Doctors aren't talking about it with their patients. Most of those afflicted aren’t talking about it with each other. And many look well enough on the surface that you can’t tell they’re suffering.
Nevertheless, an epidemic of exhaustion is alive and well — and it’s impacting more women than ever.
“Exhaustion” isn’t yet categorized as a medical condition or disease, which makes comprehensive stats hard to come by. Even so, in 2010, women across the U.S. named fatigue as one of their top five health concerns in WebMD’s Year in Health survey. And in the American Psychological Association’s 2012 Stress in America survey, 45% of women reported feeling fatigue due to stress. Meanwhile, researchers found that women consistently report higher levels of fatigue than men.
That’s the big-picture perspective. Now, let’s make this personal: When you pause to think about it, do you know a woman who doesn’t at least occasionally complain about feeling wiped out? I don’t.
In my busy Manhattan medical practice and in my personal life, I see countless women who are struggling with their own personal energy crises. And yet, many of us tend to make excuses for fatigue, viewing it as an unavoidable consequence of hectic work, family and social lives, having too much to do in too little time, or being stressed out.
Sure, feeling tired can be a natural response to having a busy life. But feeling constantly drained and depleted isn’t normal — or acceptable. It’s a cry for help from your body or mind.
Just as you wouldn’t ignore symptoms like pain or a fever, you shouldn’t ignore your exhaustion. It’s a wake-up call that something in your body or lifestyle needs to be addressed. Otherwise, a constant state of fatigue will gradually take a toll on your body, mind, and spirit, as well as the quality of your life and your loved ones’ lives.
Believe me, because I know: For nearly 20 years straight, I suffered from debilitating fatigue. From the moment I woke up, I’d start thinking about how and when I could take a nap. More often than not, it was a genuine struggle to get through the day; I would pump myself with caffeine all day long just to keep myself going. That’s how I got through medical school.
Despite my unrelenting exhaustion, like most women I know, I pushed myself to forge ahead and fulfill my daily responsibilities, as I became a wife, mother, doctor, and TV medical correspondent. But I was running on empty, feeling perpetually drained and unable to fully enjoy the wonderful life I was building.
Eventually, I found out why I was so tired: I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and sleep apnea. While the diagnoses were an important acknowledgment that the fatigue wasn’t all in my head, they didn’t add up to a solution right away.
Over time, I tried various interventions, from medications and nutritional supplements to oxygen chambers and alternative techniques (such as yoga and cupping). Through a process of trial and error, I have found a combination of lifestyle approaches that work best for me, including power-walking, eating a Mediterranean-style diet, pacing myself in my daily life, and learning to say “no” to requests when my plate of responsibilities is full.
Best of all, I learned that no one has to accept fatigue as their fate. You are entitled to feel well and vibrant.
Persistent tiredness should be investigated until you uncover the source and treated until you have reclaimed your energy. Some of the most common medical conditions in which fatigue is a primary symptom — including autoimmune disorders (like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis), thyroid disorders, anemia, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and depression — occur more frequently in women. These conditions should be treated so you can restore your energy.
Even if there isn’t a medical cause for your fatigue, numerous lifestyle-related habits — including poor sleep and eating patterns, a sedentary lifestyle, shallow breathing and poor posture — could be draining your energy and taking a toll on your health over time.
Unfortunately, I find that many doctors neglect to ask worn-out women about the level of their fatigue or how it’s impacting them, physically, mentally and emotionally.
It shouldn’t be that way. But until that changes, it’s up to each woman to pay attention to her energy and exhaustion levels, arm herself with the information she needs to walk into a doctor’s office, describe the symptoms of her fatigue in detail, request appropriate testing, and continue to seek remedies that help her restore her energy.
I wrote my new book The Exhaustion Breakthrough: Unmask the Hidden Reasons You’re Tired and Beat Fatigue for Good to help women embark on their own journey to greater vitality. Because I’ve done it, I want to help you achieve it, too. We all deserve to feel robust and vibrant. It’s time to give yourself the chance to thrive.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock