There are few things more frustrating than feeling tired all the time. Fatigue can be a trial both physically and mentally, and battling it can drain the best of us. Having the need and desire to be busy and productive is a natural part of the human condition. When the energy that is necessary to accomplish this is absent, we feel broken and incomplete. While fatigue can sometimes point to one of many health problems, the good news is that in most cases we have the power to regain our vim and vigor by making a few lifestyle adjustments. Let’s explore this topic a bit more deeply and see what we can discover.
What is Fatigue?
A good definition of fatigue might be as follows: “Acute or chronic physical and/or mental exhaustion that can be caused by any number of factors, including stress, poor lifestyle choices, illness, or medications.”
We all experience fatigue to some degree or another. In fact, a certain amount of fatigue is a good thing. Ever hear the saying: “It’s a good kind of tired…”? When we have put in a long day, fatigue helps us to know that it is time to get rest and sleep, and in fact enables us to sleep well. But harmful fatigue is more than just sleepiness. It is characterized by a seemingly unending lack of energy that is not relieved by a night’s sleep or a day off from the daily grind. Mental and emotional fatigue can also be debilitating. It can lead to poor concentration, inability to make quality decisions, and even memory loss in some cases.
Complaints of fatigue are probably the number one reason for most doctors’ visits. It seems to be a normal part of life for many in these hectic times we live in. Who has time to get enough sleep and eat right in the rat race most of us are involved in on a daily basis? The bills have to be paid, obligations must be met, and something has to give. Typically it is our health. When this occurs, fatigue is almost inevitable.
What Are the Major Causes of Fatigue?
The vast majority of fatigue can be traced to a few lifestyle choices that can be changed if we make them a priority. Let’s take a look at the most common ones.
- Inadequate Sleep: Not getting enough quality sleep is an epidemic problem in America today. We live in a 24-hour society that never shuts down. Just a few generations ago, most people lived in rural settings and sometimes literally “went to bed with the chickens, and got up with the chickens.” The workday was dawn to dusk, and without electric lights, bedtime was shortly after dark. Nowadays, we have nonstop entertainment and numerous choices of activities that can keep us up far too late into the night. Many folks are lucky if they get a good 6 hours of sleep consistently every night. In addition, our forefathers engaged mostly in physical labor, rather than sitting behind a desk all day as many of us do. Thus, they were tired and able to sleep well when evening came. Chronic lack of sleep leads to ongoing fatigue, and it becomes a vicious cycle that can be hard to break. I believe that many of us would make the necessary sacrifices in order to get to bed early enough if we could experience what it feels like to go through a day without being plagued by fatigue.
- Lack of physical exercise: Back in the day, most people got enough physical activity to make them naturally tired by the end of the day. In modern times, we must schedule exercise into our busy days, but it is absolutely necessary for several reasons. First, it enables us to sleep well at night and avoid fatigue that way. Secondly, physical activity is a great way to deal with the stress in our lives that can keep us from feeling rested and refreshed. Speaking of stress…
- High-Stress lifestyle: Stress, both physical and mental, can rob us of the ability to rest, relax, and get quality sleep as well. Stress is a fact of life, but when it is not dealt with proactively, it is an open door to fatigue and all kinds of other health issues as well. Taking care of ourselves by making sure we learn to combat stress can go a long way towards eliminating fatigue from our lives.
One suggestion for dealing with stress that is very effective for many people is the art of deep breathing. This can be done as a planned part of the daily routine, or on an as needed basis as things come up during the day. The best technique is to lie flat on your back, preferably on a hard surface such as the floor. Inhale deeply through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. It is amazing what 20 minutes of this can do as far as battling stress, and ultimately fatigue. If a stressful situation arises unexpectedly, learn to deep breathe for a minute or so without interrupting whatever you are doing. Many people swear by this, and it has made a wonderful difference in the quality of their lives.
- Poor Dietary Habits: Changing the way you eat and drink is a huge step towards fighting fatigue. Here are a few suggestions:
- Drink plenty of pure water: Water has innumerable health benefits, but one of them is that it increases the volume of your blood, which can help to avoid fatigue. Ten to twelve glasses per day is a good target for most people.
