• Call (828) 620-0521 or email us:

Vital Exhaustion

Vital Exhaustion

When I heard Roshi Joan Halifax use the term Vital exhaustion I had a visceral experience of recognition. A profound part of me resonated with those two descriptor words which are also a metaphor. Experimenting with the term, trying it on so to speak for the last few months, I am sharing it with you to help you nuance your understanding of where you may be at in terms of Self care, burnout, compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction. Next week’s blog will address the last 3 experiences and working with assessments of these experiences to begin addressing the symptoms and underlying causes. The term is not new and it has an interesting history, let’s take a peek.

Vital Exhaustion

Metaphors help us articulate and understand our experiences as sentient beings. Merriam-Webster defines vital as, “concerned with or necessary to the maintenance of life”. The term Vital exhaustion touches all of our interpenetrating fields: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual- and maybe especially the last. When I heard the term Vital exhaustion it was as if the spiritual part of me felt heard too.

In the early 1990’s the concept of Vital exhaustion was explored by cardiologists Appel and his associates. They reported three defining characteristics: (1) feelings of excessive fatigue and lack of energy, (2) increasing irritability, and (3) feelings of demoralization that precedes myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death. “Therefore, it was suggested that Vital exhaustion is a mental state at which people arrive when their resources for adapting to stress break down.” (my italics)

In 2010 it was reported that European psychiatrists have been using the term Vital Exhaustion as a possible way of defining a  nervous breakdown “which is defined by its temporary nature, and often closely tied to psychological burnout, severe overwork, sleep deprivation, and similar stressors, which may combine to temporarily overwhelm an individual with otherwise sound mental functions.”

Research in Heart Math, in “the past two decades has shown that the heart is an information processing center that can learn, remember, and act independently of the cranial brain and actually connect and send signals to key brain areas such as the amygdala, thalamus, and hypothalamus, which regulate our perceptions and emotions.” Though we don’t know where Spirit lives, it is based in a unitive experience and sages refer to the wisdom of the heart. Vital exhaustion seems to relate to the organ of the heart, and to other fields of human experience. Maintaining Vital energy needs to be ongoing and planned. By putting  Self care into my calendar daily it has become a habit. Otherwise, it is easy to act on automatic pilot focusing on lengthy “to do lists” moving to exhaustion and becoming drained of Vital energy.

When you contemplate the term Vital exhaustion, what is your experience? What part of you responds- your mind, body, emotions and/or spirit? Over time you may notice that it takes on different meanings depending upon different stressors in your life and your ability to tune in and care for your Self.

Next week we will contrast Vital exhaustion with burnout, compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction and look at measuring them. In the meantime, notice your experience of your Vital energy. Can you give it words? What strategies and tools do you employ to manage the stress in your life? What do you do to maintain your Vital energy? Do you take time in nature? Maybe you meditate, pray, journal, spend time with pets… Share with us what do you do to nourish your beautiful, kind, generous, courageous Self?

Some find our   Self Care for Vitality a free Virtual Connecting Weekly Call-in for Nurses a form of nourishing Self care.  There is a short guided relaxation, followed by a short time for silence in community and optional sharing.

Wednesdays 6:30-7:00 pm EST   Phone 712-432-3066 Pin 177444  You are welcome to join us.


Vital Exhaustion, pp 2032-2033, ©2013, Douglas Carroll
, http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-1-4419-1005-9

Benedict Carey, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/health/01mind.html

Awareness Begins in the Heart, Not the Brain, http://www.mindfulmuscle.com/heart-has-consciousness-knows-before-brain/


  • Elizabeth Scala March 20, 2017 at 11:33 am

    Great post. I like the self-reflection you encourage the reader to do. It does ring true that this type of exhaustion can be detrimental to body, mind, and spirit. I look forward to your next post regarding vital exhaustion vs. compassion fatigue. Great work!

    • Padma Dyvine March 21, 2017 at 9:11 pm

      Thanks for your comment Elizabeth. Self-reflection is actually a form of self-care also and when we don’t have time for it, or don’t do it life can be a little less vibrant.

  • Cassandra Herbert March 21, 2017 at 5:25 am

    Great blog post with some powerful exploratory questions. When I said the word vital exhaustion I felt a heaviness on my shoulders and in my heart. I felt weighted down.
    There are many things that I do to manage my stress and boost my energy, but the top five are eat a variety of colorful whole foods that give me energy, do mindful breathing, daily 5 minute meditation, use essential oils and dance.
    Looking forward to next weeks post.

    • Padma Dyvine March 21, 2017 at 9:11 pm

      Thank you Cassandra! I really appreciate the suggestions of what you to nourish your vitalit. Dancing, thoughtfulness about what you are taking in in terms of food and oils and spending time in meditation influence the more subtle levels we live on. Beautiful~

    • Padma Dyvine April 16, 2017 at 10:06 pm

      Yes Cassandra, Vital Exhaustion has physical manifestations. Thanks for sharing what just thinking about it did for you. On another note: What a great list of self care tools to manage and decrease stress and boost your energy. Glad you appreciated the questions.

Leave a Reply

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)


Your Message