in fit shape to engage in difficult physical activity.
To prevent chronic mental exhaustion, develop a positive attitude towards life and get counseling or treatment for depression or other emotional issues that might tend to lead to mental exhaustion.