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Fighting Fatigue? Get a Better Life

Take Stock, Set Priorities, Take Care of Yourself
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feeling tired, zapped of energy? You're not the Lone Ranger.

Doctors see it all the time: "Women with four kids, a full-time job, and they get up at 5 to get everybody ready for the day. Their lives are very hectic, they only get four hours of sleep. They expect their bodies to do more than is realistic for one person," says Sharon Horesh, MD, primary care specialist with the Emory Clinic in Atlanta.

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Fatigue has many origins. For women, anemia brought on by heavy menstrual cycles may cause fatigue. An underactive thyroid also causes fatigue. A cold, sinus infection, or virus can drag you out -- even for three or four weeks.

But all too often, you're not taking care of yourself. It's as simple, and as difficult, as that.

"The first thing I ask is, 'What time do you go to bed? When do you wake up? What's your day like?'" Horesh tells WebMD. As trite as it may sound, you need to sleep more, eat healthy, take care of yourself -- "commonsense things," she says. "It's not a medical problem, it's a lifestyle issue."

Look at Your Options

First step, take stock of your life. If you can't juggle it all, get some perspective. "Decide whether you're putting yourself under unnecessary stress," says Inyanga Mack, MD, professor of primary and community medicine at Temple University School of Medicine in Phiadelphia.

"Some people can successfully carve out a year or two to achieve a goal. But others push themselves to meet unrealistic demands that are not really necessary," Mack tells WebMD.

Assess your priorities, rank their importance, then make some decisions. "Maybe a therapist can help," she says. "Maybe you need to look for help with childcare or financial problems. Maybe you need to make better spending decisions so you're not stressed financially. Some people buy a truck first, then figure out how pay for it."

You do have options, Mack says. "If you're a young woman with young children, trying to finish school, trying to work, you don't have somebody to take care of the kids, can't afford to stop working, and are working a low-pay job -- you're not actually trying to do something extravagant. They are wonderful goals, but you may need more time to do it. You may need to take fewer classes during the semester."

Tame Anxiety, Depression

For many people -- especially women in their 30s and 40s -- severe anxiety and depression are leading causes of fatigue, says Horesh. "Anxiety puts your body into overdrive and wears down the immune system. Some people even have medical symptoms like chest pain, racing heart, heart palpitations because their bodies are in overdrive. They're getting shots of adrenaline all the time."

Depression sets up a vicious cycle. "A lot of people don't see a doctor until they're really, really sick, because they don't want to take care of themselves, can't concentrate, can't get pleasure. They become completely withdrawn, sometimes suicidal, unable to help themselves," she says.

An imbalance of hormone levels could be causing these mood disturbances, she tells WebMD. Antidepressants, psychotherapy, meditation, or yoga can help reduce stress and restore emotional balance. "Different things work for different people," she says.

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