Low on Energy? A Few Thoughts on Fatigue

One of the most common complaints I hear in my office is, “I have no energy. I just shouldn’t be this tired all the time.”

This seems to be pervasive in our culture.

If you simply search fatigue, you will get over 11 million results. There are also as many cures for fatigue as there are variations of this complaint. If you search for information on cures for fatigue, you will get over 9 million results. Clearly, this is an issue for many people.

There are many causes of fatigue. Most patients are convinced that their thyroid, blood sugar, iron levels, or hormones are low or not right. All you have to do these days is turn on your radio or TV and within fifteen minutes, you will probably hear a commercial for men about low T.

I do believe it is important to check on these things when appropriate, but rarely are these the cure for fatigue. Certainly, if you have low T or hypothyroidism, replacing these hormones can help with your energy, but most people have normal results.

Over the years, I have found the quickest fix for low energy for most people is to start an exercise program. “Motion is lotion.” You will simply feel better and have more energy. On the other extreme, if you are working out 7 days a week, taking a true Sabbath from your workouts will help.

I am also amazed at how little sleep many people get. We need to consistently get around 8 hours of sleep. Some people seem to do okay with 7 while other may need 9 hours of sleep. Those patients that routinely sleep less than 7 hours will usually push back against my suggestion for more sleep. They will usually say they have always only needed 5–6 hours of sleep. Of course, when asked how long they have been tired, they reject the association to lack of sleep to their fatigue even though they have been tired all those years.

Sometimes, the cure is more water. If you are chronically mildly dehydrated, it can cause fatigue. Our bodies are around 60% water. We need water!

Over the long haul, sugar is a zapper of energy. It will give you a quick burst of energy but usually leads to low levels of motivation and/or energy after the initial surge. Eliminate sugar and things that turn to sugar as much as you can.

I take a B-complex vitamin from Thorne Research called Methyl-Guard. It has B12, B6, and folate. I think it helps me. Whether it actually helps or if it is simply all in my mind, it works for me.

But the most common cause for fatigue that I have found in my 25 years of being a family doctor is stress. Stress comes disguised in many forms. Most people do not believe they are stressed. I think it is the “boiling frog” theory. They are so used to low levels of stress and as their lives get more complicated and stressful, they do not see the increase temperature of the water as they are slowly coming to a “boiling” point in their lives.

Our culture promotes stress. We have a tendency to get over involved in all sorts of things. Mostly, these are good things. Look at little league games these days. There was a time when a T-ball team would play 8–12 games in a season. Usually the kids would have the same hat and maybe T-shirt. Now, these kids are in $200 uniforms, and playing tournaments on weekends. It is nothing for an active T-ball team to play 35–50 games.

There is nothing wrong with T-ball. It is great for kids to be active and compete. What I see happening in our lives is lack of any margin. We cram as much as we can in our 24-hour day. When something unplanned occurs (and it always does), we have no margin, no breathing room, and that puts added stress to complete our scheduled activities such as work.

This often leads to stress in our relationships. Isn’t it true that we seem to take it out on those we love the most? Keeping our relationships healthy will dramatically improve our energy level. It will take energy to invest in those relationships, but we will get more back than we put in.

Another drain of our energy is the constant distractions that keep our minds buzzing with information. When was the last time you allowed your mind to be bored? With all of the technology that keeps us connected to our stressed-out world, we seemingly never disconnect. I believe one of the best “fixes” for fatigue is to disconnect and recharge your emotional batteries.

Disconnecting looks different from one person to another, but one of the keys is to allow your mind to get bored or at least not be distracted with all of the information we have available to us today. Take time to meditate. “Dwell on what is pure and noble.”

I have found exercise is one of the best ways for me to disconnect from the chaos and to recharge my emotional energy. Sometimes reading a good book will do the same thing. Take some time to figure out what it is for you that will help you stay emotionally energized. Plan for it and invest in it.

When your emotional energy is good, you will find your physical energy will follow. It may not happen simultaneously, but it will correlate. Allow your mind to occasionally be disconnected from all of the chaos we live in every day. The world will not stop rotating if you do not check in on Facebook or Instagram every day!

Wishing You an Amazing Life,

Curtis Brown, MD