We all have days when we just feel like hitting the snooze button and sleeping in. This feeling of constant lethargy may continue to persist, even after a good night's sleep. While some may chalk it up to being nothing more than a case of the “Monday blues” (often a result of social jet-lag, staying up late on the weekend, then sleeping late, and then having to get up early on a Monday), always coming in at the bottom of the energy spectrum is no laughing matter. Issues regarding fatigue need to be resolved before they end up leading to something else.
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Why am I experiencing fatigue?
First of all, fatigue comes in two forms: physical and mental. Physical fatigue occurs when you feel a lack of energy to engage in physical movements and shows up in symptoms such as body aches, gastrointestinal problems, headaches and poor vision. Mental fatigue causes feelings of sleepiness, poor mood and difficulty in focusing, thinking and processing emotions. For cases that drag on for more than a few days, there are usually lifestyle-related or medical causes behind such incidents.
Causes of fatigue
• Insufficient sleep
Not getting enough sleep definitely contributes to both physical and mental fatigue. When your body and brain fail to get the requisite 7-8 hours of rest, you feel sleepy throughout the day. Sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnoea are common causes of fatigue. People who do shift work, work long hours, or students during the exam season also tend to be sleep deprived. Lastly, consuming certain foods and beverages that contain caffeine or engaging in online activities late at night can also disrupt your sleep and deprive you of precious rest time.
• Non-sleep-related medical conditions
Fatigue is often a side effect of other medical conditions such as heart and lung diseases or even gut-related diseases like irritable bowel syndrome. Low thyroid function and poorly controlled diabetes can also have an impact. It can also be a sign that you are experiencing an infection or a weakened immune system – your body needs more rest to fight off bacteria and recover itself and your regular eight hours or so may not be enough to cut it.
• Poor diet
A diet that lacks sufficient macronutrients and micronutrients can lead to fatigue because these deficiencies affect your body’s natural functioning and lead to weakened immune systems. A poor diet – one which lacks whole foods and is high in sugar along with low iron, folate and B12 levels can also be a cause.
• Mental health conditions
Like physical health conditions, mental health issues can also contribute to fatigue, especially mental fatigue. Stress, anxiety and poor spirits are common symptoms of mental health conditions and these affect your mental energy and ability to focus. Furthermore, mental health conditions can lead to insomnia and keep you awake at night. Antidepressants and other medications used to treat mental health conditions can also lead to fatigue as a side effect when consumed.
• Chronic pain
Physical aches and pains inhibit your movement and cause physical fatigue. Such chronic pain can also disrupt your sleep and affect your mood, leading to mental fatigue as well.
Being overweight or underweight can affect your physical energy during the day. Overweight people get tired more easily as they are carrying more weight around, while underweight people may lack
tin terms of energy.
• Level of activity
Medical conditions aside, your daily activities can also be contributing to fatigue. People who are overworked are bound to experience fatigue – this applies to both physical and mental work. On the other hand, people who are too sedentary and inactive can experience fatigue as well as their minds are conditioned to doing nothing, so even the smallest of tasks feel exhausting.
• Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
One other possible cause of fatigue is a medically diagnosable condition – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. CFS can be a result of genetic issues, hormonal imbalances or a viral infection and has no cure to date – the only solution is to minimise the severity of the symptoms.
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The dangerous side effects of prolonged fatigue
No matter what the cause of your fatigue is, you shouldn’t let the condition persist. Even if you are able to hold the exhaustion at bay, you are putting your physical and mental health at risk when you don’t find ways to alleviate the fatigue. Not only does fatigue drain you of energy and make it hard for you to go about your daily life, it can also warp your sense of judgment and cause you to make wrong decisions that could lead to accidents.
Fatigue that is caused by a lack of sleep is also associated with a number of health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, since sleep deprivation interferes with your body’s hormonal balance and blood sugar levels. Furthermore, fatigue can lead to symptoms of depression and other mental health issues or exacerbate existing conditions.
