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Why am I so tired: 7 causes of extreme fatigue

Why am I so tired? It’s a question many people ask themselves. Fatigue is an ever increasing problem. Stress if often an important culprit. Fatigue expresses itself in the form of a sluggish feeling after getting up, an afternoon slump, or a slump after dinner. Or just trying to get through the day with a fatigued body. The annoying thing about stress-related fatigue is that it’s difficult to get sufficient amounts of sleep at night. Waking up early, jolting awake in the middle of the night or difficulties falling asleep are common problems related to stress.

Research (TNO) shows that 12% of the population suffers with burnout symptoms. That means that 868,000 people in the Netherlands suffer from extreme fatigue and run the risk of long-term absenteeism. Alarming!

The main causes are:

  • A lack of autonomy: feeling obstructed in your independence (44%)
  • High task demands (38%)
  • Undesired behaviour from outside the organisation (23%)

Work stress is the cause of 36% of the absenteeism. The annual costs related hereto are €1.8 billion (in the Netherlands).

Causes of fatigue

Many causes can lead to fatigue. It’s also possible that multiple issues cause tiredness, which is the case for Jeroen, an independent contractor who earns a good living as a website developer.

During our coaching, Jeroen found out there was more to his stress-related complaints than he had initially thought. He knew that the fatigue was a result of the experienced stress, but he was unable to really pinpoint it.

Jeroen thought it would all be fine after some relaxation and proper support. After we told him we could truly tackle his complaints if we knew the underlying cause, he started to really think. It was quite difficult for Jeroen to speak about, but he eventually bared his soul.

Read more: Fatigued: These are the causes, the consequences and the solutions

Little energy and tired

Never waking up tired again

Waking up tired is something a lot of people are familiar with. We however rarely relate this complaint to other physical or psychological problems. We tell ourselves to perhaps go to bed earlier for a while or blame the fatigue on a restless night. Headaches are another typical example of this.

We often don’t realise that tension headaches are the most common form of headaches. This is pain in your head because of tensions. The same thing applies to waking up tired. So, think of the other complaints you’re experiencing aside from waking up tired and wonder if there’s a connection. If you never want to wake up tired again, you’ll have to examine yourself. What is actually going on?

Why do I have such little energy?

Say, you had a long and good night’s sleep, but you still wake up tired. That means your night’s rest didn’t provide you with a lot of energy, at least not enough for a good and enthusiastic start of the day. And say this happens on a regular basis. It’s best not to put your head in the sand if you often wake up tired, because this means something else is going on. We badly need our sleep in order to recharge ourselves for the upcoming day.

A lot happens to our body and mind when we sleep. Your muscles maximally relax, your brains process the information and the emotions of the previous day and your blood pressure lowers. These and other processes make sure you are ready to face the following day. Do you experience a lack of energy? Then something is wrong.

Causes fatigue

Always tired and lifeless

Are you always tired and lifeless? At any time of day? Then you should know that extreme fatigue is one of the three pillars of a burnout. Exhaustion is a part of every burnout. Whenever you feel extremely lifeless and tired, we speak of emotional exhaustion. You might recognise this: when you’re emotionally exhausted, you (consciously or unconsciously) distance yourself from your surroundings.

In case of physical exhaustion, your body is literally spent. Because of stress your body needs to make major efforts to keep you going, which ultimately leads to this exhaustion. If you’re always tired and restless you should take this warning signal seriously!

Back to Jeroen.

What to do in case of exhaustion

Waking up tired, having a lack of energy, always being tired and lifeless; they’re all little signals your body is giving. This includes rapidly running out of breath and being tired. Jeroen’s main complaints were feeling lifeless in combination with a lack of energy. Feeling lifeless can however be caused by many things.

1 | Too much on your plate

The first conclusion Jeroen drew was that he had had too much on his plate for too long. His company grew, leading to more and more tasks. Jeroen’s partner had gotten a job a year before. Since he worked from home, she expected him to take care of their daughter after she came home from school and prepare food for her. Jeroen didn’t dare to take on less work. After all, you never know how much work you’ll have next month, and the bills still have to be paid.

