Does anxiety make you tired, exhausted, fatigued? Excessive tiredness is a common symptom of most anxiety disorders and one that can have such a drastic impact on your mood that it exacerbates other anxiety symptoms.
Read on if you struggle with anxiety or want to learn more about this common but overwhelming condition because you support an anxious loved one. This article will explore what anxiety is and why it can lead to such extreme tiredness.
Later in the article, we’ll offer some more tips on how you can manage your energy levels if you have anxiety. Before we begin, we want you to remember that if you’re struggling with anxiety fatigue, believe that you can overcome it. The first step is educating yourself on how to do it, so if you’re reading this, you’re on the right track.
If you struggle with an anxiety disorder or even mild anxiety from time to time, understand that you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health issues experienced worldwide. They affect almost 1 in every 5 US adults every year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Anxiety is a mood disorder. It’s characterized by excessive fear and worry, either in general or regarding something specific, and is accompanied by a range of challenging and overwhelming symptoms.
If you’ve ever experienced an anxiety attack, then you know just how frightening and confusing the anxiety experience can be. It can feel like the world is closing in on you, or that everyone is watching and judging you, and that no matter what you do or how much you try to hide away, you can’t seem to escape the spotlight.
There are five main types of anxiety disorder. According to the National Sleep Foundation, all of them can lead to tiredness and full-blown fatigue if left unaddressed.
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Specific phobia (including social anxiety disorder)
Signs and symptoms of anxiety
Even though it’s extremely common and is a natural stress response, that doesn’t always soothe the individual’s experience of anxiety. The plethora of mental and physical symptoms it causes can take its toll on even the most emotionally resilient people.
Tension, panic, shaking, catastrophic or obsessive thoughts, and low self-esteem are just some of the challenging anxiety symptoms that get in the way of living your life to the fullest and lead to feelings of absolute exhaustion.
Another symptom that takes its toll on one’s physical and mental energy is the intense fear and anticipation associated with all types of anxiety disorders. One may become so reluctant and worried about future events that they go to great lengths to avoid any anxiety trigger.
Common physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- Muscle tension, such as a tight jaw or clenched fists, fidgeting
- Excessive sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
- Tiredness, fatigue, or complete exhaustion
- Poor sleep quality, such as nightmares or difficulty falling asleep
People who struggle with anxiety often experience the following mental and emotional symptoms:
- Fear and worry
- Obsessive thoughts
- Racing thoughts
- Catastrophic thoughts – thinking the worst will happen
- Low self-esteem
- A constant sense of danger or doom
There are also behavioral symptoms of anxiety. These are symptoms that influence our actions. Although they often stem from a desire to escape or alleviate one’s other symptoms, they create more problems than they solve. Behavioral symptoms include:
- Substance misuse
- Process misuse – internet, gambling, shopping, sex
- Isolation and withdrawal from others
- Tendencies toward self-harm
If you struggle with anxiety, you don’t need to imagine what it’s like to experience most if not all of the above. It’s not hard to see just how tired anxiety and its often overwhelming and debilitating symptoms can make you.
Why does anxiety make me feel tired?
To understand why anxiety can make you feel so tired or outright exhausted, it helps to know what anxiety does to the body. Anxiety is part of our body’s natural stress response. We have a deeply programmed stress response that’s been with us since our ancestors were hunting and gathering. In these ancient humans, their stress response kept them alive.
Stress and the accompanying physical and mental reaction such as a racing heartbeat, quick breathing, muscle tension, and hyper-alertness – functions of the fight/flight response – helped them survive threats in the environment, such as a prowling lion or another dangerous predator. These days, of course, we don’t need to be alert for lions on the horizon.
Still, we have modern stressors, and our stress response is pretty much the same as it was back then. A threat doesn’t have to be a lion either – it can also be common stressors such as excessive demands at work, relationship issues, financial issues, or even dealing with the fast-paced and rapidly advancing world we live in.
When we feel stressed, even if the threat is not real but only perceived, the body responds by entering survival mode (fight/flight/freeze). During the process, the brain elicits the release of a flood of stress-related hormones around the body.
These hormones, or neurochemicals, are cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline, to name a few, and they all put us on high alert and ready to deal with danger. The problem is that when there isn’t actually any danger, we’re not utilizing our threat response properly. It gets activated, but rarely do we give it the chance to go through its process and come to its natural end.
