Fatigue is a common side effect of many medications as well as a symptom of multiple health problems. Although not terribly painful, chronic unmanageable fatigue can be frustrating as well as debilitating. It is a symptom without any visible proof. It is not considered life threatening as long as you aren’t driving, operating heavy equipment, or engaged in a risk occupation. Few symptoms can disturb quality of life more than relentless fatigue can. However, you don’t have to take fatigue lying down.
Even if you know what is causing your fatigue, it is important to rule out other factors. Start by talking to your doctor. Fatigue is a symptom of many conditions such as thyroid dysfunction, anemia, depression, sleep apnea, liver disease, and peri-menopause. Report all drug and supplement use to your medical provider. Include vitamins, herbs, over-the-counter and recreational substances as well as prescribed medications. These may be contributing to your fatigue.
Your doctor may suggest medication. Caffeine is probably the safest substance to combat fatigue and it doesn’t require a prescription. Antidepressants, especially bupropion (Wellbutrin) are sometimes used for fatigue. If your situation is severe, your doctor might suggest more potent drugs such as modafinil (Provigil) or methylphenidate (Ritalin). Methylphenidate is a controlled drug, so tell your doctor if you have a history of substance abuse so you can use this drug safely.
Assuming you have already consulted your doctor, then examine three important factors that influence energy levels: sleep, nutrition and exercise. Inadequate or poor quality sleep can lead to feelings of daytime tiredness. Make sure you are getting sufficient sleep. The National Sleep Foundation states that the average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
Be sure to eat food with high nutritional value. Fruits and nuts are good choices. Eat small, frequent meals. Make sure you are taking sufficient quantities of vitamins and minerals. Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water. For the average adult, this means drinking a half to a whole gallon of water daily.
Light exercise is probably the single most effective antidote for fatigue. This is hard to believe, especially if getting out of bed is an ordeal. When you do not feel like moving, move anyway. As a popular advertisement says, “just do it.” Try 10 to 15 minute intervals, 2 to 3 times daily. If you are not accustomed to physical activity, start slowly and for shorter, less frequent periods. Some activities to try are walking, biking, swimming, dancing, gardening, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, and Pilates.
Tips for Managing Fatigue
- Stress can be draining. Learn relaxation techniques.
- Unmanageable pain can be exhausting. Seek help for this.
- Vary activities – don’t sit or stand too long.
- Balance rest with activity. Try to rest before you get too fatigued.
- Rest even if you aren’t tired. This may help you avoid future fatigue.
- Take short naps – no more than 20 minutes and not close to bedtime.
- Take a shower. Alternate water temperatures from hot to cold.
- Spend 5 or 10 minutes in the sun.
- Practice good posture.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco and recreational substances.
- Make sure your room is sunny or well lit.
- Ask for help.
- Create short cuts.
- Organize your work areas so you can work more efficiently.
- Schedule your most demanding tasks for the time in the day when you are usually at your best.
- Take “mini” vacations. Spend an afternoon doing something you really enjoy.
- Find ways to laugh.
- Practice deep breathing for a minute whenever you feel tired.
Attitude cannot cure fatigue, but it can be a powerful ally. Watch the negative “self-talk.” When all else fails, laugh. There is no doubt about it; fatigue puts a damper on life. However, humor with fatigue is more tolerable than misery with fatigue. The choice is yours.