woman leaning on bike smilingShare on Pinterest
Stephen Zeigler/Getty Images

Work can wear you out, whether your job requires physical labor or not. There’s more than one way to feel tired, and the daily demands of your job can leave you physically and emotionally weary, even if you spend your days behind a desk.

Other stressors — from relationship issues, to financial worries, to health concerns — can intensify the strain. And then there’s COVID-19.

If you’re still going in to work, you might find that you feel extra-exhausted from the added stress of worrying about potential exposure to the new coronavirus on the job.

If you now work from home, you might feel slightly safer — at the cost of greater pressure to blur the boundaries between work and home.

Long story short, it’s all too common to feel tired from working, especially during times of crisis and difficulty. You may not be able to quit your job completely, but you don’t have to watch your energy reserves slowly dwindle away, either.

If work has you feeling a little more exhausted than usual, a good first step might involve taking a look at any habits potentially contributing to your fatigue.

Maybe you feel too worn out after your shift to do anything except relax in your favorite chair with your phone. You regularly stay up late to give yourself more time to relax, but you find it hard to drift off when you finally make it to bed.

Even though you want to get out for a hike, see your friends (safely!), and make time for meal planning and cooking, you just can’t seem to find the energy.

Nutritious meals, better sleep, and physical activity won’t make stress magically disappear, of course, but small changes can still be key to reducing fatigue and preventing burnout.

Improved sleep can certainly help you feel less tired, but regular exercise can also make a difference, as backward as this might sound. If you aren’t up for a full workout, no problem. Even a brisk walk around the block can help boost your energy levels and mood.

You might feel more informed and prepared to deal with challenges when you leave work devices on throughout the evening and weekend or if you continue check your email after clocking out for the day.

When coworkers or customers know you can always be reached, however, it often becomes close to impossible to fully “leave” work, especially when you’re working from home. If you’re always on the clock, you’ll never find the time to recharge.

If you’re expected to handle work concerns outside of your scheduled hours, talk with your supervisor about setting some clear boundaries around times you aren’t available.

Perhaps your heavy workload often requires you to work late. Sometimes, this is just part of the territory.

But consider whether you tend to volunteer for extra work to keep others happy or avoid guilt trips. If so, polite refusals when you’re at capacity may serve you better in the future.

It’s also a good idea to discuss options for workplace support with your supervisor or human resources office. It’s tough to be productive when you feel drained or burned out.

When you show up rested and energized, on the other hand, everyone benefits.

When you have too many tasks to realistically complete without support, it never hurts to ask for help.

You might worry that requesting support suggests weakness or incapability, but remember: Your employer likely wants you to do the best job possible. They can’t support you in achieving that goal unless they know how you’re really doing.

When you have too much work to complete alone, an informed supervisor can help by reassigning certain tasks or finding a coworker who can assist you.

For your part, avoid taking on responsibilities you can’t handle. Accepting extra work may seem like a good way to earn respect and positive regard, but this won’t do you any favors if it leaves you exhausted and miserable.

It is important, though, to make an effort to avoid letting your usual responsibilities slide, even when you feel tired and bored. Aim to stay present instead of checking out during mindless or repetitive tasks.

Knowing you did your best can promote a sense of accomplishment and leave you more motivated to keep going.

After a long workday, you might lack the energy for anything beyond a night of Netflix. Still, challenge yourself to do something different from time to time, particularly when you feel the most drained.

Watching TV or playing video games might feel relaxing, and there’s nothing at all wrong with catching up on a show or two. Yet more purposeful hobbies can often feel more rewarding and leave you with a sense of deeper satisfaction.

To feel more rejuvenated by your time off, consider starting a garden, picking up a book, or doing one thing to improve your living area every day.

Other possibilities might include:

  • creative pursuits, such as art, music, writing, or crafts
  • DIY or home improvement projects
  • spending time outdoors
  • academic study, such as learning a new language or taking a class

Prioritizing physical and emotional needs is an important part of creating balance between your work and personal life.

Taking good care of yourself can improve resilience and strength, making it easier to manage challenges as they come up.

When you feel physically and emotionally sound, it usually becomes easier to maintain a positive outlook and fend off the feelings of irritability, hopelessness, and pessimism that often accompany persistent exhaustion and stress.

While getting enough sleep and eating well do have an impact, self-care goes beyond these basic needs. It might involve:

Learn more about identifying your needs and creating a personalized self-care plan here.

Keeping stress to yourself can isolate you and make you feel worse.

You might worry you’re burdening others by talking about what’s going on, but think about how you’d feel if a loved one were in your position. You’d probably want to help them however you could, right?

Friends and family might not have the ability to directly relieve your fatigue, but they can still offer support by listening and helping out in small ways, especially if you’re vocal with them about what you need.

Your roommate, for example, might motivate you to get up and make dinner by inviting you to help them out with a new recipe. Your mother might drop by with a bag of groceries when she knows you’ve had a long week.

Simply knowing you have support from your loved ones can increase feelings of belonging and connection, making it easier to detach from work when the day is done. Feeling less tethered to your job can, in turn, help you relax and recharge more successfully.

Just as repetitive tasks can lead to yawning and zoning out, an easy but monotonous workday can leave you feeling drained and mentally numb. Changing up your typical routine can make a big difference.

Some things to try:

  • Switch the order of your daily tasks. Work on less challenging tasks in the morning, when you feel freshest and less likely to zone out. Save more stimulating tasks for the afternoon to keep you out of a post-lunch stupor.
  • Be mindful. Take a few minutes of each break for a quick meditation, walk, or breathing exercises. These can help you feel more refreshed than other break activities, like catching up on social media or scrolling through the latest news.
  • Consider alternative workstations. You could try using a standing desk or replacing your chair with an exercise ball. If possible, vary your environment throughout the day by working outside or near a window on sunny afternoons.
  • Talk with your supervisor about flexible scheduling. Some people find they work better at certain times of day and prefer an earlier or later start. Other prefer to work 4 longer days in order to take a 3-day weekend.

You’ve taken steps to address your tiredness, but workplace circumstances continue to drain you, and your employer has been less than supportive of efforts to create change. What next?

It may be time to consider another job or career, one that allows you to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Without this essential balance, the situation will likely only get worse.

You might find it hard to “show up” mentally even when you’re physically present, and you may take little pride in your work. Your emotional well-being and relationships with family and friends may bear the burden of your exhaustion, too.

Sometimes, lingering tiredness is just a normal outcome of working, but exhaustion — physical or emotional — can have other causes, too.

If you have other unexplained symptoms, including pain, changes in appetite, or stomach distress, it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider to rule out other concerns.

A therapist can help you explore reasons behind tiredness accompanied by mental health symptoms, including:

If you’re thinking of a career change, your therapist can offer career guidance and counseling as you make the switch. At the very least, they can direct you toward helpful resources.

You don’t need to wait to recharge until you’re running on empty. It’s usually harder to recover your strength after you burn out.

Making time to recharge and drawing a darker line between work and home life — visualize this line in Sharpie, not pencil — can help you manage stress before it knocks you down completely.

If your exhaustion begins to affect your relationships or quality of life, it’s best to talk with your healthcare provider right away.


Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.