Fatigue is one of the most common complaints people bring to their doctors’ attention. And sure, it can simply be a natural response to a busy life.
But feeling exhausted all the time isn’t normal or acceptable. In fact, it's actually your body's cry for help, letting you know that poor lifestyle habits or a hidden medical condition are sabotaging your energy.
After struggling with my own fatigue for nearing twenty years before finding a cure, I wrote my new book The Exhaustion Breakthrough to help others recover their vitality, too. Here, I'm sharing the most common reasons for exhaustion — and how you can remedy your fatigue.
1. You’re sleeping erratically.
If you’re not getting the hours of shut-eye your body needs, or your bedtime and awakening times are wildly different from day to day, you’re depriving yourself of the restorative powers of sleep. Without steady zzz's, you won’t have the opportunity to recover sufficiently from the previous day — or prepare well for the next one.
What to do: Carve out 7 to 9 hours for slumber each night, and follow a consistent sleep schedule every day. Even on weekends, only vary it by an hour at most.
2. You're eating the wrong food.
If your diet consists of lots of simple carbs — think chips, crackers and white bread — or sugary and processed foods, you may experience rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin. This is usually followed by a major drop and then cravings for more carbs.
Similarly, if you're the type to frequently skip meals, you’re sending your blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride and depriving your body of the steady flow of nutrients it needs to thrive.
What to do: Plan your meals and snacks so that you're eating something every three to five hours. Ideally, your diet should be made up of a combination of protein (eggs, legumes, beans, seafood and fish, skinless poultry), healthy carbs (whole grains, vegetables, fruits) and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, olive and canola oils).
3. You’re sitting still too long.
Spending long hours at your desk or on the couch at home can make you tired, because your body equates stillness with sleep. Plus, when you’re sitting still, your breathing and heart rates slow down, along with your circulation — bringing less oxygen and fewer nutrients to your brain and body tissues.
What to do: Get up! Make it a habit to move around for at least five minutes every hour, whether you stretch, pay a visit to a colleague, or take a short walk. And try to exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
4. You’re as parched as the Sahara.
It's likely you're walking around mildly dehydrated. And having even a 2% lower-than-optimal fluid level can lead to lethargy, low mood, headaches and trouble focusing.
What to do: Carry a water bottle with you and refill it throughout the day. To make plain H2O more exciting, add lemon, orange or cucumber slices.
5. You’re carrying tension.
This goes for both your body and your mind — you might have a tendency to clench your muscles or mentally engage in catastrophic thinking when you’re stressed. Holding onto this tension can drain your energy quickly, instantly making you feel tired.
What to do: Give yourself periodic time-outs to defuse tension. Try a technique called progressive muscle relaxation: working your way from your head to your feet, consciously tense and then relax your muscles. And try to clear your mind — when thoughts enter, notice them and as if they were leaves drifting on a stream, let them pass.
6. You’re slouching through life.
Poor posture makes you look tired. But it actually also makes you physically feel sluggish, too. That's because slouching and slumping place excess strain on your back, hips and joints, which can make you achy and fatigued. Plus, if your spine, neck and head aren’t in the proper alignment, your brain may not be getting as much oxygen as it should, making you feel unfocused and foggy.
What to do: Check your posture regularly and correct any misalignments. Whether you're standing, sitting or walking, your head should be lined up over your ribs and hips — not sticking out in front of them — and your ears should be in line with your shoulders.
7. You’re breathing too shallowly.
When you take small breaths or inhale and exhale irregularly, you don’t take in enough oxygen. This can lead to lower-than-normal levels of oxygen, higher levels of carbon dioxide in your blood and a poor supply of nutrients to muscles, organs and other tissues throughout your body. The result: Fatigue.
What to do: Place your hand over your belly button, and as you inhale slowly, focus on making your stomach and chest move, then slowly exhale. Do this for 30 seconds at a time, several times a day, and soon breathing better will come naturally.
8. You’re chronically overscheduled.
Having an overwhelming to-do list — you know, the kind that never gets completed but simply rolls over to the next day — can make you feel deflated, defeated and exhausted. Similarly, being constantly accessible by phone, e-mail and the like can contribute to stress and fatigue because you always feel "on."
What to do: Get in the habit of saying “yes” to essential, meaningful or rewarding activities and “no” to non-essential requests. Take regular breaks from digital devices during the day and turn them off at least an hour before bedtime.