Therapy Blog

Breaking the Chains: Overcoming Fatigue and Rediscovering Vitality

Posted on Friday, October 6th, 2023 by Cristina Vrech

For many of us, energy levels are an ongoing struggle. We all want to feel rested and revitalised – but our work, home lives, responsibilities, stress levels and restricted self-care capacity aren’t working in our favour.

The process of trying to figure out how to rejuvenate ourselves can be tiring and confusing in itself. So, what can we really do to battle fatigue?

First of all, let’s define fatigue

Fatigue is a constant feeling of tiredness, burnout or a lack of energy and motivation. Tiredness is sadly all too common in today’s busy world. But if you find yourself consistently tired for a prolonged period of time, it’s likely that you’re suffering from fatigue. It can be caused by a range of factors, including stress, low mood and physical health or lifestyle.

It’s important to note that if you are suffering from fatigue and you don’t know why, or you have other symptoms which are concerning you, you should speak to a health professional to rule out any underlying causes. But if you’re constantly feeling overworked, in a rush and like most of your calories come from iced coffee, it’s likely your fatigue is the result of an unsustainable lifestyle.

Your right to rest

It can feel like life should be lived in hard mode – as if we’re not cramming our schedules full and overloading our plates at work and home, we’re not working hard enough. But life should be enjoyed. Feeling well-rested is absolutely crucial to our well-being. Rest boosts our immune systems and enables our brains to process information, regulate stress responses and be creative and productive. It makes us happy, successful and healthy. These are all things we have a right to.

A Relaxed woman breathing fresh air in a green forest.

Although common, fatigue is often a sign that your lifestyle is unsustainable for you. Although stress is what motivates us and what has propelled forward us as a species, many of the stressors of contemporary life stem from us not enacting healthy boundaries with ourselves or others.

For example, if you struggle saying no – whether it’s to your boss, your friends, or 20 more minutes on social media – this is preventing you from honouring your own capacity. In the long run, overextending ourselves is bad for our health.

What are the causes of fatigue?

Fatigue can have a range of causes, including:

  • Depression
  • Illness
  • Brain chemistry
  • Stress
  • Poor health
  • Medication
  • Lifestyle (like lack of exercise or an unhealthy diet)
  • Insufficient or poor sleep

Moreover, some of these causes, like poor sleep and stress, can also show up as symptoms of fatigue. It’s important to note that fatigue is often the result of a combination of factors which impact and are impacted by each other. Fortunately, so are the changes you can make to move towards a lifestyle which sustains and uplifts your well-being. Alleviating fatigue requires a holistic and well-rounded approach.

What are the symptoms of fatigue?

Fatigue can be the cause of many symptoms; you may not experience all or even most of them.

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Tiredness or lack of energy (regardless of sleep)
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling newly or overly overwhelmed, anxious, apathetic or hopeless
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Brain fog
  • Lack of libido
  • Headaches
  • Low mood or mood changes

All of these symptoms can affect and relate to one another. For example, a lack of sleep may cause headaches and lower libido. These symptoms tend to present themselves gradually, but if you’re in a period of high stress they may appear more suddenly.

Addressing your fatigue

When finding methods to address fatigue, it’s important to look at where your lifestyle is potentially draining you. A need for rest won’t be cured simply by getting more sleep – there are a range of ‘types’ of tiredness:

Physical fatigue:

If you’re constantly on the go without taking breaks and aren’t eating or sleeping properly, you may find yourself feeling physically fatigued.

Mental fatigue:

If you are constantly busy, stressed and always thinking about the next thing on your to-do list, you may be mentally fatigued. Psychologist Gemima Fitzgerald has stated that “overwhelming cognitive demand causes mental exhaustion”, which essentially means that if you’re putting too much pressure on your brain and not giving it time to process and rest, it will eventually affect your brain’s ability to function to the best of its abilities.

Emotional fatigue:

Similar to mental tiredness, if you have been stressed or strained for a prolonged period of time, you may be struggling with emotional fatigue. Notably, this type of tiredness can also (unsurprisingly) stem from periods of heightened emotion, such as grief or anger.

Social fatigue:

Social fatigue can come from spending too much time interacting with others, whether that’s online or in person. Although social interaction is good for us, everyone needs time alone with their thoughts. And, although socialising is a great distraction from things that are worrying or bothering us, avoiding thinking about them will only make things worse in the long run. Social fatigue is particularly common in neurodivergent and introverted people, but can happen to anyone.

There is a pattern linking all of these types of fatigue – they all stem from overexertion and not maintaining strict boundaries. Although it can feel good to be busy, productive and sociable, it’s important to take stock of what is feeding your soul and what is draining it, and to address this, so you feel empowered to focus your energy on the things you care about.

Prioritising self-care

It sounds obvious, but to fight tiredness, you need to rest. But rest can mean different things. Just as there are different types of fatigue, there are also different types of rest: passive and active.

Passive rest involves engaging in rest for rest’s sake, without any effort. Essentially, this might mean sleeping, sitting quietly or maybe listening to some gentle music. The key to passive rest is that it shouldn’t be physically or mentally taxing – so, unfortunately, watching TV, scrolling through your phone or going out with friends won’t count as passive rest. You should feel able to let your mind run completely free, which will allow your brain to process your thoughts, memories and emotional state.

Image of a happy senior woman enjoying a day in nature,

Active rest means doing activities or hobbies which require some creative, physical or social effort, but which you find enjoyable, and which make you feel more relaxed afterwards. This might mean stretching, doing a hobby you like, playing an instrument or going for a walk. The important thing is that you do things that you enjoy, but that don’t drain your proverbial batteries.

There are also a number of areas where your lifestyle may be impacting your health and therefore causing fatigue. If you aren’t eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep, or if you frequently consume substances with stimulating or depressive effects (such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or drugs), your body and brain are trying to maintain your physical health whilst also dealing with all of life’s everyday pressures.

For many people, intentionally creating space for rest (or even contemplating doing so) can lead to feelings of discomfort, or even guilt. It’s important to remember that your life is your own, even if you have people who depend on you. You have the unimpeachable right to feel good within yourself and your life. If you are struggling to enact the necessary boundaries to create space for yourself, you may want to speak to a supportive friend, family member or therapist about why this might be.

The role of therapy in overcoming fatigue

There is evidence that talking therapy can help to fight fatigue – particularly if it’s caused by high stress levels or low mood. To overcome fatigue, it’s not enough to understand that you are anxious or overworked – you need to understand where your drive to perform and deliver beyond your ability stems from. By addressing these in a supportive, confidential space with an empathetic trained professional, you can learn to identify your triggers and reframe your responses to stressors and pressure. And remember, you don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental health issue to seek counselling – therapy is a comforting and supportive way for anybody to navigate life’s challenges.

In today’s world, where everyone is supposed to be over-achieving, hyper-productive and successful, choosing a different path can sometimes feel like admitting defeat. But remember, all the most successful people take the time to decompress and return to a place of relaxation. And you won’t be able to achieve the things you deserve if you’re running on empty. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Moving past fatigue to vitality

 It’s not enough to not feel tired. You have the right to feel good, rested and healthy. Although it won’t be immediate or easy, you can take steps to rediscover your vitality, and even the process of making these changes is empowering and encouraging.

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