Last Updated on April 29, 2021

9 Causes Of Fatigue And What To Do About It

9 Causes Of Fatigue And What To Do About It

What is fatigue? For many, it is a persistent sensation of mental or physical exhaustion. It extends beyond the passing sensation of tiredness. Fatigue is a chronic symptom that can be related to a variety of diagnoses or lifestyle imbalances. In other words, it is often a symptom of a larger problem.[1] In this article, we will explore common causes of fatigue and what to do about it.

Twenty-five percent of all General Practitioner (GP) visits can be linked to fatigue. A study in the USA finds that fatigue impacts 40% of workers, resulting in 65% productivity loss (compared to 26% productivity loss in those without fatigue). Risk factors for fatigue increase with age, especially amongst those with chronic pain. It is also two-to-three times more likely in females than in males.[2]

Nevertheless, no one is immune from fatigue. Fatigue decreases productivity in the workplace. It impairs athletic performance and increases the risk of physical injury. In children, it impacts performance at school. Fatigue is also linked to increased traffic incidents.[3]

Fatigue is a common complaint of individuals across the lifespan. However, it can be difficult to pinpoint the causes of fatigue. Here’re 9 common causes of fatigue and what to do about it.

Keep in mind that fatigue is often a symptom of a larger problem. If you are experiencing fatigue, it may be a sign that lifestyle changes are necessary. Chronic fatigue may also require the help of a medical professional, licensed counselor, nutritionist, or a combination of practitioners.

1. Nutrient Deficiencies

Energy comes from food. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to lethargy and physical fatigue. In the United States, nutritional deficiencies are not common. However, many individuals do not reach the estimated adequate requirement (EAR) of essential nutrients. Some several vitamins and minerals are linked with energy. A deficiency in any of these nutrients can cause fatigue.[4]

B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, and magnesium are essential for converting food into energy. A deficiency in any of these vitamins can slow down the whole system. This could lead to muscle fatigue, cognitive impairment, or mental disorders.

A Medical Doctor (MD) can check vitamin levels with a blood test. If levels are low, supplements can be prescribed. Keep in mind that the best way to absorb nutrients is through food.

If you have low levels of vitamins and minerals, consider altering your diet. The best diets are balanced and varied, with nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. It may be helpful to work with a nutritionist or MD to ensure your diet reaches the EAR of essential nutrients.[5]

2. Mental Disorders

Fatigue may be the result of an underlying mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety. The symptoms of depression and anxiety can result in fatigue if left untreated.


For example, anxiety can create fatigue related to chronic stress. Panic attacks may result in exhaustion, due to the amount of energy expended during an attack. Anxiety is also related to avoidance and indecision. To an outside observer, these symptoms may mimic fatigue.[6]

Depression, sadness, and grief may also look like fatigue. It takes energy to suppress feelings of anger, sadness, or grief. Similarly, the symptoms of depression leave individuals feeling lifeless.[7]

The following list of symptoms combines signs of depression or anxiety. Each symptom may not be related to a mental disorder. For diagnostic criteria to be met, a licensed practitioner will consider a variety of factors.

Use these symptoms to consider making an appointment with a professional. Do not attempt to self-diagnose.

Common symptoms to look for may include a decrease in:

Common symptoms may also include an increase in:

These symptoms are not comprehensive. It may be necessary to meet with a Psychiatrist, MD, or licensed therapist to obtain a formal diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Keep in mind that mental disorders may also manifest as physical symptoms such as muscle tension or chronic pain.

3. Stress

Stress is essential for productivity and motivation. It creates an internal drive to get things done. Short bursts of stress that result in productivity and a sense of accomplishment are called eustress.

