How to Fight Fatigue During Chemotherapy

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on November 10, 2022
3 min read

Cancer treatment can take a lot out of you, both physically and emotionally, so it’s common to feel tired. It’s important to bring this up with your doctor, but there are also a few steps you can take to keep your fatigue in check.

Get moving. You might not feel like moving a muscle, but exercise can actually boost your energy. (Make sure you get your doctor’s OK first.) Try walking or another moderate activity you enjoy as often as you can even if it’s only for 15 minutes.

Ease your mind. Mind-body workouts like yoga, tai chi, or qi gong (a Chinese form of moving meditation) can reduce fatigue by helping you focus on relaxation.

Go easy on yourself. Figure out what needs to be done today and what you can put on hold. Spread activities throughout your day and make sure to rest in between.

Sleep well. A good night’s sleep can help you feel more rested. To help make that happen, don’t get into your bed to read or work on your laptop. Turn off music and all screens during bedtime, and limit daytime naps to an hour or less. Right before bed is also a good time for activities that relax you, like meditation or journaling.

Talk it out. Anxiety, fear, and hopelessness can add to fatigue as well. A therapist can help you let out some of those feelings. You can also join a support group so you can hear how other people in treatment are handling their exhaustion.

Drink enough liquids. Dehydration can make you tired and confused. Keep a bottle of water close and sip often. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, try adding sliced lemon, orange, or lime. Soups, gelatin, ice pops, and the water in fruits and vegetables all count, too.

Snack throughout the day. You need calories to keep up your strength. If your appetite is off, try eating 5 to 6 small meals throughout the day instead of three big ones.

Cut back on sugar. Sugary foods spike your energy, but it wears off quickly. In the end, you’re left even more worn out. To keep blood sugar levels stable, try snacking on a mix of protein, fat, and fiber like a piece of fruit with cottage cheese or a handful of walnuts.

Eat iron-rich foods. Your body needs iron to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen through your body and give you energy. An iron shortage can lead to anemia, which makes you really tired. Include iron-rich foods like spinach, lentils, beans, fortified cereals, and red meat in your diet. Also focus on foods high in vitamin C like strawberries and citrus fruit, which help your body absorb iron. But don’t take a supplement without first checking with your doctor. A doctor can also test you for anemia and suggest a good way to treat it.

Ask for help. Friends and loved ones will want to help you through treatment but may not know what to do. Don’t be afraid to make specific requests for cooking meals, running errands, or watching your kids so you can rest. Or ask a friend to organize help for you.

Go outside. Whether you sit on the beach, bird watch, or take a walk through a park, simply being outside can help you feel more alert and mentally refreshed.

Talk to your doctor. Keep track of what times of day you feel most tired. Does it get worse after treatment? What makes it better? When you share this with your doctor, they may suggest that you try different medication or look for other causes of your fatigue.