Q: Any tips for coping with chronic fatigue/low levels of energy?
Your body is in constant dynamic flux with the environment around it and the environment within it. Although the body is a miraculous web of systems seeking to promote your vitality and balance, it may not be able to keep up with your physical and emotional demands. This is especially true if you don’t have optimal ways to help your body integrate what it needs and flush out what it doesn’t need.
Stop and consider what your body absorbs on a regular basis. There are environmental pollutants in our air, drinking water and food supply as well as emotional “pollutants” ranging from trauma to chronic stress.
Before you invest time and money working with a specialist to pinpoint the source(s), rule out the obvious by assessing whether you’re making the grade in these four areas on a daily basis: (1) exercise/mindful movement; (2) hydration from clean water sources; (3) easily assimilated proteins; (4) adequate sleep. If you regularly fall short in any of these areas you may have your answer. For example, simply going from a sedentary lifestyle to regularly raising your heart rate will help increase energy. If improvement in these four categories over a few months doesn’t help, a multidisciplinary approach could be necessary. This may involve any combination of the following: naturopathic doctor, nutritionist, massage therapist, personal trainer, and licensed psychologist, among others.
The investment will be worth it given chronic fatigue impacts not only your physical energy but your mood, focus, creativity, sexuality, and relationships. Dr. Sidney Pharis, naturopathic doctor at SuNu Wellness, emphasizes starting with the big picture: ”Fatigue is a symptom of imbalances in the body, therefore, effective treatment often requires lab workup to determine the underlying causes, such as thyroid conditions, anemias, blood sugar irregularities, chronic infections, nutrient deficiencies, and adrenal fatigue. Based on findings, treatment recommendations may include dietary interventions, supplement regimens, botanical therapies, and lifestyle counseling. Additional key components of treatment include optimizing mental-emotional wellbeing, stress management, and physical exercise.”
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has historically been a misunderstood condition, according to Colleen Lofgren, RDN, LD, registered dietitian nutritionist, also at SuNu Wellness. Lofgren explains: “Research now points to CFS as an autoimmune disease. However, 70 percent of our immune system lives in our gut, so when an autoimmune condition is present we must work on healing any damage within the gut that can be contributing to symptoms. This involves testing for undiagnosed food sensitivities, balancing gut flora with probiotic foods and supplements, or trying a guided elimination diet. Deficiencies in nutrients like Vitamin D, Magnesium, Zinc, CoQ10, B vitamins, and essential fatty acids have been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, but are not known to be direct causes of the condition. Make sure proper amounts of these nutrients are being consumed via whole food sources and dietary supplements when needed.”
It’s not just what you’re eating but what is eating you. Emotional contributors (or byproducts) of chronic fatigue may include: repressed emotions, care-taking of others that is out of balance to your own self-care, unrealistic expectations for self or others, constant self-criticism, or lacking a sense of purpose and meaning. Meet with a counselor to identify whether depression, anxiety, grief/bereavement, or a history of abuse are contributing factors. Other behavioral contributions may include prescription medications that lead to daytime drowsiness, overuse of prescription medications or recreational drugs, including alcohol or caffeine, and hormonal changes.
Once you determine the cause of your chronic fatigue and receive specific guidelines, the next step is prioritizing rest and adopting a simpler lifestyle for a while. This requires defying our cultural glorification with being busy. We know how to distract or numb with social media, alcohol, or workaholism but we don’t know how to give ourselves deep rest, guilt free. Mind-body healing after years of emotional and physical toxicity will not be a quick fix. Be patient and recognize this will take time; a weekend here or there sleeping-in will not be nearly enough.
Our pace of life keeps changing compared to our ancestors, but the intricacies of our bodily systems have not. Take a deep breath and kindly honor your mind-body system by saying ‘thank you’ for all it does for you. Promise to listen to its signals more regularly, trust your intuition and find balance amidst the complexities that come from being a living, breathing organism in our modern era.
Dr. Rachel Allyn is a licensed psychologist in private practice. Learn more about her unique style of therapy at DrRachelAllyn.com. Send questions to Rachel@DrRachelAllyn.com.