Having too much on your plate is a gradual process and you often don’t realise it’s too much when you’re already overworked or show symptoms of a burnout. It creeps up on you, because you unwittingly take on more and more work. You can easily manage a lot of things on their own, but the range of tasks continuously increases, which causes an overload.

Another example: the changes at your job have been asking a lot from you for a while. The course you enjoyed taking however requires much more discipline now, because your mother recently has fallen ill and needs more attention from you. Add to this an expiring contract and a baby on the way, and you’ll have a big chance you are overburdened and you overexploit your body.

Having too much on your plate is the most important cause of fatigue, but also the most underestimated one. You never truly get any rest, because you always have to perform. This leads to stress that causes fatigue, but also to sleeping problems. That’s because your body needs time to come to rest. If you don’t take this time, you won’t be able to fall asleep, you might wake up in the middle of the night and you might mull things over or wake up very early. In addition, the quality of your sleep worsens when you have too much on your mind.

Emptying your plate is difficult, because it could give you the feeling you’re not doing your job well enough, or that you’re lacking in a certain field.

Fatigue and tired of stress and burnout

2 | Setting the bar too high

High standards and values are intrinsic motivations that make sure you like to do the things you do very well. You tell yourself you have to do your best, even if this is at your own expense. Realise you can only give 100%. If you have to divide this over five tasks, you can only give 20% to each task. If you set the bar too high for yourself, you believe that 20% isn’t good enough and you’ll want more. But more means you expect more from yourself than your body and mind can handle. This overburdening causes fatigue that can only be solved by recovery and making choices between the important and the unimportant things.

Jeroen wanted to be the perfect partner, the sweetest dad and the best entrepreneur in his field. He was the champ in setting the bar too high! He kept clinging onto his tasks, while the world around him changed. By not making any choices he grew frustrated and tired.

3 | Not setting any limits

Always doing what someone asks of you also makes you tired. You don’t get the healthy recovery you need, let alone have any energy to spare. Jeroen for instance was unable to say ‘no’ to a new assignment.

Not setting any limits can also be called excessiveness. You take on too many tasks you simply can’t all carry out. That’s not your fault; it’s simply not possible.

4 | Physical problems

Physical problems also cause tiredness. A persistent back ache can physically and mentally drain you. The same applies to toothaches, gastrointestinal problems, migraines, and so on. Other issues such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, depression and many other physical ailments also cause fatigue.

Sometimes it just is what it is: you’ll have to learn to live with what you have. That doesn’t mean you have to accept feeling extremely tired. You can often have more energy by choosing a different lifestyle. Unfortunately you sometimes have to make changes to what you have, but by accepting this you will be able to look ahead and start figuring out the best ways to deal with this. Dealing with disease starts with acceptance, no matter how difficult this can be.

Tension headaches are a common problem related to stress. Jeroen can tell you all about it. He used to take six aspirins a day. These stopped working after a while. He blamed his headaches on an incorrect posture during his long working hours behind the computer monitor. Although this is very possible, some assessments ruled this was not the case. Jeroen’s headaches were caused by his high levels of stress.

Physical problems

5 | Incorrect breathing

Fortunately, more and more insights are gained on the importance of breathing. If you have short, shallow breathing, you will be worn out after each effort you make. This can be compared to a breath you take while you’re intensely working out: you inhale a lot of oxygen and then exhale a lot of carbon dioxide.

During intensive exercise, this is exactly what you should be doing: your muscles require a lot of oxygen. Stress will create a short, unhealthy breathing, followed by a bunch of physical reactions that require more energy from you. It’s also striking that your brain functioning significantly worsens because of improper breathing.

Read more: Hyperventilation and incorrect breathing: how do you deal wit this?

6 | Insufficient/too much physical exercise

Healthy physical exercise creates a balanced body. Only mental burdening leads to an imbalanced lifestyle. Physical activity furthermore ensures a steady production of hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin. People often feel satisfied after healthy physical exercise. It also improves your breathing and ‘defragments the mind’. Exercise makes you sleep better, especially when you do it in the healthy outdoors.

Too much physical exercise is also possible. A good training schedule consists of exercise, rest and proper nutrition (each 33%). If one of these three loses balance, you’re harming yourself. Extreme and exhausting training activities are therefore not healthy and actually break down a healthy body.

