So many people in today’s world deal with fatigue. Up to 45% of the general population, and nearly 40% of American workers, report feeling fatigued.
Fatigue and tiredness can be caused by many different things. But one of the reasons behind your chronic tiredness could be anxiety. Anxiety causes sleep disturbances, physical tension, and mental exhaustion — all factors that could cause you to feel tired.
Here’s some information about the connection between anxiety and fatigue and what you can do about it if you’re feeling this way.
Can anxiety make you feel tired?
Fatigue can have many different root causes, and anxiety is definitely one of them.
Fatigue is the medical term used to describe an overall feeling of exhaustion, tiredness, lack of energy, or weakness. Fatigue can sometimes be caused by a lack of sleep, but often doesn’t go away even when you’re well-rested.
There are many possible causes of fatigue, including:
- Lack of physical activity
- Lack of restful sleep
- Not eating enough
- Unhealthy diet
- Certain medications (like antihistamines)
- A wide variety of underlying medical conditions (including anemia, cancer, diabetes, lung disorders, and more)
Fatigue is also one of the most common physical symptoms associated with anxiety. If you live with an anxiety disorder, or even if you’re just going through a period of high stress, it’s normal to feel exhausted and fatigued daily. You might feel this tiredness get even worse after having an anxiety attack.
On top of anxiety, other emotional and psychological conditions that could cause you to be fatigued include:
If you’re dealing with multiple conditions simultaneously, you could be more likely to be fatigued.
Why does anxiety cause fatigue?
The answer to why, exactly, anxiety so often leads people to feel fatigued is a complex one. There may not be a direct biological and causal link between anxiety and fatigue, but a few different theories could explain the connection.
First is the adrenal fatigue theory. Some people claim that your adrenal glands, the parts of your body responsible for releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline during times of stress, get overworked and exhausted when you’re under chronic stress. The theory suggests that your adrenal glands become worn out and underactive, leading to symptoms like fatigue.
However, newer research clarifies that there is no evidence suggesting that adrenal fatigue is a proven scientific health condition. A 2016 systematic review calls adrenal fatigue a “myth” and states that it hasn’t been recognized by any endocrinology societies. So this is likely not the culprit behind your fatigue if you have an anxiety disorder.
Lack of sleep
Another explanation is lack of sleep. Anxiety and insomnia are closely linked. In fact, trouble sleeping is listed as a recognized symptom of generalized anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. Many people with anxiety report difficulties sleeping.
If you live with anxiety, then you already know this all too well. You may have spent long nights tossing and turning, unable to quiet the worrying voices in your head. Even when you’re finally able to fall asleep, the quality of that sleep may not be good enough to be restful. Naturally, one of the most unpleasant consequences of insomnia is fatigue during the day.
Anxiety disorders, along with other types of mental health conditions that can cause anxiety like PTSD, can cause you to become hypervigilant. This means that your body feels like it’s under a threat all the time. Physical changes happen in your body when it feels like it’s threatened, which is known as fight, flight, or freeze mode.
For example, your heart starts pounding faster to get more oxygen to your extremities. You start taking quicker, more shallow breaths to increase oxygen intake.
All of these physical changes can leave you feeling exhausted.
People who live with anxiety often experience racing thoughts. It could feel like your worries never leave you, and that the worst case scenarios constantly cycle around in your mind. This can lead to mental exhaustion. You might not be physically tired, but still feel like you want to go to bed just to quiet these annoying voices in your mind.
Lastly, another physical symptom of anxiety is muscle tension. You could be carrying around tension in your body without even realizing it. Many people with anxiety find it difficult to relax, even when it’s time to go to sleep. Having tense muscles all the time can cause physical fatigue.
How can I tell if my fatigue is because of anxiety or something else?
Although there are some signs that might suggest your fatigue is caused by anxiety, there’s no way to know for sure without speaking with a physician. If you’ve been feeling chronically fatigued lately, then go see your healthcare provider. A medical assessment can help rule out any other underlying causes that could be contributing to your tiredness.
