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Robin Williams’ Death Is A Wake-Up Call: 12 Natural Ways To Fight Depression

Robin Williams’ Death Is A Wake-Up Call: 12 Natural Ways To Fight Depression

The fallout from depression of loved ones and people we admire such as Robin Williams leaves us as stunned survivors, shaken in disbelief. We are struck with shock and left with questions such as, “How could someone who “had it all” want to take his own life? and “If someone with so much talent, intelligence, money, fame, prestige, along with such close friends and family could take his own life, where does that leave the rest of us with so much less?” 

The lesson we can learn from Robin Williams is that severe depression is an equal opportunity mental illness. It cuts through all levels of society, and wealth, intelligence, talent, power and fame cannot inoculate everyone from the effects of severe depression. Although fame and fortune are nice perks, it can not take away mental illness and distorted perceptions of self and the world. Neither can the reassurance of close family and friends, although they certainly can help. The key lies within the recesses of a person’s mind. Depression defies reason, and perception becomes more important than reality.

As in the case of Robin Williams. despite what he had accomplished, and despite millions of people thinking otherwise, his distorted self view of himself and his place in the world offered no hope for happiness. Depression robs people of the objectivity that there is hope at the end of the tunnel, leading to crippling depression, and in extreme cases, to suicide.

The death of Robin Williams has triggered a national conversation about depression and sends an important wake up call about the need for more public awareness and examination of the mental illness of depression.  In an article in the San Francisco Examiner, Dr. John Greden, executive director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center and founding chairman of the National Network of Depression Centers,wrote that 1 in 6 Americans suffer from depression or bipolar disorder at some time in their lives, and “an astounding 75 to 80 percent of deaths by suicide can be linked with these mood disorders.”  He urges that  more national focus is needed to fund and research how to understand and fight the disease of depression.

What can we learn from the tragedy of Robin Williams – A man who had so much but at the end had so little hope?  We are reminded that depression is serious and needs to be treated. There is much we need to learn from this tragic death, so that depression becomes less of a curse that affects so many individuals in all walks of life.

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The following are 12 natural ways to fight depression. These 12 tips offer hope to the rest of us that can honor Robin William’s memory by learning from his life and death. In the end, he lacked the mental clarity to keep himself alive, and hopefully we can use this wake up call to better our own lives and those around us who suffer from the disease of depression.

1. Develop Rational Thinking Skills

Although depression is a mood disorder, underlying troubled feelings are troubling thoughts that are often exaggerated and distorted. Developing skills to identify the irrational thoughts that precipitate irrational feelings is a crucial key to defeating depression. Challenging irrational thoughts is the cornerstone of the most popular and effective type of therapy for depression: Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).  Learning CBT skills from a variety of self-help books and resources widely available, such as David Burns, The Feeling Good Handbook, offers practical tips on how to change thoughts to change – and even save – your life. Of course, individual therapy with a CBT-oriented therapist can provide much needed support and structure to learn how to limit cognitive distortions. For example, thoughts such as “I’m a loser” are depression-producing, and can be replaced with less black and white self-statements that are more factual such as “I am disappointed with myself.” Turning hopeless and extreme self-statements into more mature and healthier self-talk is one of the best methods to avoid living in a depressive funk.  It takes practice, however, and for many it does not come easy to think in ways that are not self-defeating.

2. Avoid excessive use of alcohol or non- prescribed drugs.

Although prescribed medication can be essential for some people with biochemical related depression, self-medication with drugs and alcohol makes people worse. Substance abuse and depression is a deadly combination. Robin Williams had a life long battle with substance abuse, despite many years of sobriety and regular attendance at AA groups.

When people become addicted, the effects of depression are multiplied and irrational thoughts increase, leading to unhealthy behavior and bad judgement. When people use drugs and alcohol to relax or feel better about themselves, they are undermining healthy control of their lives and are sabotaging their hope for more than a temporary escape.  Rather than deal with their feelings, they try to escape from them. Williams himself admits that he relapsed in 2003 while filming in Alaska, to ward off feelings of loneliness and fear, admitting it only led to more isolation.  “I just thought, hey, maybe drinking will help. Because I felt alone and afraid. It was that thing of working so much, and going fuck, maybe that will help. And it was the worst thing in the world….And then the next thing you know, it’s a problem, and you’re isolated.”

