Who hasn’t struggled with fatigue? You know, that in-the-middle-of-you-tired that feels heavy and keeps you from doing even the fun things that you enjoy. I can pretty confidently say we have all dealt with fatigue at some point in our lives. It may have been when you were dealing with an acute illness or situation, or maybe it was caused by an on-going stressor like the COVID pandemic.
First, I want to say that it is totally OK if you have a hard time with fatigue. Many of us, and I can say this from personal experience, get frustrated or angry at ourselves when something is a little off and we can’t be as productive or active as we are used to being. We have to learn to let that go. We have to learn to start asking questions and listening to our bodies when they’re talking to us. To find a solution to any problem, we have to be curious about the problem and about the potential causes. If you feel comfortable doing that – and being honest with yourself – then you are infinitely more likely to find a solution!
Second, I acknowledge that this can be a really hard topic to discuss with your healthcare provider. They’re busy, you may have a pretty limited relationship with them, and, to be really honest, “fatigue” is a pretty vague complaint. Neither the cause nor the treatment is as straight-forward as a broken arm or a sinus infection. It frequently takes time and commitment to find a cause, and that just isn’t the way our healthcare system is built. I am very confident that if you were to walk in to your healthcare provider and explain what you are feeling, when it started and how it has impacted your life, they would do a great job at looking for the big medical diagnoses that can cause fatigue – diabetes, depression, anxiety, micronutrient deficiencies, diseases of the blood, etc. But when those come back as “normal”, it becomes a bit tricky. Many individuals who complain of fatigue end up getting a prescription. Even some more naturally minded providers will recommend a pill, although it may be a supplement or vitamin. There is nothing wrong with either of these approaches, but neither one necessarily gets to the heart of the reason for the fatigue. And if we don’t get to the true heart of the issue, a pill is only going to help so much.
So. What to do when you’ve seen your healthcare provider, all of the labs are back and you still don’t have any answers? This is when self-care is so crazy important. We’ve talked about self-care before but I know the different definitions out there can be misleading. Frequently, examples speak better than trying to verbalize a definition. Here goes – my four top self-care tips for fatigue:
If you can’t get rid of that stressor, reframe it!
Easier said than done, I know! It helps to be pretty practical about this one. Make a list of your commitments and see if you can get rid of one or two of them. Which are most stressful for you, e.g. which ones do you angst about the most? Which ones keep you up at night? Which ones interrupt your daily routines the most? Is it reasonable to eliminate or cut back on your responsibility to that one thing that is most frustrating? If the answer is yes – Go For It!! Life is too short for over-commitment! If the answer is no – how can you find the best in a stressful situation? Spend a few minutes every day finding something for which you can be grateful in that situation. A gratitude practice has been shown to decrease inflammation in our bodies, which is a common cause of chronic fatigue.
Little food choices that make a huge difference
What we eat is so very intertwined with who we are, right? We grow up eating certain foods and those become traditional and comfort foods. Is it any surprise that changing what we eat is one of the most challenging lifestyle changes? My biggest recommendation here is to start small with the big offenders: high fructose corn syrup and sugar. Get rid of all high fructose corn syrup in your diet (gotta read those labels!) and then cut the amount of sugar you eat or drink in a day in half. The ultimate goal is to get rid of it, but for most of us it’s reasonable to start slow. Here’s the mindful part of this one – when you notice that you are reaching for a Coke or an Oreo (both of my sugar-craving weaknesses), take a quick minute and ask yourself why you want that thing right now. Are you angry or sad? Are you stressed? Does it just sound like it would taste good? What if you think about how you feel after you eat it? Does that change anything? Do you still really want it? At least then you are making a conscious decision about what you are putting in your body instead of eating without any attention to what is going on or in.
Make movement and exercise enjoyable
You will very rarely find me in a gym. It’s just not my thing. I get bored. I tend to push so hard that I end up hurting myself or I feel sick when I’m done. None of that will keep me exercising! If, however, I find the activities around my home or community that I enjoy and have me moving – it’s a win-win! A calm morning walk in my neighborhood is my favorite. Or walking the dog. Maintaining a yard and garden. Movement is health. It doesn’t have to be a formal class and it doesn’t have to make you feel like you are going to pass out afterwards. Keep your exercise to a level that you can carry on a conversation with someone while you’re exercising. If you prefer some more structure, consider finding a group with whom to practice Qigong or Tai Chi – maybe outside. Even my local yoga studio is doing classes outside! You might notice that most of these are outdoor activities; time outside is good for every aspect of you. Ultimately, it all comes down to finding something that you enjoy enough to stick with it at least five days a week.
What do you do for fun?
What is it about “adulting” that somehow pushes a lot of the fun out of our lives? When was the last time you had a good belly laugh or giggled? It’s hard for me to answer that question – and I have a goofy puppy in the house! Intentionally look for ways to have fun. To be silly. To remember how to belly laugh. What were the things you loved when you were ten years old? Cartoons? Coloring books? Time outside with friends and no schedule? Playing in the dirt? Catching lizards and lightning bugs? You get the idea. If you’re like me, you think of some of those kiddo things you enjoyed and just know that you can’t do that anymore…or don’t want to. For instance, I really don’t want to hang upside down from monkey bars anymore. I get it. But find something that lights your joy inside like those things when you were ten years old. Try to schedule (yes, schedule it!) something every week that is fun for you. And don’t worry what everyone else is thinking. They’re just amazed and jealous that you remember how to have fun!
Yeah, I know that none of these are really earth-shattering or new…but here’s the kicker: how many of these things are you actually doing every day or every week? That’s the really hard part. I’m serious. Schedule some of this into your routine. Actually block time for something fun. Write up cue cards that remind you to ask why you want to eat that particularly sugary thing right now. And when things don’t go exactly as planned, remember to offer yourself a little grace for the moment. And then start again tomorrow.
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