Some signs that your fatigue could be related to anxiety include:
- You feel mentally exhausted on top of being physically exhausted. Your brain feels like it’s in a fog.
- Your doctor has told you that you have no underlying health conditions, but you still feel exhausted every day.
- You feel tired even when you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep (and other health conditions have been ruled out).
- The thought of everything you have to do in a day makes you feel even more tired.
- You feel suddenly sleepy when you’re facing a stressful or anxiety-provoking event.
- You also experience other physical symptoms associated with anxiety, like stomach trouble.
- You’ve been under a lot of stress lately, and feel emotionally anxious. You may cry a lot, or feel burnt out.
How to cope with fatigue from anxiety
If you’re feeling exhausted, then it’s likely that you’ve already tried a lot of different things to cope with it. You may have tried to use sleep aids to fall asleep at night, only to wake up feeling groggy. You may be trying to compensate for the tiredness by surviving on endless cups of coffee. But you’re still exhausted.
To overcome fatigue that’s caused from anxiety, it’s best to use a whole-person approach. Of course, the symptoms of anxiety will need to be managed. But there could be other lifestyle changes you could make that can address the fatigue directly.
First, if a lack of restful sleep is at the root of your fatigue, then practicing good sleep hygiene is essential as you approach this. Even if your anxiety is under control, if you continue not to sleep well, then it’s unlikely that the fatigue will go away.
Sleep hygiene refers to the practices and routines that are proven in evidence to help you get a good night’s sleep. The field of sleep hygiene is vast, but here are some pointers to get started with:
- Go to sleep, and wake up, at the same time every day
- Reserve your bedroom for sleep only
- Have a solid bedtime routine that’s the same every night
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool
- If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes of trying, leave the bed and do something else for a little while; then, try again
If you still have a hard time sleeping or are waking up feeling unrested, then it might be beneficial to get checked for underlying problems like sleep apnea.
On top of fatigue, anxiety can also cause a lack of appetite. Some people with anxiety don’t eat enough, but don’t register that they are hungry. It could be important to pay closer attention to what you’re eating in a day, and make sure you’re getting enough calories to maintain your energy levels.
On top of eating enough calories, it’s also important to eat nutrient-rich foods. Several nutrient deficiencies could contribute to fatigue, including vitamin B12 and iron.
Moving your body is one of the best things you can do for both your mental and physical health. And although it could sound counterintuitive, exercise actually gives you more energy. Getting regular aerobic activity could help you directly combat fatigue.
Research also shows that getting physical exercise helps people get restful sleep. If you’re able to sleep well, then that could make you feel less tired. Just make sure not to exercise too close to your bedtime, because you could feel too pumped up to fall asleep.
Physical exercise is also very beneficial for anxiety itself. Some studies have even found that exercise is as effective as medication for stress and anxiety. This likely has to do with the chemicals that are released in your brain during physical activity.
Another way to combat anxiety fatigue is to address the physical symptoms of anxiety themselves. Again, part of the reason why anxiety could make you feel so tired is because your body is never able to relax. You can physically induce a relaxation response in your body by trying one of several evidence-based relaxation techniques.
One popular relaxation technique is called progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). PMR invites you to tense, and then relax, each muscle group until you’ve worked your way through your whole body. This trains your body to relax, and helps you be more aware of the difference between tensed muscles and relaxed muscles.
Holistic mental health treatment
Seeing a holistic mental health specialist for treatment is one of the most effective ways to overcome anxiety and beat anxiety-related fatigue. Mental health treatment, which can include psychotherapy, medication, and holistic treatment methods, can help you learn how to live well with anxiety.
At The Center • A Place of HOPE, our team has decades of experience helping people heal from anxiety, depression, and more. We provide sleep assessments as part of your therapy. We use a whole-person approach to care, which means that we won’t simply give you a pill to “fix” your anxiety problems. We’ll work together with you to find an individualized holistic treatment method that works for you.
To learn more about our admissions process and how you can start your treatment journey with us, get in touch with us today.