Fatigue is an overwhelming sense of tiredness that makes your body feel weak. What most people refer to as fatigue is brought on by hard work or exertion and will go away with adequate sleep. When sleep and rest do not help, your body is sending you a signal that something else may be wrong.
A pattern of extreme fatigue can be a sign of a disabling condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). This condition affects more women than men. The onset of CFS often follows a viral illness because the immune system usually drops down. Depression often accompanies CFS. In fact, more than two-thirds of people who have CFS also have depression.
The criteria for a CFS diagnosis include severe chronic fatigue for 6 months or longer and at least four of the following symptoms:
• Loss of concentration or short-term memory
• Sore throat
• Unexplained muscle pain
• Tender lymph nodes in the neck and armpits
• Sleep problems
• Pain in multiple joints without any swelling or redness
• Headaches of a new pattern or severity
• Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 1 day after exercise or activity
• Depression and anxiety, sleeping or eating disturbances
• Serious illness such as cancer, diabetes, hepatitis, anemia, obesity, heart disease, sleep disorders, alcoholism, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, mononucleosis, and myasthenia gravis
• Infections such as viral illness
• Medications such as cough medicines and colds, antihistamines and allergy medicines, motion sickness and sleeping pills, birth control pills, muscle relaxants, and blood pressure reducers.
• Heart failure, where the heart pumps weakly
• Diseases with obstructed breathing; emphysema, chronic asthma, chronic bronchitis
What you can do
• Find ways to calm yourself. Listen to calm and relax music, say a prayer, word, phrase that gives you a sense of peace. Imagine yourself at the mountains, on a beach, or in your favorite spot.
• Organize your time. Get up a few minutes earlier so you won’t feel tired and rushed. Learn to say no and delegate when you have enough activities and responsibilities in your life.
• Take breaks. Interrupt your workday with occasional breaks. Take a trip, go on vacation, or refresh yourself at home.
• Find your lunch style. Don’t skip meals. Some people function best after eating a light lunch. Others need to eat their largest meal at lunch. Avoid eating high-fat foods that can slow you down. Eat healthy foods instead.
• Take a nap during the day. This may be helpful especially for teenagers who have hectic schedules and adults who tend to sleep less soundly. (But avoid daytime naps if they make you sleepless at night).
• Drink less caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine will give you a temporary boost, but when the effect wears off your energy level will drop drastically. Alcohol is a depressant and will make you feel tired instead of boosting your energy.
• Quit smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant, and going through the withdrawal symptoms that follow smoking can cause temporary tiredness.
• Watch less television or using phone or gadgets. Try something more stimulating, e.g., taking a walk, reading, or having a journal.
• Be physically active. Get at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. Avoid exercising before going to bed; it can make you tired in the morning and disrupt your sleeping habits.
• Get the right amount of sleep. 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night. If you feel you’re able to tackle your normal daily activities and fresh, then you have had enough sleep.
Identify the problems that may be bothering you, and work toward solving them. You may find it hard at first but learn to relax/cope with stress. Do deep breathing/muscle relaxation exercises, have a massage, and meditate. Avoid taking sleeping tablets and alcohol, they have adverse side effects and can be addictive.
Consult your doctor if you suspect that your abnormal fatigue may be due to an underlying illness.