Nearly everyone experiences fatigue on occasion, whether it be from working long hours, high stress, or not getting enough sleep. Although fatigue can be a temporary problem for many, most people are able to overcome it by making some lifestyle changes such as: eating better food, improving sleep, or reducing stress. Unfortunately approximately 1 million people in the United States experience a fatigue that is considered “chronic,” plaguing their daily existence for a minimum of 6 consecutive months.
There is much controversy regarding the causes of this chronic lethargy, and has been formally recognized by the medical community as “chronic fatigue syndrome” (CFS). There are a variety of causes and contributing factors that may play a role in its development and others that keep people “stuck” in a perpetual state of lethargic purgatory. Despite the fact that chronic fatigue syndrome may seem like an insurmountable problem, it can be overcome.
How to Overcome Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The content here should be prefaced by stating that not everyone will be able to overcome chronic fatigue syndrome due to a variety of factors including: genetics, deficient volition, irreversible brain or CNS damage, and lack of belief. This article is for people who believe they can overcome the condition with willful efforts and potent lifestyle alterations.
The irony is that fatigue is associated with motivational deficits, making it difficult to even attempt to overcome it. Even if you try everything in this article, chances are you will have at least found some ways in which you can minimize the amount of fatigue that you experience and/or the brain fog that often accompanies it.
1. Identify the Cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Part of the difficulty in treating chronic fatigue syndrome is that the exact causes are unknown. This means that multiple people who are diagnosed with the condition may have completely different reasons for why they’ve experienced excessive fatigue. One may have been exposed to toxins for an extended period of time, while another may have fibromyalgia and certain genetic polymorphisms that facilitate the development of this condition.
In attempt to diagnose the condition, you will need to plan on getting an array of tests. If you are really serious about figuring out how to get past the debilitating lethargy that you’re experiencing, it’s going to require some work.
Blood panels: It is recommended to seek blood testing to get everything checked that you can. Some of the most important things to test would include: hormones (especially the thyroid), vitamin and micronutrient levels, viruses (e.g. sexually transmitted diseases), Lyme’s disease, cortisol levels, etc. Start with the most logical tests and work your way up to getting the less obvious tests conducted. This will help rule out some conditions that may be contributing to fatigue such as deficiency of a vitamin.
Brain Scans: There are many different types of brain scans that you could opt to get in order to see what’s going on “under the hood.” Perhaps the most important would be an fMRI in order to rule out the possibility of a tumor or cyst that may be causing your excessive fatigue. Other brain scans that you may want to have done include a PET scan as well as an EEG (to analyze brain waves).
Dietary evaluation: Take an honest look at your diet and determine whether the foods you are eating could be a culprit. Look at your ancestry as well as the evolution of humanity and determine what foods best suit your mental health and performance. If you are eating processed foods, high sugar, artificial sweeteners, etc. – this may be the direct cause of your fatigue. Those that are eating a variety of vegetables, some fruits, high quality, lean grass-fed beef, healthy fats, etc. are probably on the right track; unfortunately most people aren’t eating quality enough foods. Consider working with a trusted dietician if you need professional help. Also keep in mind that a subtle food allergy could be sapping your energy and leading to the fatigue.
Drugs: Consider whatever drugs (even if they are pharmaceuticals) you are taking to be potential culprits for your fatigue. Regardless of the medication type or substance you’re using, understand that drugs create physiological changes throughout your body. The changes that are made could be directly (or indirectly) contributing to you feeling fatigued. The only way to know for sure if the drugs you’re taking may be causing fatigue is to function for an extended period without them (assuming this is approved by your doctor). Unfortunately if you NEED a drug to function, it is important to consider that the medication you’re taking could be the culprit of fatigue.
Medical consultation: You should consult with a medical professional for a “physical” check-up as well as discuss whether you may have adrenal issues (e.g. insufficiency), viral infections, as well as bacterial infections (e.g. Candida). There are many conditions that can contribute to fatigue, and it is important to account for everything when considering the fact that you’re energy has become chronically low.
Sleep: You may want to work with a sleep professional (in a sleep testing lab) to evaluate your sleep quantity and quality. Something as simple as “sleep apnea” can lead to feelings of chronic fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness. If you aren’t able to get sufficient quality sleep, you’re going to feel fatigued until professional corrections are made.
Stress level: The accumulation of high-stress can lead to chronic fatigue. If the stress isn’t properly dealt with, the fatigue becomes more severe. In some cases it can take years before a person is able to sufficiently reduce activity in the sympathetic nervous system to shut down the “stress response.” When a person is dominated by elevated stress for prolonged periods of time, it can tax the adrenal glands, leading to “burn out” and ultimately fatigue.
It is important to realize that many people will be able to determine a direct “cause” of their fatigue and/or figure out something that may be contributing to it as a result of testing. Getting tests done is extremely important before you start making changes. Always rule out other (potentially very severe) medical conditions before you advance to the next step. If you can think of any other tests that weren’t mentioned, be sure to get those as well.
