Fatigue is one of the most difficult symptoms people with chronic illness deal with. There’s no magic cure, no pill you can take, and no easy treatment. Fatigue is hard to understand which is why many doctors do not take it seriously and will suggest patients try harder or just get over it. Some will even claim that fatigue is just caused by depression, or laziness and lack of exercise. These are usually the claims from someone who has never experienced fatigue. They don’t realize that being fatigued and being tired are two different things. Tiredness is caused by lack of sleep and can be easily fixed by getting the proper amount of sleep. Fatigue doesn’t have such a simple solution. Fatigue involves difficulty concentrating, anxiety, decrease in stamina, difficulty sleeping, and increased sensitivity to light.
- Fatigue feels like you’ve just run a marathon, even though you just woke up.
- Fatigue means you can’t summon the energy to do things
- Fatigue is not relieved by exercise, exercise can actually make it worse
- Fatigue means you are physically and mentally dragging
- Fatigue feels like you are always dragging yourself through sand
- Fatigue cannot be fixed by just trying harder
So knowing that there is no easy fix, how do you manage fatigue? It’s a lot of trial and error because everyone’s body is different, but here are a few things I’ve found that work for me.
1. Discover your triggers
Depending on your health you may not have a specific trigger, but many people with chronic illness do have things that can make their fatigue worse. For example, I always do better when I’m eating and drinking healthy. If I start getting too tired to cook and turn to junk food my fatigue level will increase. As my fatigue increases I increasingly rely on caffeine which makes me feel worse, which then means I eat even unhealthier. It’s a vicious cycle that I often get into even though I know exactly how to avoid it.
2. Don’t try to push through the fatigue
Pushing through fatigue will just make you feel worse in the long run. Your doctor may advise you to do this, but do not listen. When you are tired you can push through, but not when you are fatigued. When you experience fatigue it’s your body trying to tell you that something is wrong, you need to listen to it.
3. Set boundaries and stick to them
You know your body better than anyone, so make sure you set firm boundaries and stick to them. If you know you’re not able to do something don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. This is hard to do because people will not be interested in respecting your boundaries, after all they don’t have to live with the side effects, you do. Stick to your guns and stay firm on what you can and can’t do.
4. Engage in self care
Dealing with fatigue involves a lot of taking care of yourself and your body. Because you can’t push yourself through fatigue you need to let yourself rest without any guilt. You may hate resting, but in the long run it will allow you to feel better and do more. While you’re resting do something you enjoy, read a book, talk to a friend, do some coloring, whatever helps you to feel better emotionally and physically.
5. Make priorities
If you know that your energy is limited you will have to make priorities. This means that you will have to let some things go, and that’s okay. I spend a lot of time organizing my life and weighing what things are the most important to me because I cannot do everything. Don’t dwell on the things you have to let go, spend your energy on the things you can do.
I wish that these strategies could fix fatigue, but they do not. However, I’ve noticed the closer I stick to these strategies I do significantly better at managing my life with chronic illness.