As someone who has suffered from both Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and insomnia, I have had my fair share of days where the fatigue has been overwhelming. Constant fatigue affects your health, your work, and your relationships. In fact, it has an impact on your whole life. Studies have shown that moderate sleep deprivation impairs cognitive and motor performance as much as having a blood alcohol reading of 0.05%.
There are many reasons why people might be suffering from fatigue and it doesn’t have to be CFS. Whatever the reason, the impact can be devastating. Which is why I have put together some of my best tips for staying afloat when you feel like you are drowning in fatigue. Please note that I am not a Doctor and if you are struggling with fatigue it is always best to seek professional help.
Don’t let fatigue define you
This first point is not a quick or easy fix. This one is hard and requires constant focus. But it is also extremely important and rewarding.
It’s easy to get so caught up in being tired that you lose who you are. Try to create a new dialogue for yourself. Instead of saying to yourself and others that you are tired, think of a new mantra with positive wording.
Try to catch yourself when you are thinking about how tired you are and instead repeat a positive affirmation to yourself. This can be as specific or vague as you like, as long as it’s positive. Try something like, ‘I am a strong, independent woman’. Try to believe and embody the mantra as much as you can.
When talking to others, it’d be a bit on the nose to declare you are a ‘strong, independent women’ when someone asks how you are. Instead, try playing a game with yourself where you can’t say the word ‘tired’. See what else you end up talking about. Hopefully, your focus will shift from your tiredness to your family, your work or basically anything else.
Caffeine: friend or foe?
I’m not going to tell the exhausted people reading this not to drink coffee. It would be pointless and hypocritical, and I might get lynched!
However, sticking to some simple guidelines can help you combat the negative effects of caffeine consumption. Firstly, I found spacing my caffeine intake helped to avoid an after-caffeine slump. Have two half-strength coffees throughout your morning instead of that ‘heart-starter’ when you wake up.
Next, avoid caffeine from mid-afternoon. There are no actual recommendations for caffeine consumption because people vary so much in their caffeine sensitivity. But, it is no secret that coffee in the evening will cause sleep problems for many people. In fact, caffeine may stay in your system for up to 24 hours. People suffering from fatigue (actually, most people) experience a 3pm slump. I tend to make this ‘slump coffee’ my last of the day.
Lastly, drink water as well. Caffeinated drinks do not help with hydration and dehydration causes and intensifies fatigue.
I know, I know! I practically heard the groan as you read this. However, it doesn’t have to be intense exercise, and the benefits are very real. Try simple exercises in small bursts. Only you know your fitness level but WebMD suggests the following exercises for people with CFS.
· Hand stretches
· Sitting and standing
· Wall push-ups
· Picking up and grasping objects
Start with two to four repetitions and work your way up to eight at the most.
I prefer incidental exercise, so when you are feeling up to it, take the stairs, take the kids to the park, buy your coffee from a cafe slightly further away, or park further from the door than you normally would. But, if you are having a ‘bad’ day and you can’t do any of these things, then don’t beat yourself up about it. Which bring us to my next point…
Don’t be so hard on yourself
Sometimes it’s hard to do anything at all when you feel completely and utterly exhausted. Don’t compare yourself to others or judge yourself as you would have when you felt well. Some days your biggest achievement might be getting out of bed. And, that’s okay!
Constant fatigue comes with a lot of built-in guilt. Guilt that you can’t reach your potential at work, guilt that you can’t run in the park with your kids, guilt that you don’t have the energy to deal with other people’s problems. So much guilt! But, the guilt needs to stop. It doesn’t help at all. The only thing the guilt is doing is making you feel bad and you don’t need that in your life!
Take a nap
Opportunities for naps are not always easy to come by. So, if you do get the opportunity, take it! Sometimes, you will have to make time for a nap to avoid over-exerting yourself and pushing yourself too hard. If actual sleep is not possible, then just take a moment to lay down (or sit) and relax your body and mind.
Napping is often stigmatised in modern society but it can be a powerful tool to improve performance and combat daytime sleepiness. To get the most out of a nap keep it shorter than half an hour, if possible. Also, avoid naps after mid-afternoon, as this can affect your nighttime sleep.
Naps, like your night-time sleep, should be done in a quiet, dark environment. If your environment is not quiet or dark then invest in some earplugs or an eye mask.
Let the sunshine in
This last tip is an easy one, provided you live somewhere that gets a bit of sun. Sunshine is a potent natural mood booster and fatigue lifter. The sun not only has valuable vitamin D, it also helps your body to regulate its circadian rhythm. This means that the sun will help you feel more awake in the morning and consequently, the darkness will help you sleep better at night. Sunlight is also a handy tool to help reset your body clock if you have gotten out of sync.
Getting a bit of sunlight doesn’t need to be a chore. Sit near a window at work or on public transport and remember to glance outside regularly. Take your work or kids to the park or simply have your lunch outside. Don’t forget the sunscreen!