Today I am sitting at the hospital, waiting for a friend of mine who is in surgery for a spinal cord injury. As a result of having my tonsils stolen from me (which I would still like back, pleeeze), I’m a tad skeptical of surgeries, but her’s, sounds like a good idea. Without the surgery, if she falls again (which caused the misalignment with her vertebrae in the first place), the bone resting against her spinal cord could get lodged further in and result in her becoming a paraplegic. Yep, Western medicine usually avoids prevention, but in this case, I guess that’s what this surgery is for, to prevent future catastrophe. Okay, yeah, I know, true prevention would be to figure out why she is prone to falling and why her bones are prone to moving, but just go with it okay? I’m grasping for a theme… A context…
So here I sit at the hospital, drawn to the glamorous fashion magazines and such that scatter the tables. And then I see it… The July issue of Good Housekeeping has the article, “Energy Boosters: The Secret to Fighting Fatigue.” My interest is peaked since fighting fatigue is one of my areas of specialties (digestive health and brain fog being the other two) and the idea of learning a “secret” to help my clients do so—well heck, sounds pretty good to me!
So are you ready? Their big secret… The secret that will forever end your fatigue, give you bounce in your step, allow you to get energy after sleeping 6 or more hours, solve all of your afternoon lulls and allow you the motivation in life you desire…
Really, Good Housekeeping? This is what you are going to send all of your fatigued clients to do?
Unfortunately, Good Housekeeping made a common mistake in fighting fatigue… They conflated tiredness with fatigue. I live in Colorado for goodness sake! You know how many athletes I see that are fatigued but can’t stay out of the gym, off the trail, out of the mountains? Is all the exercise helping them?
No, their exercise is actually making them worse!
Uh oh, the personal trainers in my life are screaming at me that I am losing my mind… No, let me explain.
We’ll start with the difference between fatigue and tiredness. Tiredness is lack of motivation–relying on caffeine because you don’t get enough sleep. Instead of getting motivated and getting off the couch or getting a full night’s sleep, you “set up shop” in front of the tv and your diet worsens and worsens and you continue to sit and stare at the tube, motivation diminishing, muscles languishing, sex drive dissipating, friendships evaporating and you get more tired, as your motivation dips even more. If this is you… by all means, get off your arse, turn off your tv and go breathe some fresh air and move your body. Engage your world and the world will engage you.
But what if that’s not you? What if you have fatigue and not simply tiredness? Fatigue isn’t just a lack of one night’s sleep. It’s the lack of sleep for months and months, it’s the compounding of a variety of circumstances, habits and people’s relationship to stress, work and rest. People who are fatigued are usually perfectionists, with a tendency to take care of others and not themselves, who work and work and work and work. Lack of motivation is not the cause of their fatigue. Indeed, too much motivation may be the cause! These people don’t know how to stop controlling everything and they never stop moving and so their bodies shut down, to force them to stop moving (mentally, emotionally and physically), before their adrenals and thyroid completely shut down and stop working too. Their bodies’ are forcing them to take time out and listen–listen to the message that their bodies are telling them.
This is the true secret. The body knows best and if you don’t listen to your body—your body will force you to shut up and take note. Hence fatigue….
And if you are fatigued and your body is screaming at you to slow down and instead you ignore your body and go for a run…. Well, your fatigue is only going to get worse.
You may have fatigue, not tiredness, if after sleeping 7-9 hours or even more, you find that you are still tired. You may have fatigue and not tiredness if active physical activity makes you more tired, not less.
One of my first clients had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), but before that she had adrenal fatigue (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction) and before that she had adrenal stress and before that she was constantly tired—waking up after a full night’s sleep, still tired. Her body sent her message after message to shut up, slow down and listen, and she ignored her body, so her body sent a message she couldn’t ignore—it shut down. With CFS, she could barely get out of bed. Her bathroom was directly across the hall to her bedroom, but she would have to take a nap on the way to the bathroom, because she didn’t have enough energy to walk the entire way across the hall! Should she have gone for a run? Could she go for a run?
What got her to that state? Cold after cold, virus, bacteria, parasites, stress, exhaust, pollutants, poor diet, digestion problems, blood sugar issues, thyroid issues and more. Did she slow down when she got sick? Nope. She did bike marathons and slept less—just pushing through—always pushing through it. Exercise for her was the “straw that broke the fatigued camel’s back” until exercise was not a possible option.
That’s why this article scares the heck out of me. I live in Colorado where almost everyone is a runner, rock climber, biker and/or fitness junkie. These people pop physical activities like I stupidly popped caffeine pills when I was in college (and fatigued my adrenal glands). If they are feeling fatigued, the last thing I want is them reading Good Housekeeping and going out for their 3rd run of the day because they are tired. Seriously… There are a lot of fitness junkies here and the last thing their adrenals need is more of the same.
Yes, gentle physical activity may still be beneficial for them, but gentle during HPA axis dysfunction is key. Let me repeat… Gentle… Walking, gentle yoga, stretching… not a long run. If you are experiencing fatigue and feel more tired after physical activity, not more energized, than you need to knock it back a peg and decrease the level of physical activity—not increase it.
So how do you know whether you have fatigue or tiredness? You can work with a practitioner to run tests to determine where in the tired to fatigued spectrum you are. You may have HPA dysfunction, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, blood sugar issues, digestive problems or other concerns that are compounding your lack of energy. I am glad to do a complimentary phone consult with you to discuss your low energy and see if I or someone I know could be of help. It is essential that you figure out whether you are fatigued or just tired, because these are different messages that your body is telling you.
And be aware.. There are no quick fixes and pop culture tends to conflate “tiredness” with “fatigue.” They are not the same!
I am still waiting for my friend at the hospital and realizing the theme of the day, as is the theme for so many of my days… Prevention. If your body is telling you to slow down, there is probably a reason for it. Is it your mind telling you to be a couch potato because you lack motivation or is it your body telling you to “shut up and slow down” before it shuts down? Is your fatigue your body’s form of forced prevention? Will you listen?
How about you? Are you facing tiredness or fatigue?