After our recent Facebook conversation on this subject, one thing became very clear: anxiety is exhausting for everyone! The second thing that struck us was how many of you wished people in your lives understood this. So we thought we’d do some research and get some info out into the blogosphere on this really important topic.
Note: In this blog, we are talking about anxiety-induced fatigue—that brain foggy, heavy-limbed, low-energy feeling that makes doing anything seem an impossible feat. Keep in mind that fatigue can be a sign of other illnesses so, consulting a doctor and having a few easy blood tests may be a good idea if you aren’t sure what’s causing your exhaustion.
Okay, now that we got that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let’s talk about why anxiety causes fatigue.
- The fear response, which is what causes all those dreadful symptoms (rapid heart beat, shallow breathing, dizziness, nausea, etc.), sends a huge shot of adrenaline into your system in order to ready the body for fight or flight. The brains of Anxiety Sisters malfunction in such a way that this fear response is triggered too often and/or too intensely. As a result, anxiety sufferers spend a lot more time in a state of adrenaline-induced vigilance (that feeling of being “keyed up,” agitated or restless) than non-sufferers. Fatigue is a natural result of hours (days? weeks?) spent in this heightened state of alert. This is also known as adrenal fatigue because the adrenal glands themselves get so exhausted from the constant need for adrenaline release.
- Obsessive thinking is a hallmark of anxiety; many Anxiety Sisters spend many hours each day worrying, catastrophizing and spinning ourselves into a frenzy. Again, fatigue is a natural result of excessive brain activity.
- Muscle tension is a direct result of the release of adrenaline in the body. As the body prepares to fight or flee from danger, blood rushes to the largest muscle groups (back and legs) and every other major muscle group contracts (neck, shoulders, glutes). Chronic anxiety causes overuse of muscles—like you’ve been lifting weights for hours. Obviously, this depletes your energy very quickly and leaves you feeling drained.
- Many prescription medications can cause you to feel tired and weak. The most common culprits are blood pressure drugs, beta blockers, cholesterol lowering meds (statins), proton pump inhibitors (Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, etc.), antihistamines (Benadryl), Benzodiazepines (Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax, Valium), and anti-depressants (Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, Prozac, etc.). Yes, it’s a nasty irony that the very medications you rely on to help ease your anxiety symptoms may be the cause of your fatigue.
- Many anxiety sufferers have difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. Chronic insomnia obviously is a major cause of fatigue.
- Anxiety Sisters are often surprised to find alcohol on this list, but, in fact, it belongs here. Although it is a sedative and therefore can help you fall asleep, alcohol disrupts your later sleep cycles, thus compromising the REM phase when restoration occurs. In addition, alcohol can suppress breathing which can result in apnea.
- Fatigue is not only a result of chronic anxiety, but is also a coping mechanism for managing chronic anxiety. When the body and mind are so overwhelmed, shutting down may be the only thing it can do.
What can you do to lessen anxiety-induced fatigue?
- Take a walk (long and slow works best)
- Meditate (it’s like a nap for the brain)
- Diaphragmatic breathing exercises
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
- Get a massage
- Stay cool (warmth induces sleepiness)
- Drink lots of water (dehydration causes/exacerbates fatigue)
- Eat more frequently but in smaller amounts (skipping meals causes fatigue)
- Try melatonin rather than a sleep aid if you are having difficulty sleeping (it doesn’t cause next-day drowsiness)
- Check your vitamin levels (simple blood test), particularly B; take supplements if you are lacking
- Watch your alcohol intake, particularly in the evening
- Reduce your caffeine intake, particularly in the evening