2. Failure to Identify the Cause…
If you’ve gone through the barrage of testing and were unable to determine any direct causal factors, it doesn’t mean that your chronic fatigue cannot be dealt with or improved. Those that are unable to identify the direct cause may need to do some self-experimentation to find out what actually helps raise energy levels and ultimately what methods you can use to overcome the condition. You don’t need to accept the reality of functioning in sloth-mode for your entire life.
Guessing the cause: Even though you may have ruled out many medical conditions that could be causing the problem, it is important to still attempt to figure out what factors may be contributing to your chronic fatigue. In other words, think back to the time when the condition developed – what changed in your life that may have depleted your energy.
3. Systematic Lifestyle Changes
If you don’t want to guess the cause or really have no clue as to what depleted your energy, start experimenting. Failure to experiment with changes will only leave you stagnating in a state of fatigue; don’t give up hope. Chances are that you haven’t optimized every area of your life to know for sure whether something like diet, environment, work-toxins, etc. are a source of the fatigue.
When you start experimenting on yourself, it is important to make sure what you’re doing is safe. Always consider consulting a professional in the particular area of your life that you plan to make changes to verify that what you’re doing is safe. For example, if you are on a medication that you think may be causing your fatigue, check with a doctor before you discontinue.
- Adrenals: If you suspect that you may have adrenal dysfunction, it is best to avoid all stimulants and eugeroics (both prescribed and natural). Although a temporary boost in energy may be what you want, over the long-term, this may be more damaging to your adrenals, leading to greater fatigue. For speculative “fatigue,” it may be beneficial to properly supplement with things like Himalayan salt and adrenal glandulars.
- Bacteria: Some people may want to look into whether they have a Candida infection. This can be somewhat difficult to detect, but if it is thought that you may have Candida or some other bacterial infection, it is important to work with medical professionals to get it treated.
- Brain waves: If you tested your brain waves and the QEEG came back abnormal, you may want to work with a neurofeedback practitioner to get your brain activity properly adjusted. Although neurofeedback takes time, work, and is somewhat expensive, it can work wonders when done properly.
- Circadian rhythm adjustment: Those that work changing hours may suffer from what’s called “shift work sleep disorder.” This condition is characterized by fatigue as a result of an abnormal circadian rhythm from the shift work. In this case, the problem may be alleviated best by a career change and/or taking a position without shift-work.
- Dietary changes: Certain diets can lead to both chronic fatigue and fatigue of the adrenals. Your diet also affects your gut biome, which can also influence your energy levels. Those that are on ketogenic diets may experience adrenal issues without carb re-feeds. Additionally eating a bunch of food with artificial sweeteners, sugars, and processing can quickly drain energy. Eating high quality veggies, fruits, meats, and fish – while avoiding junk, can help some people overcome this condition. You may want to consider monitoring your glucose levels as blood sugars can be a source of fatigue.
- Drug withdrawal: Withdrawing from any medication can be very taxing on the entire nervous system. It takes time for your physiology to readjust back to homeostatic functioning and you may feel excessively fatigued for awhile. Many view antidepressants as causing chronic fatigue, usually on a temporary basis (e.g. 6 months to 2 years).
- Exercise: You should realize that different types of exercise will have a different effect based on the individual. One person may be experiencing fatigue because they are obese and simply don’t get enough exercise. Another person may be experiencing fatigue because they do too much cardio or strength training – thus burning out the adrenals. Take a look at your exercise routine and consider whether you are overtraining and are getting adequate recovery time.
- Limit sleep: One strategy that people have implemented is limiting their sleep time when they have chronic fatigue. Although you may be excessively tired throughout the day, limiting sleep helps so that you don’t get caught up in making “fatigue” your identity. It also shows you that even though you may feel tired, you can still function.
- Nature: The power of getting fresh air (oxygen) and sunlight should not be underestimated. People that aren’t breathing in quality air often notice that they feel sluggish and poor air quality can lead to accumulation of toxins throughout the body – creating fatigue. Furthermore, lack of sunlight causes deficiencies in Vitamin D and can mess with our circadian rhythm; leading to excessive tiredness. Everyone should be getting fresh air and plenty of sunlight on a daily basis.
- Psychiatry: If your fatigue is genetic-based and no matter what you do it cannot be overcome, you may want to work with a knowledgeable psychiatrist to get some medication to help you function. This should probably be done after all other options have been exhausted simply because going on a stimulant with existing adrenal issues may worsen your situation over the long-term.
- Sleep quality: There are many ways by which you can improve your sleep quality. You may want to: upgrade your bed, get a more comfortable pillow, reduce EMF exposure, try a new sleeping position, etc. There are numerous ways in which sleep quality can be upgraded.