However, stress that becomes chronic is called distress. There is no relief from distress. It is ongoing and results in a build-up of tension. Distress is brought on by many factors:

  • A busy lifestyle
  • Perfectionism
  • Multitasking
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Work pressure
  • Relationship issues
  • Lack of boundaries

It is important to schedule an unstructured time that is not goal-directed. Stress is healthy when it leads to productivity and a feeling of accomplishment. However, a balanced life requires moments of rest. Bursts of productivity should be rewarded with downtime and a chance to engage in enjoyable activities.


4. Work-Related Stress

There is a relationship between work stress and fatigue. Several factors may be linked with fatigue in the work environment:[8]

  • Shift work
  • Minimal breaks
  • Lack of control
  • High demand
  • Minimal social support

These work-related stressors may be managed by protective factors. Protective factors include social support, a balanced lifestyle, or a sense of purpose derived from work. However, without protective factors in place, each of these stressors may lead to burnout or fatigue.

5. Burnout

A state of chronic stress often leads to burnout. Burnout is a term that encompasses a variety of conditions brought on by work-related stress. It may also be called adrenal fatigue, compassion fatigue, or vicarious trauma. Burnout is common among helping professionals such as doctors, therapists, or caretakers.

Common feelings associated with burnout include:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling detached from work
  • Feeling unaccomplished or ineffective

In particular, people who experience burnout may feel worn out, depleted, and debilitated. Burnout may show up physically as headaches, exhaustion, muscle tension, hypertension, gastrointestinal issues, cold/flu symptoms, and sleep disorders.[9]

Burnout is caused by feeling overworked without time for rest and recovery. It is also related to feeling isolated and unsupported. Individuals who feel like they do not have control at work, are not living in accordance with their values, or do not feel appreciated are at greater risk for burnout.[10]

Work-related stress is difficult to overcome. Many people feel they cannot leave their jobs due to financial or relational pressures. However, if work is taking a toll on your mental, physical, and emotional state, then something needs to change.

Consider these ideas to help relieve burnout at work:

  • Set boundaries
  • Focus on what you can control
  • Speak openly with your boss (if you feel comfortable)
  • Ask for help or longer breaks
  • Build in breathing or grounding techniques during your workday
  • Find a hobby or relaxing activity to try after work

Rest and recovery are essential to career longevity, especially for those in the helping professions. Burnout does not happen overnight and it cannot be cured overnight. Consider working with a therapist to make the necessary lifestyle changes to overcome burnout-related fatigue.

6. Inadequate Sleep

Sleep is essential. Yet, lifestyle imbalances can result in sleep disorders and lead to fatigue. Lack of sleep is the most commonly reported cause of fatigue.[11]


Healthy individuals need at least seven hours of sleep, per night. Lack of sleep can lead to impaired mood, judgment, and memory. It can also lead to physical health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and increased mortality.[12]

Sleep hygiene is used to describe behaviors that lead to rejuvenating sleep. Proper sleep hygiene includes lifestyle factors that contribute to healthy sleep patterns. Here are several suggestions for improving sleep hygiene:[13]

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bed
  • Limit naps
  • Maintain a quiet and comfortable bedroom
  • Keep work and stress away from the bedroom
  • Maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle

A night routine can repair poor sleeping habits. Over time, this routine will begin to signal tiredness in the mind and body. It can be as simple as putting on pajamas, dimming the lights, and having a warm cup of tea. However, repetition is key to creating a successful sleep routine.

7. Inconsistent Sleep

It is common for people to experience fatigue, despite getting adequate sleep. It is a misconception that getting seven of sleep per night is enough to eliminate fatigue. Fatigue also occurs when the sleep-wake cycle is inconsistent or disrupted.

Sleep is regulated by circadian rhythms. This is a biological pattern related to light, temperature, and social interaction. It helps to signal sleep and wakefulness in the body and mind.[14]

Any disruptions in the sleep cycle can lead to an imbalance in circadian rhythms. The more variability there is between sleep and wake times, the more likely someone is to develop a sleep disorder. Jet lag, daytime napping, and shift work contribute to sleep-related disorders.[15]

As often as possible, aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time. Avoiding naps during the day can help to increase tiredness at night. Taking supplements may help to cue tiredness in the body until a routine is established. Over time, a consistent sleep and wake schedule will strengthen circadian rhythms.

