How to Manage Fatigue

Having a chronic condition can drain your energy. Therefore, fatigue is a very real problem for many people. It is not, as some might say, “all in the mind.” Fatigue can keep you from doing things you’d like to do.

Often, it is misunderstood by those who do not have a chronic illness. After all, others cannot usually see your fatigue. Unfortunately, spouses, family members, and friends sometimes do not understand the unpredictable way in which the fatigue associated with your condition can affect you. They may think that you are just not interested in certain activities or that you want to be alone. Sometimes you may not even know why you feel this way.

To be able to manage fatigue, it is important to understand that your fatigue may be related to several factors, such as:

The disease itself

No matter what disease or diseases you have, whatever you do demands more energy. When a chronic illness is present, the body is less efficient in its use of the energy reserved for everyday activities. This is because some of your energy is used to help the body heal itself.


Muscles that are not used become deconditioned and less efficient in doing what they are supposed to do. The heart, which is made of muscular tissue, can also become deconditioned. When this happens, the ability of the heart to pump blood, necessary nutrients, and oxygen to other parts of the body is decreased. When muscles do not receive these necessary nutrients and oxygen, they cannot function properly. Deconditioned muscles tire more easily than muscles in good condition—those that receive an adequate supply of blood, oxygen, and nutrients.

Poor nutrition

Food is our basic source of energy. If the fuel we take in is not good quality and/or consumed in the proper quantities, fatigue can result. For some people, obesity results in fatigue. Extra weight causes an increase in the amount of energy needed to perform daily activities. For others, being underweight can cause problems associated with fatigue. This is especially true for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Many people with COPD experience sudden weight loss because of a change in their eating habits and therefore have increased fatigue.

Insufficient rest

For a variety of reasons, there are times when we do not get enough sleep or have poor-quality sleep. This can also result in fatigue. Later in this chapter, sleep problems will be discussed in more detail.


Stress, anxiety, fear, and depression can also cause significant fatigue. Most people are aware of the connection between stress and feeling tired, but fewer are aware of the fact that fatigue is a major symptom of depression.


Some medications can cause fatigue. If you think your fatigue is medication-related, talk to your doctor. Sometimes medications or the dose can be changed.

If fatigue is a problem, your first job is to determine the cause. Again, a journal may be helpful. Are you eating healthy foods? Are you exercising? Are you getting enough goodquality sleep? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, you may be well on your way to determining one or more of the reasons for your fatigue.

The important thing to remember about your fatigue is that it may be caused by things other than your illness. Therefore, in order to combat and prevent fatigue, you must address the different causes of your fatigue. This may mean trying a variety of selfmanagement tools.

If your fatigue is caused by not eating well, such as eating too many “empty calories” in the form of “junk food” or alcohol, then the solution is to eat better-quality foods in the proper quantities. For others, the problem may be a decreased interest in food, leading to a lack of calories and subsequent weight loss.

People often say they can’t exercise because they feel fatigued. Believing this creates a vicious cycle: People are fatigued because of a lack of exercise, and yet they don’t exercise because of the fatigue. Believe it or not, if this is your problem, then motivating yourself to do a little exercise the next time you are fatigued might be the answer.

You don’t have to run a marathon. The important thing is to get outdoors and take a short walk. If this is not possible, then walk around your house. If emotions are causing your fatigue, rest will probably not help. In fact, it may make you feel worse, especially if your fatigue is a sign of depression. We will talk about how to deal with depression a little later in this chapter. []

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