It’s one thing to feel sleepy or tired for a day or two after a stressful work or life event. It’s quite another to struggle day after day to find the energy to do the things you need to do during the day. Or fight through to stay awake during the early evening hours. Fatigue is more than just feeling tired, it is limiting and lingering and may be caused by stress, illness, a chronic lack of sleep, or hormonal imbalance.
What is fatigue?
We sometimes confuse fatigue with feelings of being tired. In reality, fatigue is something entirely different. Fatigue is defined as constant, lingering and limiting tiredness that affects someone physically or emotionally.
Fatigue is not always a bad thing. During exercise, your muscles and brain become fatigued from the exertion. There is a point where you can no longer perform the rep or run the mile the way you did when you first began called muscle fatigue. For athletes, it is important to know this physical breakdown point so you can train for it and improve. You may gradually increase the distance you run or increase the weight you lift to push past your fatigue point.
And that is what most of us try to do. We begin to experience a physical breakdown and push on anyway. You may feel like you have missed too many hours of sleep, you are trying to reason through a mental fog, or you are catching the flu, but you attempt to push on in your daily tasks anyway, hoping that you will build strength in the process.
Am I tired or fatigued?
It’s no secret that we’re more stressed out today than ever before in human history. It’s common to have a few sleepless nights or days filled with more “to do’s” than hours leaving us tired, lethargic or sleepy when we are meant to be energetic. However, there is one differentiating factor between being fatigued and just tired.
You may chuckle at the National Sleep Foundation recommendation that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. You’re not alone. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 3 adults in the US don’t get enough sleep. Between demanding jobs and responsibilities at home, we may find ourselves going to bed at a different time each night and scrolling social media before bed in an attempt to unwind – both factors that contribute to a poor night’s sleep. While poor sleep habits can certainly contribute to chronic fatigue, it is not the only defining factor.
The key differentiating factor between being just tired and being fatigued is that fatigue is constant and limiting. When you are fatigued, you tend to:
- Have a loss of memory
- Concentrate poorly
- Experience unexplained joint or muscle pain
- Have more frequent headaches
- Sleep poorly, even when you have adequate time asleep
What causes fatigue?
There are literally hundreds of causes of fatigue. While some people experience it as a part of a larger illness, others simply experience fatigue and its other symptoms as a standalone condition. For this group, causes of fatigue fall into one or more broad categories.
What we eat has a direct impact on how we feel. Eating too much sugar, too many processed foods, and too little key nutrients can contribute to fatigue. Women are especially prone to fatigue that has its root in nutritional causes as they neglect their own nutrition in favor of work, home and family. Deficiencies in iron, Folate, other B vitamins, and Vitamin D can impact mood, energy levels and even reproductive health. However, men are not immune to nutritional deficiency.
Consider what happens to your metabolism and energy levels when you eat a candy bar. The combination of sugar and fat hit your digestive system like a speeding truck. You experience a sharp fluctuation in your blood sugar level that gives you a jolt of energy. However, since you have not eaten a meal with fiber, complex carbohydrates, or protein, (peanuts help a little, but don’t exactly counterbalance all of that sugar) your blood sugar begins to crash, leaving you feeling tired, hungry, cranky, or even dizzy and light-headed. Repeating this cycle over and over leads to weight gain and fatigue.
While we spend most of our time talking about the hormonal changes women experience as they age, men experience hormonal shifts as well that can leave them feeling fatigued. After age 35, the amount of estrogen a woman produces begins to drop. This is common knowledge. What most people do not realize is that progesterone, the hormone responsible for preparing the uterus for implantation, and testosterone, the hormone that revs a woman’s energy and sex drive also begin to decline at a rapid rate. As these hormones become more and more out of balance, women experience crushing fatigue, unexplained weight gain and difficult and irregular periods.
While they do not have the hormonal trifecta to contend with, men’s testosterone levels begin to naturally decline after age 30. Even though this decline is part of aging, a rapid decline can lead to unexplained weight gain, fatigue and decreased performance in the bedroom.
