Why Am I Always Tired?
Feeling tired isn’t unusual, especially if you’re a busy mom, have a demanding job – or both. But when fatigue lasts more than a few weeks, it’s time to figure out why.
To better understand fatigue, it helps to know that it can show up in a handful of ways, such as:
- Physical weakness
- Lack of energy
- Constant, nagging feeling of being tired or exhausted
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty finishing tasks
Fatigue can show up after we have inadvertently neglected our health in a few areas, including diet and sleep hygiene. We can start feeling better by making a few adjustments.
Focus on What You Eat
- Eat breakfast. The sooner in the day that you fuel your body, the sooner it will feel like you have a sizable energy bank from which to draw.
- Change meal patterns. Some women find that eating three squares a day leaves them feeling drained. Instead, it can help to eat six smaller meals a day. This can allow for more balanced levels of insulin, especially if you’re eating protein with each mini-meal.
- Consume enough iron. When we lack this mineral, we tend to feel fatigued. Try to add in more iron-rich foods, such as red meat, turkey, seafood, spinach, raisins, peas, pumpkin seeds, quinoa and beans.
- Limit caffeine. Through trial and error, you can determine what time each day you will need to quit consuming caffeine. For example, if your goal is to be asleep by 10 pm, you may find it best to quit drinking caffeine at 2 pm
- Get more exercise. Vigorous exercise can increase your sleep quality, helping you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. But it’s best if exercise is completed at least three hours before bedtime.
- Don’t sit so much. If you have a desk job take a 10-minute walk during a work break, or stand up and stretch when on a conference call.
Mental Health Breaks
- Talk about what stresses you. Engaging in talk therapy with a mental health professional can help decrease anxiety and depression, which in turn can lead to better sleep.
- Schedule a few hours each week to do nothing. We tend to be so focused on productivity that we don’t put a high enough value on downtime. Mentally, it’s helpful to unwind, whether that’s enjoying the beach, walking the dog, reading a book outside or gardening. TV, however, doesn’t count as an activity that helps us recharge our emotional energies.
- Have more fun. Whether it’s attending a comedy show, bouncing with the kids at the trampoline park or generally engaging in any activity that feels like play, it can help to devote time to fun and laughter.
If you make some of these adjustments in your daily life and still feel exhausted, it’s possible you have chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue, which is experiencing these symptoms for more than six months, can point to a variety of causes, including:
A common cause for fatigue is life stressors, which can be work-related or the result of family or relationship dynamics. The question is whether the stress is acute -- such as that caused by a divorce or a move to a new city or giving birth — or if it is the result of something ongoing, such as a current job or relationship that leaves you feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. If the cause is not obvious and not something that will likely dissipate with time, then seeing a mental health professional is a smart next step.
Depression and Anxiety
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of depression. If you are living with depression, you might feel that you don’t have the energy for physical or emotional situations. Ongoing anxiety also can cause you to feel fatigued.
If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, that can lead to chronic fatigue. The CDC defines moderate drinking as no more than two drinks a day for men, and no more than one drink a day for women.
Weight fluctuations, whether weight gain or weight loss, are one of the biggest signs pointing to thyroid issues.
The thyroid acts as the brake or the accelerator pedal for your metabolic rate. It can either speed up or slow down the metabolism. When it is working well, it keeps a healthy balance. If the thyroid is pushing on the accelerator pedal – an overactive thyroid -- you might lose weight and might not be able to sleep well.
With an underactive thyroid, you will feel tired and will likely put on weight. This can also show up as a lack of desire to do activities that you once enjoyed.
Thyroid problems can mimic many of the same signs and symptoms as depression, and the difference between the two can be found by blood tests, measuring for your levels of thyroid stimulating hormone, also known as TSH. Thyroid issues can be treated with medicine.
Another source of fatigue is anemia, which is common among women, especially teens and older women. During the teen years, menstruation is just starting and periods are often especially heavy. At the end of the reproductive years, ovarian levels decrease. The body is adjusting to these hormone levels and can bleed more frequently and more heavily, which can also cause anemia.
If anemia is a possibility, your gynecologist will ask about your periods, including:
- How heavy are they
- How long do they last
- How many days between periods
If anemia is suspected, your gynecologist can order bloodwork to determine whether you are anemic. From here, your doctor can determine next steps, such as medication, to help you return to higher energy levels.
If you’re concerned about chronic fatigue, it might be time to see your OB-GYN to learn more and determine next steps.
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