Dealing with Constant Fatigue and Burnout
by Marisabelle Bonnici
Feeling weary and tired, lacking energy, and waking up exhausted are some of the most common complaints I get to face on a day-to-day basis. Oftentimes many people do bounce back after a good night's sleep, but if fatigue is occurring more frequently and lasting longer, your body could be trying to tell you something. This isn't a one size fits all scenario, so listening to your body is of the utmost importance. Although there are elemental scientific explanations, every human body functions distinctively and each one deviates from another.
What is Fatigue?
Fatigue and overall tiredness can affect your life considerably. You may lack the energy to exercise and socialise, to enjoy the company of your children, partner and family, or even to just get through the day. You may find it difficult to concentrate on required tasks, to focus at work, stay alert, and remember every little thing you need to do. People who are continuously feeling tired may also get angry quicker and end up feeling exasperated and isolated.
Fatigue and burnout are one of the most common problems people report to their doctors and pharmacists. Over the past 6 months, I started keeping track of replies people gave when asked how they were feeling, and 70% of people claimed they were feeling tired. After searching for data supporting this trend, I came across a Health and Retirement Study conducted with more than 17 million older people aged 51 plus, which reported how 31% of participants asserted feeling fatigued time and again. However, teenagers have also been admitting feeling weak and tired, with their lifestyle being one of the underlying reasons.
So what is fatigue? Fatigue is a symptom, not a disease. Different people experience it in their own distinctive ways and the tiredness felt at the end of a long day, or even after a long-haul flight, might feel similar to that felt while sick.
Feeling constantly weak and tired? Consider these lifestyle modifications:
Evaluate your Nutrition Intake
The old adage 'you are what you eat' is well-known, but have you ever really thought about what it actually means? Fatigue and burnout can be easily addressed by learning how to eat well-balanced meals and snacks that contain enough calories and nutrients to keep your body in optimum health. Even if fatigue is caused by an underlying condition, eating well can help boost energy levels and counteract excessive tiredness.
Eating is a science in itself - it is not just about eating to deal with hunger. We need to feed our body what it really needs; the food you choose to eat should revolve around your current deficiencies. On the other end of the spectrum we have overeating, which can also cause fatigue, as it compels our body to concentrate a lot of its energy on digesting consumed food. Thus, you'd still feel tired and depleted. The key to healthy eating is choosing pivotal food items that contain adequate nutrients, and consuming these meals or snacks in appropriate portions.
Nutrient-rich foods which can help fight fatigue and burnout are not hard to find; just stock up on plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Vegetables should not be overcooked, as doing so provokes a loss of nutrients, red meat and spinach can satisfy your daily iron intake, while fish such as tuna or salmon contain omega-3 fats - all of which are helpful in fighting fatigue. Proteins can also be obtained by consuming fish, lean meat, beans and lentils. Nuts offer a protein boost and are a good snack choice. Check out the top superfoods you should be eating.
If you suspect your fatigue is due to poor eating habits, changing your diet may be all you need to do to feel energised daily. The right food will also help keep at bay conditions such as arthritis, anxiety, asthma and many more. This is one of the main focuses of my blog Roadtobelle and I am also organising workshops on these issues.
Reduce Intake of Refined Carbs
Carbohydrates are a staple of most people's diets as they are a quick source of energy. When consumed, your body breaks them down into sugar swiftly, and, in turn, used to fuel your body.
However, after eating too much sugar, our blood sugar levels will rise quickly, the pancreas will release large quantities of insulin, resulting in our blood sugar levels going down quickly, leaving us feeling drained and craving energy. Many people will instinctively look for another food item which is high in sugar, and the vicious cycle continues. Studies show that reducing the amount of sugar and processed carbs during meal and snack times typically lead to greater energy levels. This also holds true for young children.
To keep your energy levels stable, replace sugar and refined carbs with whole foods that are rich in fibre, such as vegetables and legumes. Also increase the amount of protein in your diet.
Adequate Hydration is essential
One beverage that can boost your energy is plain old water. Staying well-hydrated is important for maintaining good energy levels. Our body requires water to regulate biochemical reactions taking place in your body every day. Approximately 50% to 60% of your body weight is water, and dehydration will occur when we are not drinking enough to replace the water we lose in sweat and urine. Several studies have shown that being even mildly dehydrated can lead to lower energy levels and a reduced ability to concentrate. Your optimal water intake depends on your weight, age, gender and activity level. Consuming a sufficient amount of fluids in beverages and water-rich foods (such as fruits, vegetables, and soup) will help you maintain your energy levels.
Start Exercising Today
Many people complain about being too tired to exercise. However, the lack of exercise could actually be causing tiredness. To boost your energy levels, replace sedentary behaviours with active ones. What you can do is stand rather than sit down whenever possible, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and walk short distances instead of hopping into your car. Gradually increasing activity levels will help boost endurance, improve sleep quality, boost endorphins and reduce stress.
