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Mental Illness Is Exhausting

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Seth Gillihgan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistMarch 21, 2019

One of the most challenging things about mental illness is that it’s so draining. It’s like working two jobs, but unfortunately most people can’t see the second shift (and it certainly isn’t rewarded).

If you’re depressed, every task can feel Herculean. Just getting a shower, a bite of breakfast, and making it to work can be a major victory, especially if you’re lugging around the lead weight of guilt and shame. You might be working twice as hard just to do half as much as you could without depression.

In panic disorder, every trip in the car could require carefully planning your route so you don’t encounter any bridges or tunnels.

If you have social anxiety, you might think ahead to every possible social interaction—and then spend hours reviewing things you said to see if you embarrassed yourself.

When you live with generalized anxiety, every task and decision is filled with worried thoughts of “what-if…,” and your nervous system is constantly in fight-or-flight mode, making you tense, edgy, and distracted. 

Speaking of distraction, mental illness is mentally draining, as well. Your ability to remember things and organize your thoughts is often hampered, so you have to work extra hard to keep up at work and at home. Decision making can be extremely difficult.

Psychiatric conditions take a real toll on the body, too. They’re often linked to inflammation, and frequently interfere with sleep. And many conditions prompt a tendency toward a poor diet —like eating a lot of highly processed sweets and excessive alcohol use, which further sap your energy.

Despite these challenges, countless people find ways to keep going as best they can through psychiatric illness. They keep going to work, taking care of their family, connecting with friends as much as possible. It takes all their effort to appear “normal” because so many people don’t seem to understand what they’re going through, even some family members and close friends.

Perhaps you can relate. You soldier on, hiding what’s going on inside, as you see yourself struggling daily with things that seem easy for others, and that used to be easy for you. Yet in the process, the overwhelming demands wear down your limited resources, exhausting your spirit. 

If you’re struggling through depression, anxiety, or other conditions, try to find ways to recharge your energy on a daily basis. Sometimes that may mean finding periods of quiet rest. At other times you may need more active ways to recharge through meaningful engagement, like volunteering your talents, taking care of your daily responsibilities, sharing life with friends, and being of service to others.

And if you haven’t sought treatment, maybe it’s time. Most people find it helpful to work with a therapist, and in some cases to consider medication with a psychiatrist. Some suffering in life is inevitable, and some is avoidable. A skilled professional can help you deal with both.

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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychology in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-author with Janet Singer of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery and author of Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple. Dr. Gillihan maintains a private practice in Haverford, PA, where he specializes in treating OCD, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

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