Naturally, this topic was discussed with Jeroen. He used to be an avid runner. He stopped running because he had more and more on his plate. Of course he missed it, but he simply no longer had the time.

Tired and stress and burnout

7 | The wrong nutrition

Nutrition is the fuel for the body. Similar to a fireplace, it provides warmth and energy. A healthy balance creates a healthy combustion. Not unlike a fire, you will need kindling to start it and then throw in some big logs that keep the fire going. Your body is continuously stoking the fire and keeping it going.

You should therefore make sure you always have a healthy nutritional balance that supports this need. A diet that eliminates food is therefore never recommended.

8 | Problems sleeping

Difficulties falling asleep, difficulties staying asleep or waking up early are sources of fatigue, the consequences of which you will experience throughout the entire day. A power nap can be very healthy, unless you disturb your sleeping pattern. In other words: your regular sleeping pattern at night should not suffer from the power nap.

Jeroen had trouble falling asleep.

While in bed, he already worried about the next day’s work. That kept him from falling asleep.

Sleeping problems often lead to a lot of mulling. That’s because it’s difficult to think properly and clearly at night. A proper sleeping pattern is obtained by consistently going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time. Your body gets used to these times and is therefore able to better utilise your sleep.

Read more: Recognizing Stress: How do you recognize stress signals from your body?

Jeroen’s turnaround

Jeroen quickly realised his fatigue and stressed couldn’t be solved with just some relaxation. His stress level had been too high for too long for that. During the coaching the causes of his stress came to light. This allowed us to work together on the changing of his behaviour. By adjusting his lifestyle, taking the necessary measures and making choices that benefited him¸ Jeroen became himself again.

He identified his pitfalls and learned how to prevent crossing the line again. According to Jeroen, one of his wisest lessons was the timely recognition of stress.

He now knows that his complaints, such as headaches and difficulties falling asleep, were symptoms of excessive stress. Since stress and burnouts can cause a long list of mental and physical complaints, it’s sometimes difficult recognising the symptoms. Jeroen fortunately realised in time he needed help and thereby prevented an impending burnout.

Because of our sessions in nature, Jeroen started running again. The pressure he put on himself to be the best partner, father and entrepreneur is gone. His company is still growing, but he no longer has to do everything by himself, and he outsourced various activities. And most importantly: things at home are going great and both his partner and daughter are elated with their ‘new’, relaxed Jeroen.

Do you also want to live a well-rested and fit life?

Do you notice yourself becoming increasingly tired, and are you unable to reverse this process? Do you want to prevent a burnout and ban stress from your life? Then it’s wise to start your search for the causes of your fatigue.

Gaining insight into the causes and talking about it will undoubtedly help you. Support and understanding are also highly important. If you nevertheless are unable to get your complaints under control, we would like to help you in the form of one-on-one coaching. Many people face the same problems you do, and we were able to help people like Jeroen with our proven method. You’re not the first and you will definitely not be the last!

Verstoorde werkrelatie werknemer

Training and coaching

Milltain provides training and coaching for private individuals and organisations. Our team consists of 35 coaches and trainers who have now helped thousands of people struggling with stress and burnouts.

Milltain for private individuals:

Are you stuck in life because of stress or a burnout? We developed an effective online programme that is fully focused on the complete recovery from a burnout. More than 2000 people have successfully completed this training!

Movement and nature play prominent roles in this training. Recovery is a process that contains peaks and troughs, and that’s something we know all about. Our highly experienced coaches provide you with active support.

Learn more: Stress and burnout coaching

Milltain for organisations:

With the help of a team of experienced trainers, Milltain supports organisations in the prevention of stress and the (re) finding of work happiness in the workplace. A single burnout can easily cost an organisation € 70,000 (or more!)

In addition to financial suffering, the human suffering is great. Not only for the employee but also for close colleagues who have to deal with the blows. Before long, you find yourself in a negative vicious circle.

Get long-term absence and stress among employees under control with the help of our highly effective team training via Zoom or a similar tool.

This training has proven to be an international success for both managers (leadership skills) and employees (dealing with stress).

Learn more: Online team training

 

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About the author
My name is Ruud Meulenberg. Owner and founder of Milltain and Meulenberg Training & Coaching.
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