Tiredness is probably the most common physical symptom that anxiety can cause, and it can also be one of the most devastating.
When you’re exhausted all the time it completely changes the way you live. You stop doing the things you love. Life becomes an endless series of tasks you don’t have the energy to carry out.
Tiredness was a problem for me throughout my time with anxiety. It would vary in its severity but it was always there. Sometimes it would be mild and would mean I had to sleep a lot and avoid anything too strenuous. Sometimes it would be severe and would mean I couldn’t get out of bed for days at a time.
A couple of times my doctor ran tests on me to see if there was a medical reason for my tiredness, but everything always came back normal. It was probably anxiety, she said.
I refused to believe that anxiety could cause such severe and chronic tiredness so I Googled it.
Google told me I had every terrible disease I could imagine, and that just made my anxiety worse.
Another anxiety-fueled vicious cycle: my anxiety made me tired, my tiredness made me anxious, and the cycle continued until it had turned me into a mental and physical wreck.
To break the cycle I had to find a way to stop the tiredness that had started all the problems in the first place.
So I learned all I could about it.
I read books about anxiety and tiredness and looked for the links between the two, I talked to dozens of other people who’d had anxiety-related tiredness and beaten it, and I did experiments on myself to see which actions and behaviours worked at reducing and eliminating my tiredness.
In this post I’m going to share with you everything I learned. You’ll get to see everything I did to overcome my anxiety-related tiredness. Hopefully you can use these same ideas to overcome your own problems with anxiety and tiredness.
The best place to start is by looking at why anxiety causes tiredness in the first place.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Tiredness?
Anxiety causes tiredness in 4 ways:
- sleep disturbance – when you’re highly anxious your sleep will always suffer. Your worries may prevent you from falling asleep at night and those same worries will linger in your subconscious mind throughout the night and may wake you earlier than you wanted. Trouble falling and staying asleep result in less sleep than you need. When this happens for extended periods of time you’ll quickly begin to suffer with extreme fatigue
- adrenaline crashes – when you’re anxious your body incorrectly assumes you’re in danger and releases adrenaline into your system, which acts as a stimulant to help you fight or flee that danger. This is an adrenaline rush. When an adrenaline rush ends there’s a crash, as there is with all stimulants. This can cause sudden and severe tiredness. If your anxiety is severe and constant then your body will be in a permanent cycle of adrenaline rush/adrenaline crash, leading to feelings of total exhaustion
- adrenal fatigue – when you experience physical, emotional, or psychological stress your adrenal glands release adrenaline into your system to help you cope. For short periods of stress this is fine. But when you’re anxious all the time your adrenal glands are constantly releasing adrenaline and eventually they become exhausted. This is adrenal fatigue. The result is your adrenal glands shut down and can no longer release adrenaline in big enough quantities to get you through the day. Physical, emotional, and psychological stress of any kind will therefore immediately exhaust you
- mental fatigue – when you live with anxiety you’re constantly experiencing worries, stress, and negative thoughts. In order to cope with these psychological problems you will either repress them or be in denial that you have them. Both repression and denial take a huge amount of mental energy, and mental energy eventually runs out just like physical energy runs out. That’s when mental fatigue kicks in, and it will leave you feeling groggy, slow, and miserable. Mental fatigue is also incredibly potent, and if left to fester for any length of time it can spread like a virus, leading to physical exhaustion and other unpleasant physical symptoms
Everyone’s anxiety is a little different, but when it comes to the causes of tiredness we’re all the same. The above 4 root causes of anxiety-related tiredness will be the same for us all.
Next up, let’s look at what anxiety-related tiredness feels like.
What Does Tiredness Caused by Anxiety Feel LIke?
Something that really helped my anxiety-related tiredness was learning more about how it feels. I did this by asking thousands of my subscribers if their anxiety made them tired, and if so, how it felt.
When the answers came in I compared how everyone else felt to how I was feeling myself.
I quickly realised that we were all feeling the same things, which reassured me that my tiredness was caused by anxiety and not by something more worrying. It was also a relief to know there were other people experiencing the same tiredness that was ruining my life. It helped to know I wasn’t going through it alone.
Since it helped me so much to know how anxiety-related tiredness can feel for others, I want to share with you everything I learned from all my subscribers.
Hopefully this will give you the same relief and reassurance that it gave me.
