The Secret Root Of Your Mental & Physical Fatigue

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Dr. Lissa Rankin is on a mission to merge science and spirituality. A certified MD and expert in integrative health, Lissa is a thought leader in mind-body medicine. This week, we'll be featuring some of her advice on how to feel your absolute best, inside and out. If you're inspired to learn more, check out her new course: Getting Back to 100 Percent: A Six-Step Process for Radical Self-Healing.

When you’re chronically sleep-deprived, it’s understandable to be fatigued. After all, the body is equipped to get down to doing all kinds of self-healing and anti-aging work while you sleep, and if you don’t sleep long enough, you’re going to feel tired the next day. But it’s not normal for people who sleep seven to eight hours per night to feel fatigued all the time.

Yet I saw people like this all the time in my integrative medicine practice.

And I practiced in Marin County, California — a very healthy part of the country overall. Most of my patients ate pristine vegan diets, worked out with personal trainers, took a dozen supplements, meditated, did yoga, and got their medical care not only from the best doctors at Stanford and UCSF, but also from their naturopath, their acupuncturist, and their therapist.

So why were they so exhausted all the time?

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Two questions everyone with fatigue should ask themselves

Because I had so little in my medical toolbox to offer these chronically sleepy (but otherwise perfectly healthy) patients, I started by simply asking them questions. I tried to dig deep into their lives and ended up changing my patient intake form to a 10-page deep dive into the truth of who my patients were at the core.

The insights revealed both to the patient and to me started shifting things. Questions like “What is your body saying ‘No’ to?” or “What does your body need in order to heal?” yielded some pretty shocking answers.

They'd respond by saying things like, “My body is saying no to my business. I need to quit my job.” “My body is saying no to my toxic marriage. I need to leave my husband.” “I don’t know why, but all my symptoms go away when I go to Santa Fe. I need to move to Santa Fe.”

Most of the time, their rational minds would then kick in and they’d say, “Wait, but I can’t do that!” But some of them got brave and decided to follow through on what their intuitive knowing prescribed, and not only did these people start getting their energy back; they also noticed resolution of other chronic symptoms, like chronic pain or gastrointestinal symptoms or severe allergies.

The physiology of self-healing

This exercise, and the subsequent research it spurred, showed me that the body is equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that are only active when the nervous system is in the parasympathetic mode, or relaxation response. Yet 70 percent of the time, the body is in the fight-or-flight stress response, which gets activated when the nervous system is in sympathetic mode. With the average American experiencing more than 50 stress responses per day, it’s no wonder the body’s natural self-healing mechanisms break down and people get sick and tired.

With loads of stress hormones floating around your bloodstream, your body is burning extra energy when it should be restoring and relaxing. So not only do you feel fatigued, but you’re also putting your body at risk of disease.

Whether you’re struggling from fatigue, an autoimmune disease, a chronic pain syndrome like fibromyalgia, or chronic back pain, a gastrointestinal disorder like irritable bowel syndrome, chronic Lyme, or any condition that doesn’t tend to respond well to conventional medical therapy, addressing the underlying cause of your stress response could be your ticket to health.

How to activate the body’s self-healing

You can train your body to spend more time in the relaxation response by addressing the underlying stressors in your life.

Do this by asking yourself, "What predisposed you to that symptom or disease in the first place? What is the real reason your self-repair mechanisms have broken down?” See what comes up. Maybe it's time to quit your soul-sucking job, end your marriage, find a soul tribe, address your childhood abandonment issues, or chase your true calling.

Delving into the root causes of fatigue or any other illness can be challenging, but it can also lead to a cure. I know. I’ve seen it. All of the energy you’re using up in the stress response can be channeled toward self-repair, leaving you refreshed and feeling vital, calm, and energized.