8. Exercise

How is exercise related to fatigue? Too much or too little exercise could both cause fatigue.[16]

For competitive athletes, both mental and physical fatigue may be related to impaired performance. Over-exercising may result in impaired movement control, which increases the risk of injury. Mental fatigue can also result in reduced speed and accuracy.[17]

For most individuals, moderate exercise is the goal. Exercise can increase energy and reduce fatigue. This may be related to the mood-boosting neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine that are released during exercise.[18]


For individuals with fatigue, low-intensity exercise is the goal. Moderate exercise may be too much. A study by the University of Georgia found that low-intensity exercise can increase energy by 20% and reduce fatigue by 65%, for individuals experiencing fatigue. An easy walk could be considered a low-intensity exercise.[19]

This may be a great time to add gentle stretching or yoga to your routine. Walking meditation can also pack an extra mindfulness punch.

9. Medical Issues

Fatigue could be a sign of an underlying medical issue. Generally, fatigue that does not go away after lifestyle changes—such as relaxation or a good night’s sleep—may be related to a medical condition. It is important to speak with an MD regarding persistent symptoms of fatigue.

In the United States, nearly four-to-eight out of every 1,000 adults experience fatigue related to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). CFS is twice as likely in women than in men. Unfortunately, there is no diagnostic test that can conclusively diagnose CFS.[20]

Nevertheless, it is essential to visit an MD to rule out possible medical conditions related to fatigue. Several conditions may be related to feelings of fatigue:[21]

  • Anemia
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Kidney disease
  • Infection
  • Fibromyalgia

This is not a comprehensive list. Only a trained professional can make an accurate assessment and diagnosis of fatigue. However, the aforementioned causes of fatigue can help you and your provider explore your symptoms and identify potential lifestyle imbalances related to fatigue.

Bottom Line

After exploring the common causes of fatigue, you may have a better understanding of what is happening in your body. Overall, many causes of fatigue can be remedied by lifestyle changes, such as sleep hygiene, a nutritious diet, low-intensity exercise, or stress-reduction techniques.

However, this is not a comprehensive list. It is important to remember that fatigue is a symptom of a larger problem. If you are experiencing fatigue, talk to a trusted healthcare professional to ensure you are not missing a serious medical condition.

Anyone can benefit from improved quality of sleep, a nutritious diet, and stress-reduction techniques. Consider implementing a combination of these tips to lead a healthier life. Fatigue may be common but that does not mean it has to be a life sentence. Relief from fatigue is possible.

More Tips on Coping with Fatigue

Featured photo credit: Mel Elías via



[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Fight Fatigue By Finding the Cause
[2] Oxford Academic: Making Sense of Fatigue
[3] NCBI: Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue, and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence
[4] NCBI: Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue, and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence
[5] NCBI: Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue, and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence
[6] NCBI: Clinical Dimensions of Fatigue
[7] NCBI: Clinical Dimensions of Fatigue
[8] Oxford Academic: Making Sense of Fatigue
[9] NCBI: Understanding the Burnout Experience: Recent Research and its Implications on Psychiatry
[10] NCBI: Understanding the Burnout Experience: Recent Research and its Implications on Psychiatry
[11] NCBI: Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue, and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence
[12] NCBI: Sleep Hygiene Practices and Their Relation to Sleep Quality in Medical Students of Qazvin University of Medical Sciences
[13] NCBI: Sleep Hygiene Practices and Their Relation to Sleep Quality in Medical Students of Qazvin University of Medical Sciences
[14] NCBI: Sleep Hygiene Practices and Their Relation to Sleep Quality in Medical Students of Qazvin University of Medical Sciences
[15] NCBI: The Role of Sleep Hygiene in Promoting Public Health: A Review of Empirical Evidence
[16] MayoClinic: Fatigue Causes
[17] NCBI: Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue, and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence
[18] ScienceDaily: Regular Exercise Plays a Consistent and Significant Role in Reducing Fatigue
[19] ScienceDaily: Low-intensity Exercise Reduces Fatigue Symptoms By 65%, Study Finds
[20] Harvard Health Publishing: Fight Fatigue by Finding the Cause
[21] Harvard Health Publishing: Fight Fatigue by Finding the Cause

