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Last Updated on April 29, 2021

9 Causes Of Fatigue And What To Do About It

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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]

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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 unsplash.com

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Reference

[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

More by this author

Olivia Schnur

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

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Last Updated on September 16, 2021

The Real Reason Why You Feel Exhausted (No Matter How Much You Sleep)

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The Real Reason Why You Feel Exhausted (No Matter How Much You Sleep)

I love my sleep. I always make sure to get at least eight hours each night. I’ll even leave parties early so I can get to bed at my usual time Yet, there are still mornings when I wake up feeling exhausted, even after a great night’s sleep. Whenever that happens, I run through a mental checklist, grasping at straws to explain to myself why I feel so groggy: why do I feel exhausted? Did I drink too much last night? Did I stay up past my usual bedtime? Did I hit snooze on my alarm twelve times? Eight hours of sleep a night shouldn’t result in chronic exhaustion, right?

Regardless of how much quality sleep you’re getting, you can still feel mentally exhausted, burnt out, run-down, worn through—whatever you want to call it. Most of the time, you’re so exhausted you don’t even have the time or the sense to see it clearly.

The answer is right in front of your face, but you haven’t had a chance to step back and analyze your situation. Maybe you hate your job, or you’re worried about paying rent, but you’re not actively thinking about it. How could you with all that’s going on? It’s planted in your subconscious, lurking there and eating away at your morale.

That worn-down feeling is a cumulative combination of unconsidered stressful circumstances—an amalgamation of past worries and future anxieties. We aren’t talking about your regular physical exhaustion from a long day’s work standing on your feet. This is purely in between your ears. You’re overstimulated, and it’s dragging you down. But what’s the real reason behind this brain fog? Why do you feel exhausted?

The first place to look at is stress,[1] which is the body’s natural response to a new challenge or demand. Where are you currently experiencing stress in your life?

Most pain, exhaustion, or emotional fatigue is the direct result of stress. Daily life is filled with tiny stressors—running to catch the morning bus, praying you’ll find a parking spot, or worrying about the leak in your ceiling at home. As these small stressors pile on uncontrollably, you realize you’re white-knuckling through the day.

Mental exhaustion,[2] simply put, is long-term stress. It’s having a day like the above over and over again for months on end until it weighs so much it finally drags you to the ground. You can’t keep living like this.

You may have experienced this in the form of a “mid-life crisis,” or even a quarter-life crisis where you stop and realize you never pursued the things you once hoped and dreamed of. Life passed you by in the blink of an eye. What happened to the “purpose” you once wanted to get out of life? Maybe you wanted to be an artist and all of a sudden, you look down and you’re forty-three years old sitting in a conference room surrounded by suits and boring charts.

You’re faking your way through life and you’re tired of putting on an act.

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Why Do You Feel Exhausted?

“Depression, anxiety, phobias… so many things can be disguised in a way that gives a facade of normalcy over a person’s internal struggles.” —Morgan Housel

There are many reasons why you may be feeling exhausted. There may be times when you had complete hours of sleep yet ask yourself after waking up: why do I still feel exhausted?

Why? It’s because there are other possible reasons for this exhaustion other than improper or lack of sleep. Here are some reasons why you feel exhausted.

1. High-Pressure Occupation (emergency responders and teachers)

Working in a highly stressful scene like an ER or police department is an obvious input for stress. Long hours on the job and making high-level decisions in crisis mode need to be followed by a period of rest, relaxation, and debriefing.

2. Working Long Hours

Consistently clocking in 12-14 hour days for weeks on end can drag you down. Many occupations require this type of work seasonally, like accountants during tax season. But when you’re spending that much time at week year-round and there is no end in sight, mental exhaustion can become chronic.

3. Financial Stress

For obvious reasons, being in troubled circumstances with your finances can cause long-term stress and constant worries, which lead to feeling exhausted. How can you enjoy life if you can’t afford to do the things you enjoy? No matter how much you sleep, you will still feel exhausted if something is troubling you at the back of your mind like financial problems.

4. Dissatisfied With Your Job

When you ask yourself, “why do I feel exhausted?” Try also asking, “Am I satisfied with my job?”

Many people slog through life in a job they hate. Whether it’s your unruly boss, the team that you work with, or the customers who you’re sick of hearing complaining, being stuck in a dissatisfying job can cause feelings of resentment in work and your personal life.

5. Clutter

Whether you’re naturally a messy person or life has become so frantic that you haven’t even had a chance to clean or organize, clutter plays a massive part in mental exhaustion. Having a clear workspace and a calm environment to walk into makes a difference in mental clarity. This can also affect your productivity and your attitude towards your job.

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6. Avoidance and Procrastination

When you feel exhausted, it may be because something at the back of your head is troubling you. You may have some responsibilities that you should be doing or have done but still have not. Putting things off too long will cause hidden stress to climb on top of you like a monkey on your back. Avoiding your responsibilities and procrastinating are some of the possible causes as to why you feel exhausted.