Williams was right to view alcoholism as a prelude for isolation. Alcoholism also leads to more depression. After all, alcohol is a depressant, and after the temporary numbing of emotions and self-medication, it makes depression worse. It is a very serious combination. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in this country, and alcoholism is one of the strongest predictors of suicidal attempts. In fact, it has been estimated that those with depression with a substance abuse disorder are six times more likely to commit suicide.  The strong link between substance abuse and suicidal behavior is a red flag for suicide.

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3. Talk about it!

Those who keep quiet about their depression and keep it in due to fear of the stigma and embarrassment. However, by keeping isolated, idiosyncratic distorted thinking interferes with gaining a healthier, more objective, perspective.  Using a supportive network to share one’s darkest thoughts and feelings can help decrease a sense of hopelessness and isolation. As Williams described in the quote above, isolation and depression are a risky combination, and those who find supportive relationships with friends and family in which they are not judged or ridiculed are important in defeating depression.

Making efforts to connect and share thoughts and feelings can help enormously. Connection with others is the antidote to depression. Remember the old Bell Telephone mantra – “Reach out and touch someone!”  Furthermore, seeking out positive people is crucial, not those who support your negativity or are overly critical. Keeping up with social activities also helps defeat depression.

4. Do not be too proud to get professional help.

As a Psychotherapist myself, I have been struck by how much just sharing and talking in a non-judgmental, supportive atmosphere has helped my clients overcome depression. Admitting you need help is the first step to helping yourself. Although many depressed individuals feel weak if they ask for help, I urge my clients to view the decision to seek help as a sign of courage and strength, not weakness. Besides, therapists can not only lend support, they can provide clients with the tools they need to develop important life skills to help combat depression. Life skills to help manage stress and anger, improve unhealthy thinking and improve communication are some examples of skills that can be learned. Counseling offers more than a sympathetic ear and common sense – it offers tips and tools from a trained professional to help clients learn the steps to live positively.

5. Stay active.

Even if you need to push yourself, develop some game plan for action throughout the day, breaking large tasks into manageable pieces. Discipline and proactivity is good to help lift moods, and can help depressed individuals gain a sense of mastery and competence. When people are depressed, they often feel overwhelmed and lack the energy to even start. However, this increases depression and guilt, leading to more negative self-talk. Pushing yourself to pick something to do, and schedule time in small chucks, can do wonders for mood. The NIKE slogan, “Just Do it” is a great way to naturally fight depression. Proactivity is related to self-esteem and stress resilience.

6. Develop healthy life style habits.

Good self-care habits such as eating well and regular exercise are incompatible with depression. Exercise itself is a great way to help fight depression, releasing not only endorphins and keeping metabolism active, but also in helping us gain a sense of mastery over our bodies and our lives.We feel better, look better, keep weight controlled, and improve self-esteem when we take care of ourselves.  Likewise, many studies have shown a strong link between eating well and feeling well. There are no shortage of studies identifying some common culprits of increasing low mood. Diets that are moderate and balanced with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, rich in nutrients and low on sugar and excess fat, help boost our mood.

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Too many refined foods and excess sugars have been linked to depression, and it has been suggested that food rich in Omega-3 can be beneficial for mood, which can be found in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna among many others. Depression has also been linked to cigarette smoking, as well as too much caffeine which can also lead to increased anxiety which triggers depression. Furthermore, the low mood-more food connection further can exacerbate depression and cause people to feel worse about themselves for their lack of discipline in overeating. In essence, appreciating the importance of the mind/body connection can help individuals ward off depression.

7. Forgive yourself for not having the foresight to know what you now know in hindsight.

Depressed individuals are often plagued with guilt.  Guilt over past mistakes, guilt over failure or not being “good enough” are all examples of the endless array of thoughts that depressed people beat themselves up about. Williams himself stated in an interview that he had issues with guilt over his past behavior and failed marriages.  “You know, I was shameful, and you do stuff that causes disgust, and that’s hard to recover from. You can say, ‘I forgive you’ and all that stuff, but it’s not the same as recovering from it. It’s not coming back.”  

It had been suggested by a family friend that also he had survivors guilt over not being able to help prevent losing his good friends, Christopher Reeves, John Belushi and Andy Kaufman. Being stuck in past regret is a direct path to depression.  Rather, it is crucial to learn from regrets and build on unproductive and crippling regret, making them into stepping stones for future successes and wisdom over lessons learned.

