The Most Common Signs of Fatigue

It is extremely common to hear someone say “I’m so tired today” or other phrases. The causes of this temporary tiredness are usually identifiable–perhaps lack of sleep the night before or stress from having to complete a large amount of work. Not surprisingly, they can usually be remedied easily, such as with sleep or relaxation. However, this is significantly different from fatigue, which lasts longer and is not relieved with rest. Fatigue is a state of constant tiredness and weariness to the point where it affects one’s energy levels, concentration, emotional and psychological well-being. The causes are usually more severe and serious than a bad night’s sleep or stress from work, as fatigue develops gradually. Generally, disorders, diseases, or lifestyle habits are the factors behind fatigue.  

Although fatigue is common, it can be a sign of underlying illness. It is important to know that certain conditions such as hypothyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, anemia, diabetes, depression, endocarditis, and sleep apnea can cause fatigue. However, more often than not, the cause of fatigue is less severe. The three main types of fatigue are physical fatigue, emotional fatigue, and psychological fatigue, all of which will be briefly discussed. Physical fatigue can possibly stem from underlying medical condition or physical overexertion, such as in sports. Other sources can be a state of constant busyness or an unhealthy diet. Of course, this is not to say that constantly being busy or having an unhealthy diet will definitely cause fatigue, or that it is the sole reason for fatigue. Emotional fatigue results from dealing with personal life events. Emotions such as grief, confusion, anger, fear, and/or dread can become so intense that they leave the body in a continuously distressed state. When the body is tense and constantly stressed, you can quickly exhaust all of your energy and become overwhelmed by simple tasks. Constant worrying can make it difficult to have a good night’s rest, adding on to one’s fatigue. However, it is important to note that prolonged sleeplessness is a small part of emotional fatigue, and is different from not being able to sleep well one night due to short-term stress. Lastly, there is psychological fatigue, which occurs when there is a significant decrease in the abilities of our skills and output due to emotional and attitudinal factors. Psychological fatigue also has to do with one’s attitude towards life and daily actions, as well as motivation levels.

Since fatigue is usually a symptom or result of something, after determining which type(s) of fatigue is present, it is important to obtain treatment for it, whether through medication or lifestyle changes. For example, if hypothyroidism is the sole cause for fatigue, there is medication that can be taken to treat hypothyroidism, which may in turn decrease or eliminate one’s fatigue. Of course, there may be more complex cases, such as when there are both physical and psychological factors present. Another key point to remember is that there may be a delay between the beginning of treatment and absence of fatigue. For example, depression is not like a common cold in that it can be cured relatively quickly with medication and rest. Those with depression require more time to recover, which would then require more time for fatigue to be reduced or eliminated.

When it comes to fighting fatigue, these tips can be separated into four categories. Dietary suggestions include eating a balanced diet, cutting down on caffeine to rely less on it, not skipping meals, not overeating, staying hydrated, and eating iron-rich food. While these tips seem like general advice given when it comes to diets and eating healthy, they are important in providing one’s body with energy for the day, or even long term. Without proper eating, it is difficult to maintain high energy levels and stay motivated in one’s daily life. Sleeping suggestions involve avoiding naps, sleeping the required hours per night, avoiding sleeping pills, and relaxation (not overthinking) in bed. Lifestyle tips which would help prevent fatigue are to not smoke, not excessively consuming alcohol or drugs, and to exercise. Psychological tips, which is helpful for those suffering from psychological fatigue, include going to therapy, finding someone to talk to, changing up lifestyles, and decreasing stress factors. These tips may seem to be common knowledge or perhaps easier said than done, but without putting in the effort, results would not be seen! It is therefore crucial to figure out what is the cause behind fatigue, and come up with ways to not only treat it, but also to prevent it from reoccurring in the future.

Stephanie Chan