It’s not uncommon for people to say they feel ‘tired all the time’. This modern-day complaint is a sign we are over-stressed, over-stimulated and we find it a struggle to relax and recharge.
Despite technological advances and time-saving devices, our busy lives mean there still never seems to be enough time. There is always more to do and the feeling of being overwhelmed, overloaded and stressed can easily become part of our every day.
We are always switched on: we can be accessed anytime, anywhere by phone, text or email. And there is always something to think about or worry about or some other thing we could be doing whether we are lying in bed, driving to work or (supposedly) ’relaxing’ on holiday.
While the pressures we feel in our lives may be different depending on our personal situation, one thing we all have in common is how it is increasingly challenging to escape from the trap of being ‘busy’ and feeling tired all the time. Poor quality broken sleep, feeling run down and not being able to relax are just how life is for many of us.
To try and manage this tiredness and fatigue, some people take energy drinks, strong coffees, sugary drinks and snacks, or give themselves that internal pep talk to ‘harden up’. Or people may use alcohol as a ‘support’.
These are not, however, good solutions —particularly in the long-term.
Sugary drinks and food only give a temporary energy burst and are unlikely to provide the nutrition your body needs to work at its best. While caffeine and stimulants have their place, if you feel like you need them
to just function, something isn’t quite right.
Alcohol may indeed take the edge off, and even ‘knock you out’, but like caffeine it can affect the quality of your sleep.
So these ‘solutions’ can end up fuelling the very tiredness and fatigue you are trying to manage.
Chronic stress: What to do when you’re tired all the time
What is chronic stress doing to our bodies?
Your body is much like a car. It needs good food for fuel in the same way your car needs petrol. Your body needs to be active in the same way your car engine needs to be regularly turned over. Both your body and your car need looking after to help them perform at their best.
If you never service your car, drive with your pedal to the metal for quick acceleration, and unnecessarily rev the engine, it’s likely somewhere down the line you will have car trouble. You may be able to stem any major work temporarily by putting some super-fuel in it, kicking it and pushing it but sooner or later, something’s got to give.
In a similar fashion, many of us live our lives pushing our body to its limit and beyond, not allowing the time and space it needs to unwind and recover. A few hours kip doesn’t replace good quality sleep. ‘Convenient’ food isn’t necessarily a substitute for good quality food and constantly being on the go leaves little time to recharge.
The effects of stress
When you have a lot on your mind and feel stressed and pressured, your sleep may suffer. It may be that you don’t get enough sleep overall, you toss and turn all night or if you do get plenty of sleep, it may be poor quality. Having stress hormones, caffeine or alcohol circulating in your system when you head to bed can prevent your body from having a deep restful sleep so it’s hardly surprising you may wake up not feeling rested.
Anxiety and low mood
A busy full-on life can take its toll on how you feel, too. Feeling anxious, having a low mood or struggling with depression are all possible outcomes if you live a fast-paced, busy, stressful life.
Hormone dysregulation and body fat
There are two main hormones which your body produces in response to stress: adrenaline and cortisol.
These hormones are produced by the adrenal glands — small walnut-sized glands which sit above each of your kidneys. Your adrenal glands play an important role in helping metabolise food and regulating blood sugar levels, and have an impact on the function of the heart and digestive system.
There is a theory that because of the way so many of us now live — with constant stress and unbalanced lifestyles — some may struggle with a degree of reduced adrenal efficiency because of the pressure put on
their adrenal glands to constantly pump out stress hormones all the time. This is referred to by some as ‘adrenal fatigue’. This is thought to result in (among other problems) extreme tiredness and fatigue as well as difficulty losing body fat.
Despite an increased interest in adrenal fatigue, as yet, there isn’t a specific set of tests or criteria which exists to be able to diagnose adrenal fatigue and most medical professionals consider it at this stage to be only a theory. It is an area where more research needs to be done.
Whether or not adrenal fatigue is able to be clinically diagnosed, the reality remains: if you are constantly tired and run-down, you need to take action and work out what you can do to help yourself feel better because running on empty is not the same as living a quality, healthy life.
What can we do to better manage stress and fatigue?
1. Talk to your GP or a qualified healthcare professional who knows you and your medical history. Any underlying health issues can then be considered. Coeliac disease, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, iron deficiency anaemia and chronic fatigue syndrome are just a few examples of health issues you may need to rule out before identifying whether your tiredness is a result of being busy and stressed.
2. Look at your lifestyle and see what you can do to improve things for yourself. While there is no magic solution, here are some strategies I have found that have helped people to feel better and have more energy.
Be food wise
Stabilise your blood sugar levels
Enjoy regular healthy meals and snacks: Avoid going for hours on end without eating.
Go low-GI: Opt for healthy food choices which release their energy slowly. Oats, low-fat milk, low-fat yoghurt and wholegrain breads and pulses (such as lentils or cannellini beans) are great options.
Include protein-rich foods at mealtimes and for snacks.
Slash the sugar: Avoid sugary drinks and foods that have added sugar.
Optimise your nutrition
Falling short of vital nutrients can mean that you are more likely to feel tired and run down.
Eat more real, unprocessed whole foods.
Aim to have four or five servings of vegetables each day and two servings of fruit: A variety of colours is best. They are packed with vitamins and minerals which support your body to work at its best.
Boost your B vitamins: Foods packed with B vitamins help your body to release energy from food. Opt for wholegrain breads, cereal and crackers. Enjoy plenty of green vegetables and include a variety of lean meats, fish, seafood and eggs throughout the week. Nuts and seeds are great, too — enjoy a small handful as a snack or add to salads.
Iodine is vital to help your thyroid gland work properly .Where you use salt always choose iodised salt. Include iodine-rich foods every day such as fish
and seafood, eggs and seaweed eg. nori sheets which you use to make sushi. Slice seaweed sheets and add to salads or use them to make wraps.
Get one-on-one nutrition advice from a qualified dietitian or registered nutritionist if you want your diet analysed to see where you are falling short. There is a huge amount you can do to optimise your nutrition and to manage nutritional deficiencies.
Eat slowly, mindfully: Sit down to eat and chew your food properly before you swallow. Try to avoid peedily gobbling your food down on the run.
Look at what you drink
Cut back on stimulants
While coffee and tea have their place, if you are feeling wired and tired, these drinks may be contributing to your problem. Look to cut back to a couple of cups a day and then try going for a month or two without any
at all and just see how you feel. For some people it seems to make all the difference.
Take a break from alcohol
Alcohol can impact on the quality of your sleep, depletes your body of vitamin B1 and can have a profound effect on how you feel and your overall mental health. Take a break from alcohol for a month or so and see
how you feel. If you feel that is just impossible, it may be time to reflect on the role of alcohol in your life — here are other ways to cope, manage and reward yourself which are much better for you.