If you’re feeling tired – not just regular tired, but completely exhausted – then you might have stress fatigue. Lots of people do. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of stress. Faced with stressful situations or feelings, your mind and body naturally need to rest and recuperate. Stress fatigue is when that process goes into overdrive.
Too much ongoing, unrelenting stress becomes overwhelming, and it can have profound effects on your wellbeing and joy of life. Getting rid of stress fatigue is possible. But it first requires understanding what it is, what causes it, and what are the symptoms. Then you can take the steps to combat stress exhaustion and even prevent it before it strikes. So let’s get started.
What is stress-related fatigue?
Stress fatigue is when you are in a state of exhaustion – physically, mentally and emotionally – making it difficult to function in your daily life or derive pleasure from regular routines and activities. Stress fatigue is not just the normal tiredness you feel if you had a late night or did a long workout. This kind of tiredness passes quickly after you’ve had some proper rest and time to recover.
People with stress fatigue often do feel physically tired, but it is more than that. It is a constant and chronic tiredness that leads to a sense of being depleted, and of not having enough energy ‘in the tank’ to properly manage the “busi-ness” of living. In this way, stress fatigue is a mind-body-spirit phenomenon, and it should be managed that way too.
What causes stress fatigue?
Stress is a common and natural part of life. A hard day at work, a big deadline coming up, a fight with your partner, or a big bill to pay – these are all examples of things that cause stress, but they are not the cause of stress fatigue.
Stress fatigue tends to occur when an individual is dealing with stress that is chronic and overwhelming – when there is no let up from the stress. Over time, this causes the body and spirit to become exhausted, and the usual stress-relieving activities, such as having a massage or a night off with friends, are no longer effective ways to relax and recharge.
Here are some examples of situations that can lead to stress fatigue:
- Big life changes, such as a divorce or moving to a new city
- Unresolved grief, such as the death of a loved one
- Caretaking of an ill or elderly person
- Unemployment or loss of financial stability
- Lack of friends or social network
- Toxic workplace
- Living with chronic pain or illness
Symptoms of stress-related exhaustion
How can you know if fatigue is due to stress or something more serious? It’s important to check with your doctor about any unusual or bothersome symptom you may be experiencing.
Having said that, when stress fatigue sets in, so do a whole host of symptoms, both physical and emotional. Let’s take a look at the main symptoms that are common with stress related exhaustion.
- Cognitive changes: Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, poor decision making and ‘foggy’ brain can all be a result of stress exhaustion.
- Mood changes: Feeling down or depressed, or being anxious and agitated are both examples of stress fatigue symptoms. You may also have mood swings, fluctuating between both extremes.
- Sleeping problems: Many people with stress fatigue suffer from insomnia, which only adds to their sense of exhaustion. Others may find themselves sleeping a lot, but not waking up feeling refreshed or recharged.
- Weight loss or gain: Stress fatigue may cause individuals to overeat or binge eat, while other people may find they lack appetite and lose weight as a result.
- A general feeling of apathy: Lack of motivation, reduced interest in hobbies and friends, and a feeling of detachment can all arise in stress-fatigued individuals.
- Headaches & other physical symptoms: Physical upsets such as headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and digestive issues are common with stress fatigue.
- Difficulties at work or in relationships: Stress and fatigue are a challenging combination for work and relationships. It may be more difficult to get along with loved ones and colleagues, or to stick to commitments and responsibilities.
7 ways to get rid of stress fatigue
Stress fatigue does not happen overnight; it develops over time, as chronic stress takes its toll and saps one’s energy reserves. The best way to get rid of stress fatigue is not to let it creep up and set in! Here are seven ways to reduce stress fatigue and stop the downward spiral into exhaustion:
1. Avoid or reduce stress
The first place to start is by avoiding or reducing your exposure to stress and stressful triggers. Identify what causes you stress and eliminate it where possible.
If you can’t, then find outlets to relieve the stress before it becomes overwhelming and turns into stress fatigue. For example, if you are caring for an ill person, ask a loved one to take over a few times a week so you can get much-needed respite.
2. Live a healthy lifestyle
While mental stress can cause fatigue, stress itself happens in the body, influencing all physiological systems. That’s why it is so important to cultivate healthy habits, so when you are faced with stress, your body is better equipped to handle it.
This means making healthy food choices, getting enough hours of sleep and exercising regularly. This doesn’t mean you can’t indulge sometimes; skipping a workout, drinking some wine, celebrating with a birthday cake – all these can be part of an overall healthy and pleasurable lifestyle.
3. Practice mindfulness meditation
When stress fatigue sets in, the individual is already overwhelmed by their thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness meditation is an excellent and proven technique to train the mind to become aware of thoughts as they occur, and to let them go without resistance or judgment.
Over time, practicing mindfulness can alleviate stress fatigue by calming the mind and limiting the power of overwhelming thoughts. Another way to practice mindfulness is with the help of a meditation device. For example, the Reflect device is based on biofeedback that can be used to enhance meditation practice.
Biofeedback is a method in which the individual measures and tracks their physiological responses via a specialized device, which displays the information to the user in real time. Together with meditation, biofeedback can help the individual learn what relaxes their breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure and other body responses, so they can sharpen their meditation and enhance the benefits of regular practice.
Does biofeedback really work? Yes, clinical research has shown that biofeedback can be a helpful tool to promote relaxation and reduce stress.
4. Focus on work-life balance
Work-life balance has become a bit of a buzzword, but this doesn’t take away from its importance. Moderation is one of the keys to health, and creating a balance between work and other parts of your life is crucial to mental and physical health.
If you find yourself in a workaholic pattern, spending too much time working or stressing out about work, it is time to take a breather and re-evaluate how to put things back in perspective. If you are chronically overworked or struggling with ongoing problems at work, consider whether you are in a toxic workplace and whether it is right for you.
5. Reach out and connect
Social connection is one of the most important factors for a healthy life. In fact, being socially connected has been shown to strengthen the immune system, reduce disease and lower stress.
If you are suffering from stress fatigue, it is vital to reach out to trusted family members and friends, and enjoy connecting with one another. Go for a walk together, cook a meal and dine together, or develop a mutual hobby.
6. Get professional help
When signs of fatigue and stress become too much, it may be a good idea to consult a doctor or psychologist and get professional help. There are many techniques that can help ease emotional fatigue and your doctor or therapist will be able to assess your individual situation and recommend the right path for you.
7. Work on your attitude and perceptions
Mind over matter. A person’s attitude, or interpretation of events, has an enormous impact on their stress levels and ability to cope. Positive thinking is a powerful way to reduce stress and prevent stress exhaustion.
Mindfulness meditation can be helpful to work on one’s attitude, and mantra meditation is another technique to learn to let go of negative self-talk, reduce stress, and boost mood.
Can emotional stress cause a lot of exhaustion?
Yes. In fact, the key cause of stress fatigue is not marathon running, but chronic, unrelenting emotional stress. Physical tiredness is easily overcome.
A hot bath and early night can do wonders to revive a fatigued body. But a tired spirit requires more: it needs a holistic approach that cares for both the mind and body to release the buildup of stress and bring it back down to healthy, normal levels. Then, you’ll find you can recharge with the energy to live a fulfilled and enjoyable life.