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Olivia Schnur

Olivia is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher. She writes about healing, health and happiness.

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Published on December 15, 2021

What Supplements Should I Take Daily To Stay Healthy?

What Supplements Should I Take Daily To Stay Healthy?

Having quality nutrition every day is key to staying healthy and fit. Many people wonder if taking supplements is needed to supply their needs. The answer to this question lies in a lot of factors. Here’s the thing: there is no black and white approach when it comes to taking supplements, but if you’ve been wondering whether you need supplements or not, I will help clarify some of your concerns.

Sometimes, having too many options of supplements on the market can be overwhelming. If you’re still asking yourself what supplements to take, then keep reading.

What Supplements Should I Take?

When you reach for that bottle of vitamins or fish oil, for example, you wonder if any of these will work and if they are safe. Well, the main thing you should be asking yourself is if you need them in the first place. And the truth is, there are tons of supplements for different needs.

Our body requires all the necessary nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fat, and fiber every day. The best source for these nutrients is real food. Nothing beats having a balanced lifestyle that includes quality whole foods. But the reality is that most people are not meeting the minimum requirements of certain nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals.

Even with fiber, people struggle to eat enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, for instance. That’s why you can see many symptoms like digestive issues and lack of energy.

Supplements come into the picture to help your body meet all the necessary nutrients. They also help avoid any deficiency. Supplements can even strengthen your body and enhance your metabolism. There are many benefits of taking supplements. The answer to whether you’ll need to take them depends on many other things.


Should I Invest in Supplements?

Before I suggest a list of the types of supplements you should take, this is what you should bear in mind. Supplements are just an aid to a healthy eating lifestyle. In other words, you should always aim to eat healthier, vary your plate, and have enough whole foods in your diet. That is crucial to ensure that you are meeting at least the minimum nutrient requirements.

You shouldn’t invest in supplements to get your main nutrition. Always focus on quality foods before you supplement your diet. Now, supplements can reinforce what you’re lacking in your eating lifestyle. Because of that, I love to always have some sort of multivitamin complex.

In general, if you have a proper eating lifestyle, it’s not mandatory to invest in supplements. However, there are specific cases, for example, pregnant women, in which we recommend taking supplements. Always make sure that you check with your doctor or nutritionist before taking any form of supplement.

Why Do I Need Supplements? Which Ones Are Important?

Below are the most common reasons why you may need to take supplements and which ones you should try.

1. Restricting Eating Lifestyles

As a nutritionist, I rarely recommend anyone going through a restrictive diet. In fact, I discourage it altogether. The best thing is that you embrace a balanced eating lifestyle since this is the way to ensure you stay at a healthy weight and have a good metabolism. That’s the reason why I don’t like removing entire food groups from people’s diets.

However, I also understand diverse eating lifestyles. For example, there is a vast majority of people that are actively changing to a vegan lifestyle. If you’re a raw vegan or strictly plant-based, you may need to supplement certain vitamins. Because animal foods like dairy, certain meats, and poultry have essential vitamins and minerals like B12, iron, and folic acid, then you may have less intake of these in plant-based foods. There is much debate in this area related to plant-based diets, but basically, experts recommend taking supplements.