Make Sure you Get Enough High-Quality Sleep
Our body is still functioning while we're asleep, processing several actions, including storing memory and releasing hormones that regulate your metabolism and energy levels. Adults need 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night to function properly, and setting up a regular sleep routine will help your body achieve the rest it needs. Furthermore, taking short naps during the day may also help boost energy levels. To improve the amount and quality of your sleep, go to bed at roughly the same time every night, unwind before going to sleep, and get as much activity as you can during the day. Explore these steps for better sleep.
Conduct Food Intolerance Tests
Food intolerances can result in symptoms like rashes, digestive problems, runny nose or headaches. However, fatigue is another symptom which is often overlooked. Common intolerances may include gluten, dairy, soy, corn and yeast.
If you suspect that certain foods may be making you tired, consult with an allergist or dietician who can perform food sensitivity tests or prescribe an elimination diet to determine which foods are problematic.
Stop Relying on Energy Drinks
The market is brimming with loads of beverages which are meant to help energy levels. We have all heard of coffee and energy drinks containing amino acids, vitamin Bs and magnesium. While it's true that these beverages may provide a temporary energy boost due to their caffeine and sugar contents, these energy drinks are also likely to provoke rebound fatigue, when the effect of caffeine and sugar wears off.
To break the cycle, try cutting back and gradually weaning yourself off drinking these energy drinks. In addition, limit coffee and other caffeinated beverage consumption to early in the day. Caffeine can cause insomnia, especially when consumed in large amounts or after 2pm, so consume it judiciously.
Control Stress Levels
Chronic stress may have a profound effect on your energy levels and quality of life. While you may not be able to avoid stressful situations, developing stress management strategies will also help with levels of fatigue. Stress-induced emotions consume huge amounts of energy. Talking with a friend or relative, joining a support group, or seeing a psychologist or psychotherapist can all help diffuse stress. Relaxation therapies like meditation, yoga, aromatherapy and exercise are also effective tools for reducing stress. Also try lightening your workload. Balance your professional, family, and social obligations, and set your priorities straight.
We all know smoking has several negative effects on our health, teeth, lungs and skin. What you may not know is that smoking actually siphons off your energy by causing insomnia. Nicotine is actually a stimulant, so it speeds the heart rate, as well as stimulates brain-wave activity associated with wakefulness, making it harder to fall asleep. And once you do fall asleep, its addictive power can kick in and awaken you with cravings. So this is yet another reason you should consider quitting smoking. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist who can give you advice on smoking cessation.
Fatigue may also be caused by more serious underlying conditions
If fatigue appears out of the blue or becomes more frequent, it could be due to a medical condition or nutritional deficiency. Here is a list of possible scenarios:
- Anaemia: This occurs when your blood has few red blood cells, or those cells have too little haemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen through the bloodstream. The result is a drop in energy levels. Increasing iron and vitamin B-12 intake through supplements and nutritional food is important in this case.
- Heart disease: Heart disease can cause the heart to pump blood less efficiently and may lead to fluid in the lungs. This can cause shortness of breath and may reduce the oxygen supply to the heart and lungs, making you feel tired. Exercise, adequate nutrition and medication as prescribed by your physician are crucial.
- Hypothyroidism: An under-active thyroid gland can cause fatigue and burnout, along with other symptoms such as weight gain, weakness, dry skin, feeling cold, and constipation. Getting the right dose of medication from your endocrinologist is vital. You can also sustain yourself by eating selenium-rich foods such as tuna and brazil nuts. Taking probiotics and increasing your Vitamin B12 intake is also beneficial.
- Sleep disorders: Sleep apnea is characterised by pauses in your breathing, often lasting several seconds, or shallow breathing while you're sleeping. It's a common condition among older adults and overweight individuals. Another sleep-related issue is an overactive bladder or enlarged prostate, which forces repeated nighttime bathroom trips. Either of these can disturb your sleep enough to leave you feeling tired the next day.
- Medication: Certain medications can make you feel tired, such as blood pressure drugs, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and antihistamines.
- Low-grade depression or anxiety: Mental health issues often drain energy levels. The link between mental health and energy may not be apparent, but if you're suffering from any mental health issues seek help from a psychologist who would be able to guide you better.
- Fibromyalgia: This is often characterised by disrupted sleep in part due to muscle pain associated with this condition.
- Vitamin D deficiency: This vitamin is unique in that your body produces it when your skin is exposed to sunlight, and there aren't many natural food sources rich in this vitamin. You can find it in some types of fish (such as tuna and salmon) and in fortified products such as milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereals. A deficiency in Vitamin D can make you feel overly tired and may also have negative effects on your bones and muscle strength. Supplements are another way to ensure you're getting enough vitamin D. Although people living in a sunny country such as ours assume they're getting enough intake of this vitamin, many don't realise that we spend a lot of time indoors, and use sunblock to protect our skin.
The Bottom Line of Fatigue
Feeling chronically tired may be the result of a diverse range of factors. The most important thing is to rule out medical conditions first, as fatigue often accompanies illness. On the other hand, feeling overtired may be related to what you eat and drink, how much sleep and activity you achieve on a daily basis, or the way you manage stress.
The good news is that you can improve your energy levels and overall quality of life by virtue of a few lifestyle changes.
Visit one of the spa centres in Malta and Gozo to unwind and take a well-deserved break.
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