Feeling “tired all the time,” constant exhaustion, struggling with morning fatigue that leads to extreme tiredness and makes you want to crawl back into bed, and needing an energy drink or venti dark roast as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up oftentimes signify an underlying problem or more often, problems.
Chronic fatigue is not normal, and usually you can detect underlying culprits that roadblock you from steady, sustained energy.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Extreme tiredness is epidemic today, fueled by our get-more-done mentality coupled with poor lifestyle choices including insufficient sleep, excessive stress, a bad diet, and nutrient deficiencies.
At its worst, extreme fatigue manifests as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which occurs when someone feels tired most of the time, and that fatigue has lingered longer than six months.
Even with sufficient rest, if you have chronic fatigue syndrome, you still feel excessive tiredness. Physical and mental exertion feels like a herculean chore, and when you do exert yourself, symptoms like muscle weakness, headaches, mental fatigue, joint point, and fever only get worse.
Chronic fatigue syndrome can persist for years. Doctors remain baffled about what causes this condition, and we have no tests to officially diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome. To make matters more confusing, chronic fatigue is a symptom of many illnesses, so ruling out other conditions can become a challenge.
But practitioners can narrow down the culprits. Beyond chronic fatigue lasting longer than six months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies chronic fatigue syndrome as having at least four of the following physical symptoms:
- Post-exertional malaise (a massive energy crash that would only be minor in non-CFS sufferers)
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Impaired memory or concentration
- Muscle pain
- Polyarthralgia (joint pain but without inflammation)
- Sore throat
- Tender lymph nodes
Chronic fatigue syndrome can only be diagnosed when other disease processes have been ruled out, but that’s the problem: Fatigue overlaps with many other conditions.
Why chronic fatigue syndrome occurs is unclear and complex. Researchers surmise immune or adrenal dysfunction, genetics, or a history of childhood trauma. Depression, pain, and sleep disturbances frequently occur with chronic fatigue syndrome.
If you suspect chronic fatigue syndrome, you should find a practitioner who can uncover underlying issues that contribute and also shows sympathy about your condition.
Unfortunately, patients sometimes feel frustrated they haven’t been able to get answers from their doctors or online research. They might see symptoms like chronic fatigue as “in their head” or that they lack motivation or willpower. That’s not true, and don’t let any healthcare professional – or anyone, for that matter – let you feel that way.
Causes of Extreme Fatigue
Many people struggle with fatigue, which has many causes; some obvious, others not so much. Causes of chronic fatigue include inadequate sleep, a bad diet, insufficient exercise, and metabolic and hormonal imbalances. A vicious cycle ensues as fatigue impacts these issues, which in turn worsen your fatigue.
Fatigue management requires a multifactorial approach that begins by finding the root cause or causes of your “tired all the time” feeling. Among those causes, which sometimes overlap and exacerbate each other, include:
- Adrenal burnout (that requires adrenal fatigue treatment)
- Thyroid imbalances
- Other hormonal imbalances like testosterone and cortisol
- Being a perfectionist (talk about a massive energy drainer!)
- Being around overly critical or negative people
- Food sensitivities (especially if you feel fatigue after eating)
- Mitochondrial dysfunctions – mitochondria are those little power plants in your cells. Malfunctioning mitochondria can create massive energy crashes.
- Over-exercise – a good workout leaves you feeling invigorated. Overdoing exercise can have the opposite effect, creating chronic fatigue that zaps your energy and drive.
- Toxicity – including things like environmental pollutants but also less-obvious toxins including mold, mercury from amalgams, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from electronics.
This list goes on, and oftentimes multiple factors create or exacerbate fatigue. Again, please see a chiropractor or other healthcare professional who can pinpoint and eliminate underlying causes of fatigue.
On the other hand, chronic fatigue might result from one primary culprit like poor sleep, stress management, a bad diet, or not getting the right nutrients. See if these five strategies help increase energy levels. (As a “bonus,” they’ll provide many other benefits.)
How to Combat Fatigue
1. Eliminate sugar and processed foods.
Eat a candy bar and see how your energy levels pan out 15 minutes later. Better yet, bypass this science experiment altogether. Sugar and other quick-fix carbohydrates give you a little shot of energy but at a huge expense: Those blood sugar spikes nosedive quickly, leaving you feeling drained. If nixing sugar completely feels like a herculean task, gradually trade it for lower-sugar foods and transition off sugar. Instead of those afternoon pretzels, for instance, have a handful of nuts.
2. Reduce or eliminate potential energy thieves.
That late-morning dark roast might give you a temporary boost, but if you metabolize caffeine poorly or use caffeine as a crutch for things like bad sleep, coffee can backfire on your energy levels. Ditto alcohol, which might assuage your nerves but leave you drained or mentally foggy a few hours later. If you suspect these or other substances might create fatigue, track your intake and how you feel several hours later in a journal.
3. Get 8 – 9 hours of sleep nightly.
In his book Adrenal Fatigue, Dr. James Wilson recommends going to bed before 10:30 PM and stay in bed until 9:00 AM. That’s not always possible, but getting at least eight hours of deep, rejuvenating sleep can do wonders to reverse chronic fatigue.
4. Exercise smartly.
Spending hours at the gym isn’t doing your chronic fatigue levels any good. The most effective way to exercise and increase your energy is through the high-intensity interval training (HIIT). These short, intense “bursts” give you quite a workout and an invigorating post-workout energy.
5. Find your ways to reset your energy button.
For some people, taking 20 minutes during the afternoon for meditation can feel like recharging your phone battery. Maybe yoga or deep breathing is your thing. Even pausing for a minute or two and focusing on your breath (you can find some cool apps for that) can help steady energy levels and zap fatigue.
Chronic fatigue can hijack your health and happiness. No problem carries a one-size-fits-all solution, and that especially proves true here. Working with a chiropractor or functional-medical practitioner can help pinpoint the underlying problems that create chronic fatigue. While the process isn’t always easy – it might involve things like testing, nutrients, and lifestyle modifications – reclaiming steady, sustained energy and feeling vibrant is possible for even the hardest-to-treat chronic fatigue cases. You never need to settle with constantly feeling lethargic.