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Signs of Exhaustion

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 03, 2020

What Is Exhaustion?

Feeling tired is a common experience. It can be caused by disrupted sleep habits, a change in routine, or the appearance of stressors in your life. No matter the reason, tiredness can push us to our limits emotionally and mentally. In some cases, extreme tiredness sets in. This is called exhaustion.

How can you tell if you’re tired or exhausted? Learn the signs of exhaustion and ways to prevent it from affecting your life and the lives of those around you.

Exhaustion, also known as fatigue, becomes a problem when it continues day to day, affecting your health and safety. 

Exhaustion isn’t a mental disorder. But it can be caused by anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, neurological and sleep disorders, anemia, electrolyte abnormalities, diabetes, obesity, and/or an infectious disease or cancer.

Common reasons for fatigue could be lifestyle choices you should address. Here are frequent reasons for fatigue: 

  • Alcohol or drug use 
  • Too much physical activity with no rest
  • Jet lag disorder
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Shortage of sleep
  • Some medications, like cough medicines or antihistamines
  • Unhealthy eating habits

Exhaustion isn’t normally a cause for concern. But it is when accompanied by: 

  • Lack of physical or mental energy
  • Inability to stay awake or alert
  • Accidentally falling asleep, such as when driving or operating heavy machinery
  • Inability to maintain or complete an activity
  • Tiring easily
  • Difficulty concentrating, memorizing, or maintaining emotional stability

If exhaustion starts affecting your daily life, it’s time to talk to a doctor to determine underlying causes. 

Signs of Exhaustion

Exhaustion can impact your daily activities, especially if you’re too tired to take care of average tasks. The good news is that exhaustion is treatable; however, here are some signs that you or someone you may know is experiencing it: 

Symptoms of Depression or Anxiety

When you or a loved one is dealing with depression and/or anxiety, it can have a draining effect. 

Depression can affect your sleep cycle. It may make you unable to sleep. Or not you may not be able to sleep for long periods. A lack of energy associated with depression may keep you from completing normal activities.

Anxiety can be crippling for people who experience uncontrollable worry all day long. The symptoms include irritability and extreme fatigue.

Lack of Goal Making

Exhaustion can leave you tired and without energy to set goals and stick with them. You might be able to make goals, but you’ll set them aside and be unsure of when you’ll return to them.

Lack of Concentration

Lack of concentration happens when you’re exhausted and can’t focus on a task you had started. You may have a big task to complete, but you can give it only five minutes before you become frustrated and give up.

Disconnecting Relationships

Exhaustion can lead to inability to nurture relationships. This could mean giving your children time-consuming activities so you don’t have to deal with them. Or perhaps your significant other is requesting attention you don’t have the emotional capability to give.

Treating Exhaustion

If exhaustion begins to leave you drained and unable to complete anything, you should talk to your doctor. They may run tests to find underlying health causes.

Determining the cause of your exhaustion will help you identify what you need to do to alleviate its symptoms. Common treatments include: 

Sleep Habits

Getting enough sleep is extremely important. Make sure you’re sleeping enough for your body to feel rested. Keep a normal sleep schedule, and go to bed only if you’re tired.

Make sure your bedroom is prepped for deep sleep — a dark room, comfy furniture, and minimal distractions. You might also try writing about your worries in a journal before bed, so you can let them go while sleeping.

Dietary Changes

Cut out caffeine to reset your body. It’s found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and some pain killers and herbal remedies. After a month, take note of how you feel. Caffeine withdrawal can include headaches and irritability at first.

Physical Changes

Consistent physical activity can improve symptoms. Beginning to exercise can seem like a big obstacle if you feel exhausted, but moving for just 15 minutes a day can boost your energy levels.

Carrying excess weight exhausts your body. Eating healthier, exercising, and weight loss can improve your symptoms too.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, might include counseling to discuss the underlying causes and stressors in your life. These could include stress, anxiety, or low mood.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “How to Know If Your Fatigue Is Normal.”

Mayo Clinic: “Fatigue.”

National Health Service: “Self-help tips to fight tiredness.”

Psychology Today: “13 Signs of Chronic Exhaustion.”

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