The 5 types of tiredness and what you can do about them

Busy work deadlines and family commitments can leave us feeling fatigued. But, few of us realise that there are actually five different types of tiredness, each with its own causes and symptoms.

Low energy is common among many women in midlife. Hormonal changes related to the menopause can impact us in our 40s and 50s, often resulting in fatigue and other symptoms that can disturb sleeping patterns, such as hot flushes and night sweats.

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, many of us can feel mentally exhausted by work deadlines, relationship difficulties, and personal stresses. Here, we reveal the five types of tiredness and what you can do about them.

The 5 types of tiredness and what you can do about them

Physical exhaustion

Physical fatigue is probably the most well-known type of exhaustion and it can feel like weakness, lack of energy, muscle pain and/or headaches.

“Fatigue is an extremely common symptom seen in general practice,” says Dr Angela Rai, GP at The London General Practice. “There are many causes of tiredness, including poor sleep, dehydration and stress, as well as medical causes. The symptoms of ‘tired all the time’ (TATT), can be difficult to manage, however seeing your doctor can help rule out more serious conditions.”

Common conditions seen ‌in practice that cause tiredness or fatigue include:

  • Anaemia – one of the most common reasons for feeling constantly run down is iron deficiency anaemia. Women with heavy periods are prone to anaemia. This can be easily confirmed on a blood test and treated with iron tablets.
  • Hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid is when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone (thyroxine) and this slows down metabolism, leading to tiredness, weight gain, increased sensitivity to colds, constipation and other symptoms.
  • Diabetes – is a metabolic disorder where there is a high level of sugar in the blood for prolonged periods of time.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)– is a breathing problem that occurs while asleep. Noticeable sign of obstructive sleep apnoea is snoring, awakening abruptly gasping or choking, observed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep and daytime sleepiness.
  • Depression and anxiety – mood disorders can make you feel sad and anxious and they can also disrupt sleep.
  • Vitamin B12 and folate deficiency – these vitamins help perform important functions in the body, including keeping the nervous system healthy. Deficiency can lead to symptoms such as extreme tiredness, sore tongue, mouth ulcers and pins and needles.
  • Hormones – when our hormones are imbalanced, we can feel tired, irritable, and fatigued. Hormone changes during the menopause often cause low energy.

Mental exhaustion

Struggling to find inspiration for your latest project? You could be struggling with mental exhaustion.

“Overwhelming cognitive demand causes mental exhaustion,” says charted clinical psychologist Dr Gemima Fitzgerald. “This can be caused by chronic stress, not resting enough and burnout.”

Symptoms of mental exhaustion can include:

  • Irritability
  • Poor memory
  • Lack of motivation
  • Disturbed sleep

Mental exhaustion often evolves over a period of time, though it’s not unusual for mental fatigue to develop after a challenging cognitive period, such as learning a new skill or starting a new job.

Emotional exhaustion

Similar to mental exhaustion, we can feel emotionally tired after a particularly draining time.

“Emotional exhaustion is a sub-section of mental exhaustion, but a good example of emotional exhaustion is grief,” says Gemima. “People experiencing grief often experience memory loss and have trouble concentrating. This is because certain emotions, such as frustration, sadness and anger, take a bigger mental toll than others.”

Symptoms of emotional exhaustion are similar to that of mental exhaustion, but can also include:

Social exhaustion

It’s not unusual for our calendars to be bookmarked with social events and gatherings but, for introverts, this kind of extended socialisation can take its toll, and leave us feeling exhausted.

“It’s important to remember that some people, extroverts in particular, thrive off socialising and feel energised by it,” says Gemima. “However, for introverts, it can feel tiring and they can experience symptoms similar to that of mental exhaustion.”

Moral injury exhaustion

Spoken about less, but still just as important, is moral injury exhaustion, also known as ‘values violation’, which is when our actions don’t match up to our morals or values. This can lead to feelings of overwhelm and fatigue, which can contribute to mental exhaustion.

“Moral injury can often be mixed with feelings of shame and guilt,” says Gemima. “For those with a strong moral identity, a values violation impacts the sense of trust and/or self-respect and this can cause both mental and sometimes emotional exhaustion if that person feels frustrated or despondent.”

What to do if you feel exhausted

If you’re experiencing physical exhaustion, then should see your GP for further advice. But if your exhaustion is mental or even emotional, then it can be worth talking to someone, such as a friend, family member or therapist.

“The first step to solving exhaustion is working out what the cause is,” says Gemima. “This involves a degree of introspection and self-awareness. When people feel exhausted, they feel overwhelmed and that there is a lack of control in their life. It’s good to think about what positive changes you can make that will make you feel rested and put you on the path back to full health.

“If the way you’re feeling isn’t something you’ve experienced before, or it’s been going on longer than two weeks, then it’s important that you reach out to a professional.”

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