In recent months, I’ve had the opportunity to observe the effects of exhaustion on my own mind and reactions, and to learn from other people with similar experiences. This is what I’ve learned.
Exhaustion distorts reactions. It doesn’t even matter if the exhaustion came from doing a good thing that you felt really positive about, it still has the same effects. It becomes harder to control the emotions, and outbursts are likely – tears become impossible to control, most notably. Everything seems bigger and more threatening than it would otherwise be.
My first thought was that exhaustion makes us over-react. On reflection, I don’t think this is it at all. How we respond to a crisis, or even what looks like a crisis in the first place, depends a lot on whether we have the resources to deal with it. If you can deal with something easily, it’s hardly a disaster. If you have no means to tackle it, you’re facing a serious problem.
It’s not the scale of the event that shapes our responses, but whether we can deal with it. Exhaustion means having little or nothing in reserve, and no resources to tackle even small things. What can seem petty from the outside, can be unbearable from the inside because there is no way to bear it on top of everything else.
When we’re watching someone else’s reactions, the temptation can be to judge the appropriateness of their response by what we’d do when faced with the same challenge. This misses out that way we all face challenges differently, with entirely different resources and vulnerabilities. Thus we can end up thinking someone else is over-reacting or making a fuss, rather than recognising that their situation is undermined by problems we don’t have.
Yes, of course there are people who over-react and make a fuss, but this comes from factors of personality and circumstance, and is part of where they start from when dealing with a problem. If you’ve never seen a mountain, you might be more intimidated by the proverbial mole hill. The worst thing you’ve ever dealt with, is the worst thing you have had to face, regardless of how it compares to other people’s experiences. This is really noticeable watching children get to grips with setbacks.
It can be hard, when your problem looks like a mountain and the next person is wailing about what, to you, looks like a mole hill, but we all have our own hills to climb. Spending time getting cross with other people over how they deal with problems is a waste of time and energy. We will all have to make choices about what we can help with, and what we have to ignore, but in recognising how different experiences may be, we can make life a bit easier all round by not getting frustrated about it.