Why we’re exhausted: Stress and social media are taking their toll
"I thought I might be anemic, but the results of my annual physical were fine," the
Her doctor told Sullivan, "You're getting older." But Sullivan, 60, wasn't buying it. "I'm not that old," she says. "I used to have tons of energy. I know you slow down as you age, but I'm physically exhausted all the time. And I know I'm not the only person who feels this way."
Exhaustion. Weariness. Fatigue. Whichever phrase you prefer, recurring tiredness seems to be the new normal for a growing number of people, regardless of their age or background. Causes range from illnesses such as anemia, depression, hypothyroidism, diabetes and heart disease to the increasing overuse of technology and its implications on our mental well-being.
Yes, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can wear you out, says Dr.
"Social media can run the gamut from being fabulously uplifting to being totally depressing and exhausting," says Bratt, who is also the director of trauma and resilience studies at the
Bratt works with young adults who check their social media constantly — at all hours of the day and night — and they all complain about being tired.
One health expert concludes that social media can run the gamut from being fabulously uplifting to being totally depressing and exhausting. | STOCK.ADOBE.COM
“It impacts their sense of themselves and their identities and makes them anxious,” she says. “Social media has created a new sense of impulsivity and urgency, it can make them feel overwhelmed by what is happening in the world, and all of these factors can be fatiguing and can impact how they sleep."
Sleep apnea and poor diet are other common culprits of fatigue. And then there is the most obvious cause of all: not enough sleep, which often goes hand in with overwork.
Fatigue risks rampant, study finds
In July, a survey conducted by the
Three years ago, Dominick "DJ" DeRobertis of
"I was sleeping two, three hours a night, waking up frequently and was always tired at work," DeRobertis recalls. "I was taking these 15-minute power naps every two hours. It was bad. Then I put on some weight, and that just made it worse."
Forty-three percent of respondents in a recent survey said they do not get enough sleep to think clearly at work, make informed decisions and be productive. | STOCK.ADOBE.COM
Both Rodriguez and DeRobertis took part in studies at the Sleep Center at
Rodriguez now sleeps with a machine called a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), which delivers a steady stream of pressurized air into his airways. "And the results were immediate," he says. "I still like a nap once in a while, but I'm not a zombie anymore."
DeRobertis uses a variation on the CPAP called a BPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) machine, which has an additional pressure setting. (The BPAP is used for patients who need to get more air in and out of their lungs while they sleep.)
"I can't recommend it highly enough," DeRobertis says of the BPAP. "It changed my life. I don't have that constant tiredness anymore."
Stress, vitamin deficiencies and other causes
While sleep apnea is relatively easy to diagnose, other forms of chronic fatigue are not.
"I hear this all the time," Vila says. "Patients are told, ‘You're getting older … you're a woman … you're menopausal …’ and so on. That's not what we do here. I start by looking at the patient's history, their diet, exercise, sleep patterns and stress levels. Then I move on to blood tests. Almost everyone says they were told that their blood tests were "normal.' But I'm not looking for normal. I'm looking for optimal.
"We look at the biochemical processes in your body," Vila continues. "Is there a vitamin deficiency? We can test for that. Do you have elevated cortisol levels? Remember: Elevated cortisol can your affect your thyroid. What about food sensitivities? Dehydration? All of these things can cause fatigue and we address all of them, without medications. We use supplements, lifestyle changes, stress relief, massage, yoga … until those numbers come up. Again, we don't want normal, we want optimal."
Stress should be addressed
"People say stress can kill you, and they're right," Schulman says. "In today's society, most people are on this disease continuum that I call stress without recovery. They're dealing with stress from relationships, jobs, the toxins they put on their skin, the toxins they eat. And if they continue on that course, it eventually leads to chronic disease, thyroid problems, high blood pressure and more."
Schulman says that every out-of-shape client who comes to him complains of recurring tiredness. His recovery plan: cardio workouts with some resistance training (beginning at a rate the client can handle), breathing exercises and stress management. As for diet, he urges clients to eliminate refined sugars and processed foods and limit or eliminate wheat products and refined carbs.
"Even if you're not gluten-intolerant, it can cause inflammation and you'll feel better without it," Schulman says of the composite of proteins found in wheat. "As for sugar, the more you consume, the worse you're going to feel and look."
(Keep in mind, though, that, even in moderation, sweets can wreak havoc with your body by causing your blood sugar level to spike and crash — a one-two punch that can trigger a dramatic and sudden loss of energy and feelings of lethargy and exhaustion.)
Other disorders and environmental factors
Other causes of fatigue? Dr.
For many years, extreme fatigue was linked to the Epstein-Barr virus, but Pavlou says, "We no long test for that, because everyone has had it. It's so common that it's not useful to know anymore."
Pavlou urges anyone with sleep issues to take part in a sleep study. "People can have their doctor order one, as a prescription. Or they can see us first and expedite the process. It could be apnea, snoring concerns, insomnia, narcolepsy."
It's something many patients resist, Pavlou says, "because of the CPAP machine. Getting them to use one is the big roadblock. But it works, almost universally."
And what about fatigued folks who don't have sleep apnea, vitamin deficiencies or diet problems, but do have sleepless nights and a lack of energy during the day?
"We're living in a very complex society," says Dr.
Dealing with these stresses, Rueda says, requires time management skills and re-learning how to relax. "Set a time, say
Lack of quality sleep is among the leading factors behind the rampant exhaustion plaguing society. | STOCK.ADOBE.COM