How you can chase fatigue away
• Get your blood pumping with some exercise
Exercise – even in small amounts like a daily 15-minute jog – can give you a pleasant rush of endorphins and significantly boost your energy levels and mood. Regular exercise is important in making sure your fatigue problems don’t come back, but take care not to overdo it as too much exertion can have the opposite effect. Start off with simple exercises and slowly build the intensity of your daily routine to something of a manageable level – speaking to experts such as those at our Active Health Labs can help you find an ideal exercise plan.
• Recharge your energy with frequent small meals
Keeping yourself full will help to maintain your physical and mental energy levels. Small meals in the form of healthy snacks such as raw nuts or a piece of fruit between meals will help to keep you energised. Avoid heavy meals as these can lead to the dreaded “food coma”. On the topic of meals, ensure that you are eating healthily by including fruits and vegetables at every meal and maintaining a healthy weight!
• Hydrate regularly
Like food, water also helps to keep your energy levels up. However, stay away from sugary drinks, caffeinated drinks and alcohol – these can give you an instant rush of energy but could also lead to a steep drop in energy levels shortly after.
Sleeping more definitely helps to relieve some of the physical and mental fatigue you are experiencing. Apart from trying to get to bed earlier, maintaining good sleep hygiene practices will also help you get better quality sleep. Some examples of these include using a night mode on your phone and turning off your digital devices an hour before bedtime and getting yourself relaxed before bed with music, a shower and an enjoyable book.
Keeping feelings of stress and anxiety at bay can actually be really helpful in fighting fatigue. Stress is the biggest cause of mental fatigue and learning how to relax and let go of your worries can help you focus better during the day and sleep better at night. Certain activities also help you to relax better, such as massages, yoga or journaling.
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Fighting fatigue with mindful meditation
Solving fatigue with meditation sounds like a far-fetched idea but in actual fact, the stress-relieving effects of meditation have been scientifically proven. Studies have found that mindful meditation helps to relieve anxiety, depression and most importantly, fatigue. What makes mindful meditation so powerful? The simple act of focusing on your breathing helps you acknowledge and process your thoughts and reject the negative thoughts that cause you stress. Mindful meditation also helps you take a step back and distance yourself from stressful situations that could be contributing to your mental fatigue – this makes it a great practice for keeping your mind refreshed.
How to meditate?
Mindful meditation isn't as complex as it sounds; start by following these 5 simple steps:
1. Orientate yourself
Find yourself a comfortable spot to meditate and just take a moment to soak in the atmosphere and acknowledge your current situation.
2. Ground yourself
In this step, physically process the environment around you. Pay attention to your sense of touch and the objects around you such as the ground, your seat and even your clothes. Ground yourself to the present moment in preparation for the next step.
3. Control your breathing
Now it’s time to get in the zone. Relax yourself physically by consciously slowing down your breathing. Inhale deeply for 4 counts and hold in the breath for 7 counts, then exhale for 8 counts. Repeat this slowly and you will feel your heart rate slowing and your body relaxing.
4. Mental processing
Once you are physical relaxed, the focus will then be on getting mentally relaxed. At this stage, process your thoughts carefully. Reject negative thoughts and let them float away. Acknowledge positive ones. Think of empowering messages and comfort yourself.
5. Carrying the “zen” mood over
When you’re relaxed enough and ready to step out of your zone, don’t jump back straight into your usual stressful pace of things. Keep the newly attained peace in mind and let it accompany you for the rest of your day’s tasks.
Meditating at regular times of the day can help you stay relaxed, mentally refreshed and in a better mood. In the fight against mental fatigue, meditation is the most convenient and time-effective solution.
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Fatigue is a common problem that most of us have to deal with at some point in our hectic lives, but no one should have to live with the problem in the long run. Always act fast when you realise you are facing symptoms of fatigue – get yourself some rest, make some changes to your lifestyle and always make room for some relaxation time!
Whether it's due to a lack of sleep, poor nutrition or insufficient exercise, constantly experiencing abysmal energy levels can really put a dent on one's quality of life. Nodding off every ten minutes or so is far from normal, so treat it as a sign that something is up and take the necessary steps to identify and fix it. Keep your day productive and save the snoozing for the bedroom!