- Avoid High-fat foods: Fatty foods take longer to digest than low-fat foods, so they remain longer in the stomach. This causes blood flow to increase to the abdominal area, and thus be decreased to the brain and other organs. This can contribute to fatigue.
- Avoid overeating: Overeating makes you drowsy, and in addition it can lead to being overweight. Carrying around extra pounds is a major factor in fatigue. Simply losing weight can improve energy levels significantly for many folks.
- Eat foods high in iron: Iron aids in oxygenation of the blood, and this can be a great weapon against fatigue. Suggested foods include spinach, liver, raisins, and apricots. Dried fruits make for great energy-boosting snacks during the day.
- Avoid stimulants: High-caffeine drinks such as coffee and sodas may give you a temporary energy boost, but in the long run they will lead to ongoing fatigue. After the effects of the caffeine has worn off, your energy level will crash, and you will feel fatigued. Some folks respond to this by taking in more caffeine, but this only leads to a vicious cycle that encourages fatigue. Caffeine can exacerbate the problem further by interfering with quality sleep.
- In addition to lifestyle choices, many medications can contribute to fatigue. Some of the most common culprits are blood pressure medications, antihistamines, and certain antibiotics. You may want to consider switching to another medication or a more natural herbal alternative in order to alleviate any fatigue caused by taking these drugs.
Finally, some fatigue is an indicator of many possible illnesses or disorders. If you have tried correcting fatigue by implementing lifestyle changes or eliminating suspect medications and your fatigue has not lessened, you may want to consider getting a thorough physical by your health care provider of choice to eliminate the possibility of a disease condition. Below is a list of some of the most common ones, but the list is by no means comprehensive or all-inclusive.
- Hypotension: Low blood pressure often results in poor circulation, which can manifest fatigue.
- Anemia: If the anemia is caused by insufficient levels of iron in the blood, fatigue is a very common side effect. This can be remedied by dietary changes and/or supplementation if needed.
- Depression: Clinical depression and/or grief can wear a person out emotionally and lead to fatigue. In addition, the medications that are often prescribed will often make you drowsy and contribute to fatigue as well.
- Cancer: When the body battles debilitating diseases such as cancer, fatigue is inevitable.
- Renal disease: Kidney disease, especially in the end stages, is often characterized by extreme fatigue.
- Diabetes: Excessive fatigue is often a side effect of diabetes.
- Low blood sugar: If your blood sugar levels are too low, fatigue will most likely be present.
- Thyroid dysfunction: Both an under active thyroid (hypothyroidism) or an over active thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can result in fatigue.
- Sleep disorders: Conditions such as sleep apnea, insomnia, or narcolepsy can all manifest fatigue as a symptom. If you do not consistently get enough quality sleep, you will inevitably have to battle fatigue.
- Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): The symptoms of this syndrome (inability to keep the legs still and/or pain in the extremities) are most often experienced at night, and will often contribute to insomnia and the resulting fatigue associated with it.
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): As the name indicates, one of the primary symptoms of CFS is ongoing fatigue (continuous for six months or more) that cannot be attributed to other sources. Other clues that can point to a diagnosis of CFS are flu-like symptoms, muscle weakness and pain, and other neurological manifestations. CFS is difficult to diagnose, but even considering that, there are up to 2 million known cases in the United States. It is much more common in women than in men. Other illnesses that can readily lead to fatigue include:
- Addison’s disease (a hormonal disorder)
- Congestive heart failure
- Lupus (and other autoimmune disorders)
Fatigue is a debilitating condition that can very negatively affect the quality of our lives. It can also wear us down and make us susceptible to other illnesses. Lack of energy robs us of the ability to live full and rewarding lives. If you struggle with fatigue, the first thing I recommend is that you take a good hard look at your diet and lifestyle habits. Most fatigue can be remedied by making changes in this arena, and you will also be rewarded with many other health benefits to boot.