- Socialization: For some individuals, social isolation can actually cause tiredness because their brain isn’t getting proper stimulation. If you haven’t connected with friends and have isolated yourself from others, this may lead to excessive fatigue. To help mitigate this fatigue, connect more with others and stay socially engaged.
- Stay busy: While rest may be important for some people, it is still a good idea to remain productive in your work. Don’t simply give up on life and/or aspirations because you feel fatigued. Even if you have to work harder than others to stay focused and get things done, at least you will have done something – which is mentally empowering.
- Stress reduction: Stress can create a variety of mental health problems when it isn’t properly managed. When you cannot turn off your “fight-or-flight” response, it takes a toll on your body and adrenals. Although you may not know it, the accumulation of this stress over time can cause serious fatigue to the point that it becomes chronic. To deal with this problem, it is recommended to implement some sort of relaxation into your daily routine for at least 20 minutes.
- Supplements: There are an array of supplements that can be used to boost energy. Keep in mind that just like medication, if you use the wrong ones, you could be creating more of a problem (if you have preexisting adrenal problems). Do your research and find the ones that are likely to help based on your current situation.
- Therapy: If there is a serious psychological issue that is contributing to your chronic fatigue, it is important to seek the help of a qualified professional. Finding a good therapist to help guide you through whatever condition you’re dealing with can help with your energy. Additionally, therapists can offer some perspective on your situation and provide some tips to help get you back on track.
Keep in mind that these are just a general list of things that you can do to overcome and/or improve your current state of chronic fatigue. There are considerably more things that can be done in effort to improve your condition, but these are some of the most obvious. For more in-depth information, read about biohacking your mental health.
Note: Realize that what works for you, may not be effective for someone else – the underlying cause of fatigue is highly subject to individual variation.
My experience overcoming chronic fatigue syndrome
I experienced chronic fatigue for a period of approximately 1 to 2 years in which I struggled to get up in the morning for school, let alone stay awake in class. My fatigue was a result of jolting my nervous system with a variety of antidepressant medications for a prolonged period of time in a process I often refer to as “antidepressant roulette.” Though science hasn’t investigated whether [the SSRI] Paxil is capable of causing adrenal fatigue, many that have taken it believe that it does.
In my experience, the chronic fatigue I endured was a result of adrenal fatigue. This was exacerbated by intense anxiety during the withdrawal period. I became so tired that I was sleeping for nearly double an average person (14 hours per day). I suspected that there had to be something seriously wrong with my brain such as a tumor and/or an undiagnosed condition like fibromyalgia; I thought I was going to be a slug for eternity.
In addition to my adrenals being totally burnt, I was eating a poor diet that was wreaking havoc on my blood sugars, was allowing myself to sleep excessively, getting zero exercise, and no sunlight or fresh air each day. I became increasingly frustrated, but by good fortune and guidance, I ended up recovering my energy roughly 1.5 years after I had discontinued antidepressants.
The only way out of this conundrum that was chronic fatigue was to rule out medical causes, then seek some professional help. I sought out a therapist who helped turn down my sympathetic nervous system, talked about cleaning up my diet, and other healthy behaviors that slowly, but surely healed my physiology and my adrenals. My full healing took approximately 4 years after discontinuation of all medications. It was not easy, but it’s safe to say that I am no longer chronically fatigued.
How long will it take to overcome chronic fatigue syndrome?
Everyone wants to hear a set amount of time that can be guaranteed for their overcoming of a relatively severe condition. One rule of thumb I often like to consider is that recovery often takes as long (if not longer) than the time that you’ve had the condition. Obviously if a medical cause is found and can be rapidly targeted, you’ll start feeling better relatively quick.
The nervous system heals and adjusts at a different pace in each person. Therefore one person may recover quick with the right lifestyle changes, while another may not find anything that helps improve their energy until several months of experimentation. Something as simple as eating a strict, healthy diet isn’t going to produce results until the toxins from the old diet are cleared from the body – which can take awhile.
My advice for anyone that wants to overcome their chronic fatigue is to focus on making one change at a time and seeing how you respond. Chart your energy levels after testing something that you believe will work and track all changes that occur. Don’t blindly make changes to your life without some hunch that the change will help you overcome your fatigue. As time continues to pass and you make changes, you’ll eventually find something (or a combination of things) that transform your energy level to the point that you are no longer chronically fatigued.
I found your article very helpful, thank you. My son who has had CFS for 16 years has hit an all time low, almost totally bedridden, despite having made many changes to diet etc. I am distressed as I have been doing my best to care for him (in my home 28 weeks as he had nowhere to go) but it’s taking its toll on my health. Do you know if there is anywhere for these sufferers to go to be cared for (without being admitted to hospital)? They don’t seem to fit into any present category of disability help. Can you make any suggestions please? Thank you, Leone Freney (Tweed Heads Aust.)