7. Living With Chronic Pain or an Illness

Going through life with stress is hard enough. Add on top of that something like chronic back pain or a congenital condition and it’s like taking care of two separate people for yourself. This can also cause feelings of resentment, bitterness, and irritation around people you love, even those who support and take care of you.

8. Death of a Loved One

Losing a close friend or family member is something everyone has experienced, and it never gets easier. Many people try to play tough and portray to their loved ones that they are okay and dealing with it just fine. But the reality is that it’s weighing them down.

Be honest with yourself about it, and have someone you can talk to. Experiencing your grief alone and not sharing it with anyone may be the reason why you feel exhausted.

9. Lack of Purpose

Life needs to have a purpose. Every individual has a purpose that is entirely unique to their circumstance. It can be guided by religion, occupation, or an ultimate life goal to strive towards, such as writing a book or owning a business. Without an ultimate purpose, it’s easy to let yourself slip into a depression that leads to mental exhaustion.

What Should You Do When You Feel Exhausted?

“When you’re struggling with something, look at all the people around you and realize that every single person you see is struggling with something, and to them, it’s just as hard as what you’re going through.” —Nicholas Sparks

1. Talk About It

It may sound obvious, but talking through these struggles with someone is a form of therapy in itself. Chances are, someone has been through the same type of thing that you’re going through right now. Don’t hide it. Open up and learn how others dealt with it. It’s more common than you think.

2. Find an Outlet or a Hobby

One way to help find joy out of a life of exhaustion is to come home to a hobby. Unwind from the workday by doing something you love that’s also a bit challenging. Learn how to play guitar, play video games with your kids, read a book, or learn new recipes to cook for your family. Take your mind away from whatever it is you’re worried about. Focus entirely on the process and get out of your anxiety.

3. Be Realistic

You can’t do everything. Look at your schedule, and be honest with yourself and the people around you about what’s possible for one person to do in a day. You can’t change the world alone. Enlist the help of others and don’t be too proud to ask. Putting the weight of the world on your shoulders may be the reason why you feel exhausted.

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4. Arrive Early

It took me years in life to realize how much being early can relieve stress. Waking up five minutes earlier gives me five minutes to relax and think if I’m forgetting anything before I head out the door. Leaving five minutes before I normally would for an event gives me five minutes to arrive and get a good seat, scope out the scene, or talk to someone and learn something about the place.

Being early allows you to be relaxed and completely comfortable as opposed to running through life in a hurry. Settle in before anyone else and have the mental edge that you’re prepared for anything.

5. Exercise More, Try Healthier Habits

Exercise is probably the last thing you want to do. But have you ever regretted a workout? One hundred percent of the time it makes you feel better and gives you the momentum to have a great day.

Try healthier habits. Go for a walk right when you get out of bed. Try a new vegetable once a week. Drink more water. Stand more. Replace dessert with fruit. If you drink ten cups of coffee a day, try to go one day a month without coffee. Healthier habits ultimately lead to a happier life in more ways than you think.

6. Journal

Similar to talking about your problems, journaling is an excellent outlet for not only getting the thoughts out of your head but also to clarify your feelings. As you write, you’ll realize you actually didn’t understand what you were thinking. Writing helps that. Do it often.

7. Take Care of Something

Get a pet. If you’re not ready for a dog, then buy a few plants to take care of. This takes the attention off yourself and on to something that relies on you for livelihood. It will help put everything in perspective and relieve stress and exhaustion.

8. Meditate

This is such an overly-used cure-all, but meditation really does help with clarity of thinking and developing a sense of calm in your life. Researchers found that meditation “decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.[3]

It doesn’t have to be sitting with your legs cross, fingers in a circle, and saying “Oooommmmmm.” Meditating can take on whatever form you’re comfortable with. It can be taking a few deep breaths before you step out of your car, or it can be closing your eyes and thinking of your loved ones when you’re having a hard time.

Sometimes before bed, I’ll just close my eyes and envision a future I want for myself. I picture the people I love hugging me and saying “Congratulations.” For what? I don’t know, but I’m putting myself in the mindset to succeed.

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Final Thoughts

Dr. Alice Boyes, author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit:[4]

“The more you work on systems for reducing stress and excess decision-making, the more mental energy you’ll have.”

This is true in so many areas. Work on habits and routines that will eliminate the number of decisions you make. The more disciplined you are in these areas, the more freedom you will have to do the things you truly want and need. But also, understand how you are getting in your own way.

Author Tim Ferriss likes to ask himself, “How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?” or “What are the stories I tell myself that interfere with self-love?”

Take a look at the actions and routines you structure your life around. Are there small tweaks you can make to get out of your own way? What would this look like if it were easy? Sometimes, asking yourself questions like these can lead to surprisingly simple solutions and answer the question of “why do I feel exhausted?”

As I said, everyone is struggling in their own way. How you manage your stress may differ completely from someone else. By being vulnerable and understanding that you have the ability to overcome this exhaustion, you can begin to find meaning. Exercise consistent positive habits and the momentum will attract more positive momentum. Oh, and get good sleep!

More Tips to Help You When You Feel Exhausted

Featured photo credit: Hernan Sanchez via unsplash.com

Reference

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