If your anxiety is making you feel extreme tiredness and fatigue, here’s what you might experience:
- constant general tiredness – a permanent feeling of tiredness, often felt from the moment you wake up until the moment you go back to bed. You may feel sleepy, weak, groggy, and detached. This relentless type of tiredness is usually not helped by naps or extended sleeping time
- drowsiness – a feeling of longing for sleep, or the sensation that you may fall asleep at any moment. This can be constant and stay with you throughout the day, or it can be sporadic and come in episodes of just a few minutes. Drowsiness is often helped in the short-term with a nap but it will often return later in the day
- brain fog – this is a type of mental fatigue and it will make you feel groggy, disoriented, forgetful, and confused. You may also notice difficulty in recalling names or words, performing simple math, and concentrating for extended periods of time. These feelings can be mild or severe and can last anywhere from a few minutes to several months
- muscle weakness – your tiredness may also come in the form of muscle weakness, which can strike anywhere in your body but will usually be in your arms and legs. This weakness will make simple tasks like lifting and walking difficult, and it can also leave your arms and legs feeling very heavy and hard to maneuver. The feelings of weakness vary greatly and can be mild or severe and can last for a few minutes or several hours
- sudden energy crashes – instead of the more common general tiredness which is constant and moderate, you may experience occasional energy crashes that are sudden and severe. These crashes often happen when you’re feeling fine and within seconds can leave you totally exhausted and incapacitated. A crash like this can strike at any time but they’re most common in the afternoon. In most cases the crash is short-lived and normal energy levels return within an hour
If the 5 symptoms of anxiety-related tiredness above sound familiar then let’s take a look at how you can stop your anxiety making you feel exhausted all the time.
How to Stop Tiredness Caused by Anxiety
To stop your anxiety-related tiredness you have to fix the 4 root causes that I talked about earlier in this post:
- sleep disturbance
- adrenaline crashes
- adrenal fatigue
- mental fatigue
Fix these 4 root causes and you’ll most likely get rid of your tiredness too.
Let’s take a look at what you can do to fix each of these 4 root causes. Two of them, adrenaline crashes and adrenal fatigue, have the same solutions, so I’ll group those 2 together:
How to Fix Sleep Disturbances
There are 4 methods that work well in reducing or eliminating anxiety-related sleep disturbances:
- clockwork sleep – go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, and don’t take naps during the day. Doing this over a long period of time will train your body to get all its sleep in one long block of undisturbed time and your sleep will become far more restful
- exhaust yourself – the kind of tiredness your anxiety makes you feel isn’t a healthy, natural tiredness, and that’s why you often can’t sleep well even when you feel exhausted. But healthy exhaustion is good and it will have a big impact on the quality of your sleep. To exhaust yourself in a healthy way do something physically exhausting or strenuous each day. Brisk walks are good, and so is light jogging. Anything physical that makes you tired will help you get more quality sleep
- no late stimulants – exposing yourself to any stimulant before bed will make it hard for you to fall asleep and it will ruin the sleep you do get when you manage to drop off. In the last couple of hours before bedtime avoid as many stimulants as possible. Stimulants to be aware of are heavy foods, drinks that contain caffeine or chocolate, television, loud music, and stress-filled communication in person or via phone, text, or the internet
- magnesium before bed – a magnesium deficiency can cause hundreds of problems in the human body, but 3 of the more common ones are anxiety, tiredness, and insomnia. Many people with anxiety (myself included) find that taking a magnesium supplement can help with these problems. The magnesium supplement can be especially helpful for promoting deep, restful sleep if it’s taken close to bedtime due to its powerful relaxation properties. In my own case, I take three 225 mg magnesium tablets a day, and I make sure that the final one is about an hour before bedtime. Magnesium is very well tolerated by most people, but obviously check with your doctor if you’re on any medication or you have any medical problems
How to Fix Adrenaline Crashes and Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenaline crashes and adrenal fatigue are caused by constant, severe anxiety. Such intense levels of anxiety that stay with you all the time result in significantly increased adrenaline levels, and that will always lead to extreme tiredness.
To fix these problems you need to find ways to interrupt your constant anxiety. Interrupt your anxiety often enough and your adrenaline levels will fall, hopefully resolving your tiredness at the same time.
