“Tired all the time” is a popular complaint; tiredness and fatigue are common problems.
Tiredness, or fatigue, means having less energy than usual. You feel exhausted, either mentally, physically, or both. Tiredness is a normal part of life but if it persists, it may suggest a medical problem.
Whether you’ve had a rough sleep, a big workout session, or have been pushing yourself too hard lately, physical fatigue can make you feel low in energy. With time and rest, usually physical fatigue goes away on its own. On the other hand, mental fatigue is exhaustion you may experience if you’re stressed, overworked, dealing with physical exhaustion or injuries, or mental health conditions.
Read on to discover the difference between tiredness, mental and physical fatigue – and how you can take care of your wellbeing.
What is tiredness?
Tiredness is not the same as feeling just tired or sleepy, although there is a link. When you feel tired, you have no energy, to the point that it affects your daily living, and your mental and emotional state. Tiredness often gets worse gradually. You might not realise how much it is affecting you until you think about all the things you could do previously. It is usually caused by stress, anxiety, depression, viruses — such as the flu or COVID-19 — or sleep problems. Some medications may also cause you to feel tired. Even though everyone feels tired from time to time, chronic tirednesse can harm your quality of life and prevent you from doing things you enjoy. In most cases, tiredness can be remedied by lifestyle or dietary modifications, correcting a nutrient deficiency, or treating an underlying medical condition. Still, to improve tiredness, you need to get to the bottom of what’s causing it.
What’s physical fatigue?
Physical fatigue (or muscle fatigue) is another kind of fatigue which is caused by physical activities and defined as the inability to maintain a required force level after prolonged use of muscle. Physical fatigue is tiredness, a lack of energy and soreness caused from physical exertion, habits and routine. Physical fatigue is usually directly linked to a recent event and can make your body feel weaker and struggle with strength or endurance. With physical fatigue, it may be connected or unconnected to mental fatigue triggers, such as stress. If you’re only experiencing physical fatigue, your brain may feel razor sharp while your body feels spent. Another sign you’re experiencing physical fatigue and not mental fatigue is that with a good night’s sleep and a bit of time, you’re back to feeling energised and yourself.
What’s mental fatigue?
When your brain is overstimulated or goes through long periods of stress, it can lead to mental fatigue. Also known as mental exhaustion, it can affect your ability to think, regulate emotions, solve problems and can even lead to challenges in your day-to-day life and relationships. Mental fatigue is a state of feeling emotionally worn-out and drained due to stress from your personal or work lives, or a combination. In fact, mental fatigue is considered as one of the signs of burnout, while people experiencing emotional exhaustion often feel like they have no power or control over what happens in life. A few tell-tale signs of mental fatigue are feeling tired, detached or unmotivated from tasks you’d otherwise cope well with, even after good sleep or physical rest.
The connection between mental and physical fatigue
The mind and the body work together in harmony. Studies show that physical activities can increase mental fatigue, and vice versa – mental fatigue can make you feel physically fatigued! For instance, mentally-fatigued athletes may perceive physical activity to be more difficult, leading to impaired physical performance. Similarly, emotions such as stress or anxiety can have physical manifestations. They can lead you to making poor choices that lead you feel worse, such as unhealthy eating or a bad sleep schedule.
Ways you can deal with physical and mental fatigue
To avoid physical and mental fatigue, it’s important to care for both your physical health and your mental wellbeing. This can include:
Listening to your body – and know when to be active, when to rest and when to opt for more nourishing physical activity like walking or yoga classes.
Practicing mindfulness in stressful situations.
Taking regular breaks during bigger stretches of mental work.
Finding productive ways to improve your energy (including tactics to beat the dreaded afternoon slump!)
You know your body best and know when something isn’t right. If you’re feeling chronically exhausted even when you get adequate rest, there may be a medical condition contributing to your tiredness or fatigue. Visit a doctor you trust to get the right testing to rule out common health conditions that may be contributing to your tiredness and fatigue.