Four Experiments for Fighting Fatigue

Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS, Health Professional
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You’ve slept well, you’re physically fit, and yet you start your day feeling fatigued. Just because you can’t understand your fatigue doesn’t mean there isn’t an explanation. I’m setting you a four-week challenge in the form of three experiments. Accept the challenge and you’ll soon feel your fatigue begin to fade.

Experiment 1: Fluids

Caffeine: If you start the day with a pot of coffee, you’re one of the 83 percent of American adults who do exactly the same. Of course, drinking coffee is as much about the boost we get from caffeine as it is the taste. If you find that you can’t start or get through the day without several cups of coffee, this may be part of your fatigue problem. It may seem counterintuitive, but coffee can actually make you tired. Why? Well, caffeine is also a diuretic, which means that it makes you urinate more. Too much caffeine can lead to a point where you start to feel dehydrated, and so you drink more coffee.

Experiment with cutting out caffeinated coffee, tea, cola, and energy drinks for four weeks. If you get a headache, you’re actually suffering mild withdrawal symptoms. If you experience withdrawal, then reduce your intake more gradually until you stop completely. If you feel tired during the day, try drinking water instead.

Alcohol: After a busy day at work, do you relax with a glass or two of wine, or maybe some spirits? Don’t worry, I’m not about to suggest that you stop completely, but I am going to suggest that you pick your time, and perhaps reduce the quantity.

Alcohol is sometimes used to encourage sleep. This is because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol-induced sleep can leave you feeling wrecked the next morning, so you drink coffee in order to wake yourself up and, well, we’ve just been over that!

Experiment with drinking less and leaving at least two hours or more between your last drink and when you go to bed. Drink with moderation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this translates to about one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

Experiment 2: Foods

Weight: If you’re overweight, the strain on your body and your heart can easily lead to fatigue. The way we eat is also important. Highly processed convenience foods are high in fats, sugars, and salt. These foods need to be considered treats rather than used for daily nutrition.

Our “always on” lifestyles often mean that we miss or rush meals. Typically, if we’re lucky, we sit down to a big evening meal having skipped breakfast and grabbed something quick for lunch.

Experiment: Losing weight becomes much easier when you cut out processed foods and replace them with a well-balanced, nutritional diet. The more weight you lose, the less you will feel fatigued, and the healthier you’ll become. Professor of nutrition Clare Collins has written some helpful tips on how to lose weight the healthy way.

Whether or not you’re overweight, you’ll find that your energy levels will improve if you spread your food intake over the day and consume big meals less frequently.

Experiment 3: Energy

Burn energy to gain energy: The last thing you probably want to do after a hard day at work is to spend time exercising. But the notion of burning energy in order to gain it is well established. Exercise really does make people feel better!

Fatigue also has a psychological dimension. You may be physically active, eat well, and look after yourself, yet you still feel tired. Stress burns up a lot of energy, and so anything that helps reduce stress is likely to boost your emotional reserves.

Experiment: If you’re not used to exercise, gradually build up to a daily 30-minute routine. Do things you find pleasurable and then mix them up. For example, one day you could walk, the next swim, the day after cycle, and so on. After four works, I guarantee that you’ll feel so much better.

Talking is also a great therapeutic activity. If you’re feeling burdened, you might want to consider talk-therapy. There are many different forms, and one is bound to suit you.

And that’s it. Four weeks out of your life isn’t much. Ideally, you should try all three experiments at the same time, but if that seems a step too far, then start with one experiment and introduce the second in week two and the third in week three. Ultimately, you’ll want to run with these experiments for longer than four weeks, but hopefully you’ll see enough benefits that you won’t want to stop.

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Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.