Dear Dr. Aunna,
I have been dealing with low levels of energy for the past few years and it only seems to be getting worse. I have seen a few doctors for this but my blood work is normal except for a borderline high cholesterol. Everyone keeps attributing my symptoms to depression, but except for a little stress here and there I feel pretty happy. Coffee doesn’t work anymore and I can barely stay awake during the day. I am at my wits end and need your advice because I am falling behind in everything!
*AH, a coaching client of mine, like many others, struggles with low energy and fatigue. AH’s doctors did a thorough workup, checking every possible cause of fatigue from anemia to thyroid disease and even sleep apnea and narcolepsy. Most people fail to realize that their lifestyle habits greatly contribute to their fatigue, rather than a serious disease or “hormones.” Here is a snapshot of part of AH’s holistic health assessment:
Breakfast: Muffin or bagel, coffee with sugar and creamer
Alcohol: 3 glasses of wine at night
Exercise: Don’t have the time or energy
Sleep (duration and quality): 5-6 hours per night. Not good, toss and turn
AH may be considered healthy based on her labs and lack of any specific organic disease, but as you can see above, there are many other factors at play. In fact, there were many other emotional and social issues affecting AH not mentioned above. AH was convinced that she had a diagnosis that no one had discovered yet, but given the fact that she was willing to try anything, she implemented the simple solutions I suggested. She not only regained energy but her cholesterol level dropped and she lost weight. Here are some take away points from her case.
Problem: Lack of awareness. AH didn’t even realize how unhealthy her lifestyle was until she wrote things down. Many people are on the go and accustomed to certain habits, that they don’t even question them or realize how harmful these habits can be.
Problem: Excuses. Enough said.
Problem: Unhealthy diet. AH’s diet is filled with refined carbs, low fiber, sugar, and barely any fresh fruits or vegetables. Restaurant and frozen meals are often filled with unhealthy ingredients. Whenever we eat high glycemic index foods, our blood sugar spikes and so does insulin, leading to a crash and feeling drained. An unhealthy diet can also lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease which will definitely cause fatigue.
Problem: Skipping meals. A drop in blood sugar can lead to feeling weak.
Problem: Dehydration. Dehydration not only leads to fatigue, but can also lead to feelings of hunger.
Problem: Caffeine overload. While caffeine can give you some energy, it can also cause insomnia and throw off your sleep. Caffeine also activates the sympathetic nervous system, so with your body on continuous adrenaline drive you are bound to get worn down. It can also cause or worsen anxiety adding to even more stress. AH was also likely so fatigued throughout the day and developed a tolerance for caffeine, which is why coffee no longer helped.
Problem: Alcohol. Alcohol may help you fall asleep but the quality of your sleep will be affected. The restful cycles during sleep shorten with alcohol use.
Problem: Lack of Sleep. Stress, caffeine and alcohol all disrupt sleep. TV, especially at night can be activating and interfere with sleep. What’s worse is that the less we sleep, the more we accumulate a sleep debt. Lack of sleep not only causes fatigue but also increases our risk for infection and can lead to depression.
Problem: Lack of physical activity. Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, boosts energy and helps release stress.
Problem: Lack of coping mechanisms. If we don’t release stress we wear ourselves down and can lose sleep. Using alcohol and drugs to cope with stress has detrimental effects on our body.
If you struggle with fatigue, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional as serious causes for fatigue always need to be ruled out first. Practicing healthy lifestyle habits will improve your quality of life regardless.
*Information from AH’s assessment was posted with permission. Names are changed to protect privacy.