Drained and Pained?- Top tips for recognising and dealing with stress-related fatigue

As part of an undergraduate module here at NUI, Galway, students were given an assignment by Dr. Jane Walsh. They were asked  to write a blog on any area of Behavioural Medicine, highlighting the contribution of psychological knowledge to our understanding of health. They were also told that the best blogs would be published on the Health Psychology at NUI Galway WordPress site!  So here is the first of three winning posts… well done Aoife Smith!

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By Aoife Smith

In a society of constant job and college deadlines, busy family lives, and financial struggles people can feel overwhelmed. A common symptom of these stressful lives is fatigue, but what people mightn’t know is that fatigue could be a ‘warning sign indicating harmful accumulation of stress’ (Maghout et al., 2010).

What is stress-related fatigue?

In simple words, stress is any mental or emotional strain and this can commonly cause extreme tiredness. Sometimes people suffering fatigue may be unaware that it could be caused by stress.

You might have stress-related fatigue if you have:

  • Muscle aches and painsimages
  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Constant tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Frequent colds and infections

Our bodies are well equipped to handle stress and a certain amount is beneficial to keep us alert and motivated. Too much can be harmful, overwhelming and statistics show that 47% of adults are suffering from health problems as a result of stress (read more here: http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/effects-of-stress-on-your-body).

Work is an extremely common cause of stress-related fatigue, so if you think that’s the case then you could:

  • Avoid extra hours
  • Engage in non work-related activities
  • Have a specific time to start and finish to create a body schedule
  • Ensure work/life balance
  • Don’t take your work home
  • Avoid taking extra responsibility for other peoples work

However, studies show that increasing general optimism is a lot more important than simply decreasing environmental factors (Chang et al., 2000). Often, focusing on what boosts your mood and energy levels is more important than to trying to alter what decreases them.

Tips to prevent/reduce stress-related fatigue.

  1. coffeeThe coffee isn’t helping – get the jump leads!

When you’re feeling run down you’ll definitely crave coffee but in the long run, coffee is not doing you any favours. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to 14 hours possibly keeping you from sleeping and it stimulates your stress hormones which are not helpful when you’re dealing with stress-related fatigue. It can cause headaches and dehydration, likely another contributor to fatigue.

So swap that coffee for an herbal tea- at least cut down to 1 cup a day or switch to decaffeinated. Make sure to avoid those caffeinated soft drinks!

  1. Exercise and feel alive!exercise

Exercise is the last thing you’re likely to do when you’re burnt out. Yet the connection between physical and mental well-being has been long established, and though it may be tough at first, in the long run it will be extremely beneficial especially for increasing energy levels.

Even 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, 4-5 days a week is enough. Take your dog for a brisk walk, go jogging with friends or sign yourself up for a kettle bell class (If you’re living in Galway this one is particularly good http://www.galwaykettlebells.com/).

  1. Swap vegetation for meditationdog

As you presumably already know, meditation relieves stress. Most of you probably roll your eyes and ignore it, because who wants to sit down with your legs crossed saying ‘oommmm’? But it’s a lot simpler than you think.

Take up a yoga class, go for a relaxing bath or breathe deeply for 10 minutes.

  1. Sleep!

This one should go without saying, a big cause of stress and fatigue is not getting enough sleep. Adults need roughly 7-8 hours’ sleep, but people seem to underestimate the importance of a sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and night can be extremely beneficialcat for overall well-being.

And if you’re having trouble sleeping here’s a few tips to follow:

  • Make your bedroom a sleeping environment- get rid of televisions or laptops
  • Cut down on your caffeine intake (see point 1.)
  • No smoking!
  • That glass of wine after an exhausting stressful day might be tempting but if you want a good night’s rest stay away!
  1. Diet is a weigh of life!veg

When battling stress-related fatigue ,diet is important. The right nutrients and vitamins and an increased water intake can improve energy levels and mood. Make sure to get your veggies, fruit, protein and avoid fatty, sugary foods.

For more information you can read the following:

Chang, E. C., Rand, K. L., Strunk, D. R. (2000) Optimism and risk for job burnout among working college students: stress as a mediator in Personality and Individual Difference pp 252-263. Retrieved from Science Direct http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886999001919

Maghour-Juratli, S., Janiesse, J., Schwartz, K., Arnetz, B. B. (2010) The Causal Role of Fatigue in the Stress-Perceived Health Relationship: A MetroNet Study in Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine pp. 212-219. Retrieved from JABFM  http://www.jabfm.org/content/23/2/212.full.pdf+html

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