There are 2 good methods I’ve found to interrupt anxiety:
- anxiety timeouts – a 5 or 10 minute break from your anxiety a handful of times a day can be enough to get your adrenaline levels back down to normal. I call these 5 or 10 minute breaks “anxiety timeouts.” Anything that gets your mind off your worries and lasts for at least 5 minutes is an anxiety timeout, and you should try to squeeze as many of them into your day as possible. Good anxiety timeouts include hot baths and showers, short meditations, singing along to a song you love, brisk walks, playing a video game, talking to someone in person or on the phone, and daydreaming about something wonderful from your past or in your future. These anxiety timeouts may seem like small weapons to fight anxiety, but do lots of them often and they’ll make a difference
- respect your ultradian rhythm – this is the rhythm that controls your mood and mental energy. The rhythm lasts 90 minutes, starting when you have high energy and alertness and ending when you have low energy and alertness. Work on any one thing for longer than 90 minutes and your ultradian rhythm will kick in and give you signals to take a break, such as fidgetiness, restlessness, drowsiness, hunger, and anxiety. The longer you go without mentally disengaging the more severe the symptoms will get. Modern life has made most of us ignore our ultradian rhythms, and the daily activities in our lives all bleed into one big mess of stress and anxiety. We never disengage. We never take a mental breath. We don’t respect the 90 minute ultradian rhythm. The solution is simple. Take a 30 minute break every 90 minutes, whatever it is you’re doing. Working at your job, doing chores around your home, playing with your kids, reading. Don’t do any of them for longer than 90 minutes without taking a break where you disengage and do something light and totally unrelated. This simple practice will allow your mind, your mood, and your mental energy to renew every 90 minutes, and the psychological relief this gives you will be massive
How to Fix Mental Fatigue
The stress, worries, and negative thinking that are a part of your anxiety are unpleasant and unsettling, and over a long period of time they’re impossible to tolerate.
In order to cope your mind will either repress these psychological problems or be in denial that they exist.
This is incredibly hard work on your mind, and eventually your mind will tire. When that happens you’ll feel mental fatigue kick in.
If mental fatigue is caused by the denial and repression of these psychological problems, the solution is to fully acknowledge them.
If you consciously and consistently acknowledge your stress, worries, and negative thoughts your mind will quickly catch on that denial and repression no longer work, and the battle that’s been going on in your mind will be over.
There are 2 good methods to acknowledge your stress, worries, and negative thoughts:
- keep an anxiety journal – the most obvious and effective way to acknowledge your stress, worries, and negative thoughts is to keep a journal where those are the only things you focus on. At the end of each day write a few paragraphs where you describe the anxiety-related problems you encountered. This simple act will guarantee that your mind has no denial and repression to deal with, meaning none of your precious mental energy will be wasted. Don’t be fussy about what you write. No one else will ever read this journal, and nor will you. This isn’t a journal that you’ll go back to years later out of curiosity. This is a journal purely for you to acknowledge your unhealthy thoughts
- take some baby steps – anxiety is a problem that you want gone, and to get it gone you have to take action. Whenever you don’t take action you’re avoiding the problem that you want to go away, and avoidance leads to denial and repression. The best way to avoid avoidance is to take action of any kind, even baby steps. The moment you take a baby step action to stop your anxiety your mind is made totally aware of your problem and that problem can no longer be denied or repressed. And the action you take can be genuinely tiny. Read a book that contains advice on anxiety. Read a post on this blog. Meditate. Go for a walk. Anything that will help your anxiety will work, as long as you take the action consciously and stay focused on why you’re taking the action in the first place
Of all the symptoms that my anxiety caused in the past, tiredness was probably the most devastating.
It didn’t hurt like headaches and muscle aches, and it didn’t scare me like palpitations and breathlessness. But it affected the quality of my life more than any of these other symptoms ever did.
When you’re totally exhausted for months at a time, when you don’t even have the energy to get out of bed or leave your house, your life is miserable.
And that’s why I’ve written this very long post. I wanted to share with you everything I’ve learned about anxiety-related tiredness.
Like most of the physical symptoms that anxiety can cause, the best way to overcome them is to logically tackle all of the root causes.
When it comes to tiredness those root causes are sleep disturbances, adrenaline crashes, adrenal fatigue, and mental fatigue.
In this post I’ve shared with you every method I know to tackle each of these root causes. If you make use of as many of these methods as possible, and you stick with them for several weeks, I’m confident that you’ll finally put an end to the tiredness that’s been ruining your life.