Instead, we try to suppress and continue about our day as if everything were normal. Sure, that’s something we feel we have to do just to get by, but it takes an inevitable toll on our energy levels. The body is designed to handle stress in short bursts, not for prolonged periods.
When we experience anxiety, we experience prolonged stress. Prolonged-release of the stress hormones is toxic to the body – it can wear away at body tissues, cause inflammation, and deplete our energy levels. When stress hormones flood the body, just like they do in the throes of a panic attack, the body’s stores of those hormones deplete rapidly, and we enter a state of adrenal fatigue.
Signs of anxiety fatigue
Whether you struggle with chronic anxiety or it’s a recent issue that is impacting your life and making you feel tired all the time, then it’s essential to learn how to manage it. Some people are reluctant to seek help for anxiety issues, but the fact is that without treatment, overcoming anxiety issues can be extremely challenging. They can impact your life to the detriment of your work, relationships, and overall well-being.
If you think anxiety is the reason why you’re feeling tired, but you’re not sure, consider the following anxiety fatigue symptoms:
- Eating less than usual because you don’t have an appetite
- Staying up late because you have trouble falling asleep
- You feel mentally exhausted even after a good night’s sleep
- You feel drained before, during, or shortly after entering a social gathering
- Your concentration and focus have been dwindling or have decreased significantly
- You feel burnt out and find it hard to motivate yourself
- You feel depressed
If you’ve been suffering from fatigue, burnout, exhaustion, or depression due to your anxiety, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There is a stigma that surrounds seeking help for mental illness, but it’s wise to let that go if you truly want to create some positive change in your life. As mentioned earlier, there are a wide variety of treatment options for all types of anxiety disorders, and they’ve consistently been proven effective.
Consult a mental health professional about your symptoms and how you’ve been feeling and ask them to discuss with you your options for anxiety treatment. Most people can and do recover from an anxiety disorder as long as they reach out for support.
How to manage anxiety fatigue
Common treatments and healing approaches for anxiety that can go a long way in reducing anxiety fatigue include:
Bear in mind that anxiety can lead to tiredness, but tiredness and low energy can also exacerbate underlying anxiety symptoms. By being mindful of the food you consume and opting for whole, nutritious meals and snacks over quick-fix high sugar foods, you give your body the right type of energy and help it sustain that energy for longer periods.
Food choices also have a significant impact on mood. Research published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry highlights the importance of a healthy gut microbiome. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in emotional regulation and feelings of well-being, is primarily produced in the gut.
When your serotonin levels and quality are low, your mental state soon follows. Low serotonin has consistently been associated with anxiety and depression, and such is the reason why many medical interventions for these common mood disorders act on the brain’s serotonin receptors.
If you know that taking on extra responsibilities or being around certain types of people and energy makes you feel anxious, then it helps to know how to set boundaries. It is equally important to understand the difference between boundary setting and isolation or withdrawal.
You have every right to set boundaries in your life. Sometimes people don’t know what our limits are, and they just need to be told. For example, your boss might ask you to stay an extra couple of hours a few nights a week to help finish a project, but you feel like you’ve been working a lot lately, and any additional work will make you feel anxious and exhausted. In this context, you might be hesitant to assert yourself and say no because of your anxiety, but doing so would actually present more intense anxiety symptoms and fatigue later.
Practice relaxation techniques
Physical and mental anxiety symptoms take a toll on the body. Worry, fear, and anticipation manifest in the body as tension and physical stress responses. Without addressing the body and helping it come down from this heightened state, our muscles and organs get tired fast.
Progressive muscle relaxation techniques are a highly effective and enjoyable way to help the body relax, let go of tension, and get the rest it needs to recover and come back to optimal health and energy later.
It might help to put on a guided body scan to help you relax without having to remember instructions. This guided body scan by Jon Kabat Zinn is a helpful introduction to the technique.
If you have an anxiety disorder or you’ve been under more stress and anxiety than usual lately, it’s important to take a step back, rest, and recharge your batteries. The tools and techniques above should help you take a much-needed break and get some good quality rest, but remember to practice them regularly, and don’t hesitate to reach out for support if your anxiety is impacting your quality of life.