More and more people are reporting feeling tired, lethargic and lacking in energy on a daily basis. Around 230 million people in the US struggle with fatigue – with an estimated 2.5 million suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME.

A recent survey conducted in 2022 found that Americans are more tired than ever before. In a poll of 2000 respondents, 55% said that no amount of rest helped them to feel more focused, whilst the average US adult feels tired for at least three days per week. According to CDC figures, women are more than twice as likely as men to experience fatigue.

Whilst fatigue can often be quickly attributed to an easily identifiable source like stress at work or a new baby, sometimes the underlying causes aren’t obvious or clear without further investigation, or involve multiple factors at play. Here we investigate the causes behind fatigue and ways you can find relief, including some you may not have considered before.

What is fatigue?

People often mistake ‘fatigue’ as a term meaning ‘tired’ – but whilst it is normal to feel low on energy every now and again, fatigue is characterized by a feeling of intense and constant tiredness, which does not go away even with adequate and restful sleep. Fatigue can be mental, physical or a combination of both, and can also be accompanied by weakness.

For most people periods of fatigue come and go – it’s often a symptom of an underlying health concern or due to a combination of factors including lifestyle, social and psychological elements. But sometimes fatigue becomes persistent, such as in the condition Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME.

Symptoms of fatigue vary from person to person, but commonly include:

*Feeling tired and sleepy for a prolonged period of time, long-term exhaustion

*Feeling dizzy or light-headed

*Trouble focusing and poor concentration

*Impaired decision making


*Muscle weakness

*Sore or aching muscles

*Mood swings

*Impaired hand-eye co-ordination (clumsiness, dropping things)

*Blurry vision

*Low motivation

*Short-term memory loss

You may be affected by some or all of the above symptoms, which can also vary in intensity.

Why does fatigue occur, and what does fatigue indicate?

To understand what fatigue indicates, we need to understand why it happens and what can cause it. Often, the causes are numerous and can be assigned to a combination of things rather than just one trigger or event.

Common causes of fatigue can be grouped into four categories:

*Medical causes: Fatigue can be a sign of an undiagnosed condition or illness such as heart disease, diabetes or thyroid dysfunction.

*Lifestyle causes: There are many factors linked with our everyday choices which can trigger fatigue. These include lack of sleep and sleep disturbances, low activity levels, using alcohol or drugs, poor diet and a busy schedule.

*Work-related causes: As we spend so much of our lives at work, it can have a significant impact on our health, especially for those with demanding jobs. Workplace-related causes of fatigue include shift work and irregular hours, such as night shifts and long hours, stress at work, unemployment, burnout and heavy workload.

*Emotional difficulty and stress: Fatigue commonly accompanies a number of mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, grief and stress.

To understand what may be behind your fatigue, consider the lists above and note if anything resonates with you. If there’s nothing clear at first, it’s important to consult with a doctor so that they can run tests to take a look at any invisible causes of fatigue and offer appropriate treatment.

Strategies for dealing with fatigue

The very first thing to do if you notice that fatigue is affecting you or a loved one is to speak to your physician to determine what the underlying causes may be. An integrative doctor can help you to assess any external factors such as lifestyle choices, imbalances or deficiencies that may be playing a role in the development of your fatigue. They will also run tests to check vitamin levels, thyroid function and iron.

If you’ve been diagnosed with fatigue, there are some things you can do to help yourself feel better. These include:

*Taking time off work (where possible)

*Pacing (spacing out activities throughout the day or over the course of the week rather than doing too much and becoming exhausted more quickly)

*Light activity (gentle exercise can help to boost energy levels)

*Eating enough and upping intake of essential vitamins and nutrients

*Practicing good sleep hygiene

*Asking loved ones for help with daily tasks and jobs around the house

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