A long, stressful day at work, followed by a full house with children running around and leaving a mess in their path can really take a toll on someone’s mental and emotional state. But is this emotional and mental exhaustion, along with depression, something we are born with, or is it strictly trauma related? According to Dr. Zul Merali, president and CEO at The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, it is a combination of both.
Dr. Merali explained, during a phone interview done exclusively with Providr: “We are all born with serotonin, which binds with the brain receptors. You can have genetic mutations where you might be born with genes that produce high levels of serotonin, or they might produce low levels of serotonin.” He adds: “Those who are born with low serotonin levels may function properly, but all it can take is a couple of stressful or traumatic events that can cause them to become depressed or mentally and emotionally exhausted.”
With that said, it’s important to recognize the warning signs of depression and mental and emotional exhaustion. Here are some of them.
1. Irritation: I asked Dr. Merali if there was any connection between irritation, depression and mental exhaustion. His first words to me were that they were both “intricately tied.” He explains that when everything is going well in someone’s life, they don’t stress or worry about anything. But when someone is unable to cope with certain things, whether it is small or big, they begin to become irritated. He adds: “When it becomes a pattern, it’s basically the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The stress becomes too much for the individual and because it has now become part of your daily life, you stay irritated because you can’t break the pattern.” One of the reasons why this occurs is because of awareness of certain events. Dr. Merali used a car accident as an example. He explained to me that certain events or places can be triggers to your mind. When you remember a certain place or event that was stressful or traumatic, you associate that with how it made you feel. So if you constantly have the same stress in your life, it’ll cause you to become mentally and emotionally exhausted.
2. Lack of motivation: While speaking with Dr. Merali, I asked him if he thought that being unmotivated was part of mental exhaustion. He quickly replied ‘yes’ and explained that one of the reasons people become unmotivated in life is because of exhaustion. As an example, he makes a reference to someone who likes to run marathons, “If you are a sprinter or a runner who runs a marathon, you’re not going to feel like running once you complete it, and you’ll be depleted.” He says mental and emotional motivation is the same thing, if you’re too tired to feel motivated, you become unmotivated. In many cases of mental and emotional exhaustion, especially depression, Dr. Merali stated that anhedonia is often present. Anhedonia is when people lose interest in activities they used to enjoy and have also decreased their ability to feel pressure.
3. Sleeping Disorder: I asked Dr. Merali if sleeping disorders could be a direct sign of depression and mental and emotional exhaustion. He said that from his experience, they are. When he would ask someone when they first noticed that they might be depressed or mentally and emotionally exhausted, their response would be that it started with their sleep being disturbed. Now, he also mentions that there could be two aspects of sleep that can be a warning sign; if someone sleeps too much, or if someone sleeps too little. Dr. Merali says that the reason why people cannot fall asleep when they are suffering from depression or mental and emotional exhaustion is that their biological rhythm is disrupted. He also adds that depression can also be associated with a seasonal affective disorder. This is when people become depressed when the clock shifts or the time changes and the days become shorter. Also, Dr. Merali adds that if someone is on antidepressants, adequate sleep is needed because the medication will not be effective if the body is not obtaining proper rest.
4. No Patience: As Dr. Merali explained earlier, irritation, which can also include lack of patience, is a common sign of depression and mental and emotional exhaustion. He makes reference to the age characteristic and how lack of patience and irritability are often common for younger people, where sadness is more prominent with someone who is much older. The reason why people often become short with their colleagues and family, according to Dr. Merali, is because they are overwhelmed. He adds that they don’t feel like talking because their mind is in a million different places and they cannot concentrate on just one thing. The small things become big things, and big things become larger.
5. Disruption of Appetite: Dr. Merali explained to me that the body has certain hormones and neurotransmitters, and when we become hungry, certain ones are produced by our body. But when the body has a hormonal imbalance, like low levels of serotonin, it leads to impaired functions of all the hormones and neurotransmitters involved in this process, which leads to loss of appetite. He adds that leptin and ghrelin both play essential roles in regulating your appetite. So when you have high blood levels of leptin, your appetite is reduced, and when you have high levels of ghrelin, your appetite is increased.
6. Sadness: Sadness is more associated with the older generation, according to Dr. Merali. He explains that the reason why people become sad when they are depressed or mentally and emotionally exhausted is that they cannot handle the stress associated with it. When you become mentally and emotionally exhausted, your mind is racing but you are trying to make it stop. Dr. Merali adds that this overwhelming feeling causes people to break down and often cry until they become too tired to release any more emotion. People will often have low serotonin levels if they are experiencing extreme sadness.
7. You Focus Inwards Instead of Outwards: Dr. Merali explained to me that someone who is depressed or mentally and emotionally exhausted will tend to focus on things that reflect them inside rather than look at the bigger picture. Everything becomes about them, even when it shouldn’t. He adds that people will also isolate themselves and detach themselves from the rest of the world. In reality, being around people and talking is one of the ways to treat depression or mental and emotional exhaustion, Dr. Merali adds. But to someone suffering from it, they don’t see it that way. They see social interaction as another burden that will add to their stress.
Treating Depression, Mental and Emotional Exhaustion: According to Dr. Merali, exercise and meditation are good treatments for depression and mental and emotional exhaustion. But he does add that when someone is experiencing either of those conditions, lack of motivation could be present as well, so it’s easier said than done. He emphasizes that people need to try and see past the lack of motivation and see that the physical health benefits of exercise and meditation will not only help with their condition but can also help prevent other health issues from occurring. In addition, Dr. Merali also suggests that people should consider ‘talk treatments’ where they either discuss their issues through an intervention with friends and family or they speak to a psychologist or therapist.