Fatigue may be a condition all on its own, but it can also be a symptom of several illnesses. When considering your symptoms, your health care provider is also considering the possibility of:
- Anemia – Red blood cells carry oxygen to your organs including your muscles and brain. When you have fewer red blood cells than you should, you are considered anemic which is a major cause of fatigue.
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) – Whether you call it CFS, Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), the symptoms are the same. You experience extreme, unexplained fatigue. CFS is found in women two to four times more than men and those between age 40 and age 50 are more likely to develop this condition than any other age group.
- Diabetes – While excessive thirst, excessive urination, and weight loss are hallmarks of diabetes, fatigue is the biggest differentiating symptom of the disease.
- Fibromyalgia – Fibromyalgia is not an illness, but rather a descriptive term for chronic, wide-spread pain without a cause. It affects more women than men and is characterized by daytime fatigue, aching joints and muscles, and a “fibro fog” – a mental haze that makes it hard to concentrate on the simplest of tasks.
- Heart disease – Fatigue is a common symptom of heart disease in women. When your heart does not pump blood throughout your body efficiently, you become tired easily.
- Thyroid disease – Who knew a butterfly-shaped gland on your neck could cause so many problems. If it is overactive, you tend to burn through the fuel you consume too quickly. If it is underactive, you feel sluggish.
Fatigue and mental health are inextricably linked. In fact, some argue that your mental health and physical health have a chicken and egg relationship. It is impossible to know if stress, emotional trauma, grief, and physical trauma cause fatigue or if physical fatigue contributes to stress, emotional trauma or grief. When these feelings are linked to a stressor, the fatigue tends to pass when the stressor passes. However, fatigue is an almost daily struggle for those that suffer from chronic mental health issues like seasonal affective disorder, clinical depression, postpartum depression, anxiety, and Bipolar disorder.
The Link Between Chronic Stress & Fatigue
You know what stress feels like, but do you know the biological impact stress can have on your body? You have a miraculous, biological way to protect yourself from predators called the “fight or flight” response. When you face danger, your body floods your brain with hormones in preparation to fight for your life or run away. Every part of your body prepares for the experience. Your digestion slows down, your skin becomes more sensitive, your pupils dilate, and your muscles store as much fuel as possible to prepare for the feats of strength you will require. Once you have fought or fled you naturally go into a “rest and digest” phase to allow your body to return to normal and store up for the next possible predator.
However, for as incredible as your fight or flight response is, it cannot tell the difference between facing a bobcat in the forest and an important presentation for work. Your body will respond the same. This only becomes a problem when you never enter the “rest and digest” phase. If you only feel fight or flight, eventually your adrenal glands will stop functioning the way they should and you will be left only feeling stress and fatigue.
Someone who experiences fatigue as the result of illness will often find relief once the underlying condition is treated. For others, treating fatigue involves adjusting a lifestyle, adding in non-drug therapies, balancing hormones, and managing stress. These tips and tricks can benefit nearly everyone who feels fatigued.
- Nutrition Counseling. Yes, it is tempting to live on coffee, whatever is leftover from your child’s lunch and a prayer, but consuming a diet rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins and limiting processed foods, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can go a long way to fighting fatigue. With so much conflicting information on nutrition, it is easy to see why so many Americans simply give up and eat whatever is fast and convenient. Enter nutritional counseling. Taking your lifestyle, age, hormone level, and exercise routine into account, nutritional counseling offers you customized eating plans that can help you manage your weight and fight fatigue all at the same time.
- Stress less. There you go laughing again. But learning how to manage your stress keeps your body cycling from fight or flight to rest and digest. Simply managing how you experience stress can limit many feelings of fatigue that are so common to so many of us. Massage is the perfect way to relax, work out knots in tired muscles, and find peace in a stressful world.
- Sleep. CEO’s know that the key to success is to get the same amount of sleep, during the same hours every night. While this is easier said than done during the years when you are raising a young family, getting adequate rest can often reduce feelings of fatigue during the day.
Feelings of limiting, endless exhaustion do not have to be your version of normal. Fatigue is treatable with non-drug therapies like chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, IV therapy, nutritional counseling, and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Call Pure Wellness today for your fatigue consultation and rediscover your lost energy.