8. Lower expectations that are unrealistically high.

Robin Williams was larger than life – he was a true legend, but that came with a lot of pressure to handle. Even his manic tendencies couldn’t keep up with his legendary larger-than-life status. In the media, it had been suggested that facing a setback like a cancelled TV show, on top of having two failed marriages, might have led Williams to not focus on all the good he had done, but rather focus on how he fell short of his high expectations that he had for himself.

Depressed people often focus not on their successes but their failures, and these expectations are impossible to uphold over time. The tragedy of Williams shows that no matter how much success one has reached, people who are depressed still feel like they failed. They feel responsible for bad things that happen and often truly believe that people will be better off without them. So tragic that Robin Williams could not heed advice of his own character in Good Will Hunting when he kept repeating to his guilt-plagued and self-blaming therapy client, played by Matt Damon, “It’s not your fault.”

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9. Keep hope alive.

The act of suicide is an act of hopelessness. Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems, and people who are in depths of despair feel like there is no way out and things will ALWAYS be this way. Helping people to see that there is hope for things to get better is one of the best gifts you can give to a depressed person or to yourself if you struggle with depression.  Sometimes it takes the act of actually writing down what is positive or hopeful to get out of the tunnel vision mindset of depression.

10.  Remember that even if things don’t turn out – you still can.

Faced with Parkinson’s disease, a failed TV show and a lifelong struggle with depression, life might have seemed to have spun out of control for Robin Williams. However, it is important to keep in mind – it is not what happens to us – it is our taken what happens to us – which becomes most important. It is true – some things might be unavoidable in life – such as illness and adversity. However, we have the power to make the best of it – our illness or adversities do not need to define us. Some things do really go horribly wrong in life, but that does no need to define us – rather it can motivate us to rise with the challenge and develop strength and purpose instead of letting it make us lose our purpose. And indeed, there are some things so difficult that we really never really get over, but that does not mean we can not get through it. Usually, the support of loved ones can help considerably in getting through life challenges.

11. Deal with past trauma and insecurities.

It is curious that one of the world’s funniest men was by many media reports actually a painfully shy, insecure and quiet child who greatly lacked self confidence and self esteem. The question is – had he dealt with his early childhood insecurity or was he still defined by it?

All too often, no matter how successful someone becomes, they still define themselves as they did in their early school years, and no matter how successful they are, self-doubt and insecurity still define them. It is like a thin person still feeling like the chubby kid in grade school. When individuals find that old self-doubts remain despite mastery in the world, addressing those early childhood pains is essential.  Sure, we can not change what happened to us, but we can change how we deal with what’s happened to us. Otherwise, what you resist, will persist, and old messages will keep recycling that brings distortion and confusion into our present day.  Whether Robins Williams had some closure on pain from his past is unknown, but it might be that a youth spent in painful shyness and insecurity might have never really stopped defining him at his core.

12. Keep Laughing

Robin William’s gave us the gift of laughter. Perhaps it is not so curious that many comedians struggle with depression – Laughter and a sense of humor is one of the best ways to ward off depression. As William’s himself has said when interviewed by Parade magazine, “Comedy can be a cathartic way to deal with personal trauma.”  For him to say this, it appears that personal trauma was not unknown to him. The great irony is that Williams, who gave this gift of laughter to so many, who helped us learn to laugh at ourselves and the life’s imperfections, could no longer use this gift on himself.

The quote below from Robin William’s in The Fisher King offers us a sobering reminder that attitude, not reality, determines our mental health. Depression is a disease of distorted reality. Although we all admired Robin Williams as a masterful human being who had so much to offer the world with his comedic genius and compassion and goodness as a human being, his view of himself was not what we all saw. He apparently could not see past being a man alone, in pain, with no hope in sight of relief.

 “And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain.” – Robin Williams, The Fisher King

More by this author

Judy Belmont

Mental health author, motivational speaker and psychotherapist

11 WARNING Signs Of Unhealthy Relationships You Need to Be Aware Of The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People Robin Williams’ Death Is A Wake-Up Call: 12 Natural Ways To Fight Depression Quick Test: What Is Your Forgiveness IQ? 7 Essential Ways That Inspirational Quotes Can Literally Change Your Day … and Your Life!

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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