As I said about restrictive diets, eliminating entire food groups can cause you to suffer certain problems like lack of energy, constipation, less muscle, and lower brain function.[1] Before you try any type of diet out there, make sure you have a better relationship with food and check with a health professional. Overall, a good multivitamin complex should be good enough to supply all your needs. Go for the ones that provide vitamin B complex and minerals like iron, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

2. Reinforcing Nutrient Intake

It’s true that eating the right foods is essential for your body. Apart from that, certain processed foods, like dairy, cereals, and others are fortified with certain vitamins and minerals. Take advantage of these types of healthy foods as well.

If you feel like you could lack a certain nutrient, then taking multivitamins is a good option. Not only because it will help you meet your goals, but it will also ensure that your body has more energy and better performance. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with taking a supplement to reinforce your healthy eating lifestyle. Apart from multivitamins, you could also take fiber supplements in case you struggle with digestive issues or you feel like you’re not eating enough plant-based foods.

3. Special Conditions

There are certain cases or stages in life when you may need to take supplements. For instance, pregnant women require higher amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, like iron and folic acid.[2] Elderly people should also consume some supplements since their body absorbs less nutrients compared to younger people.[3] That’s why certain protein drinks, multivitamins, and omega-3 are prescribed to this age group. Also, people who have certain chronic health problems or underwent surgery may need supplements.

Women going through menopause are also often required to take supplements.[4] If you belong to this age group, you may need to talk to your doctor about supplements to balance off your hormone levels. Remember that not all supplements are made equally, and some ingredients may have side effects. This is especially true if you’re on prescriptions. Always check first.

4. Fitness Goals

Who doesn’t want to boost their fitness results? People that train at the gym often ask if they need to have protein supplements. It all goes down to the basics: eat healthily and put that as a priority. However, you can also take supplements based on your goals.


Whether you want to burn some fat, build muscle, or are an athlete, supplements can reinforce and speed up your results. But here’s the thing: you should always do it the right way and not rely only on supplements for fitness results. Everything goes hand in hand, and it’s a matter of balance and moderation.

Now, here are some supplements you can take to improve your muscle performance, growth, and fat burn:[5]

  • Whey protein
  • L-glutamine
  • Branch chain amino acids
  • Multi-vitamin complex and fish oil
  • MCT oil

These supplements, coupled with a good diet, help provide steady muscle development, shed fat, and keep a healthy metabolism for better results. You have to be active to see their benefits, though. This will ensure your body is using up the nutrients effectively and not stored as fat.

There are some other great supplements made to boost energy levels and increase muscle efficiency. Here are some examples:[6]

  • Guaraná
  • Gingko biloba
  • Ginseng
  • Creatine
  • Citrulline

These are natural energy boosters. Caffeine also does a good job when it comes to improving your energy levels. These supplements should be a compliment to a healthy diet, or if you struggle with low energy performance when working out.

Speaking of energy, sometimes, simple lifestyle habits like sleeping better can make a huge difference in how you feel. So, make sure you are also working on these other areas of your life and not relying exclusively on supplements.


5. Beauty and Self-Care

You can also find supplements for personal care. Some help to enhance your skin health, others are for hair and nails growth.

For example, collagen and multivitamins are commonly used for beauty and skincare. Because collagen is our skin’s main protein, we need to ensure our body has enough to stay glowing and healthy. Collagen also has powerful effects on skin beauty and anti-aging. You can easily add this protein to your drinks and foods to enhance your own skin’s collagen.[7]

If you didn’t know, adding collagen to your regimen after you’re 25 can help slow down the effects of aging. At that age, our skin produces less collagen, and we lose skin elasticity. Therefore, it’s a nice addition to your supplements and skincare routine.

Final Thoughts

You should always aim to have a healthy eating regimen before thinking about what supplements you need. Second, assess what are your lifestyle and health goals. Also, determine if your health and/or fitness condition requires you to add supplements.

Remember that your objective is to get enough protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If your diet lacks any of these, look for an assessment on how to get these nutrients.

More Tips on Taking Supplements

Featured photo credit: Mika Baumeister via



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