The Exhaustion Funnel

The “Exhaustion Funnel” is a hypothesized causal mechanism of negative mood and depression. Here’s how it works:

There are some things we do that use up our energy and other things that give us energy, and “wellness” is about finding a healthy balance, so that you’re never on empty. For example, school work, family/friend/relationship issues, worries about the future, and money concerns may drain energy away from a student, while sleep, exercise, recreational reading, and/or participating in a knitting student org may GIVE a student energy. Make sense so far?

Now, when a person is a little out of balance, with more energy going out than coming in, they begin to feel burnt out, drained, overwhelmed, or exhausted; and they try to reduce the demands in their life by eliminating those aspects that they perceive as “optional” – and often, these are the things that GIVE them energy. Like this:


(from “The Mindful Way Through Depression”)

Imagine a student who’s taking 18 credit hours and plays a club sport finds out that their parents are divorcing. That stress may cause her to feel overwhelmed, fried. What should she do?

The obvious thing she might do is drop her sport, and this certainly would save her time. But imagine that her sport gave her social, physical, and emotional energy that nothing else in her life did. By eliminating it, she loses all the benefits that are the reasons she played in the first place.

Could they possibly drop a course? Maybe, maybe not. Could she take a course S/U? A strong possibility. Could she realign her attitude toward her courses, recognizing that a bunch of her mental energy is going toward coping with the emotional stuff in her family, leaving less available for classes? She can definitely do that – in theory.

Many students are deeply invested in the GPA as a measure of their worth as a person.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer about WHAT a person should eliminate when they’re overcommitted, but to avoid the Exhaustion Funnel, be sure to ask yourself:

What GIVES me energy?

What DRAINS my energy?

How can I balance my energy in with my energy out?

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