"Exhaustion that disrupts your daily life and doesn’t get better after a good night’s sleep
has its own medical term: fatigue.” -Arthritis Foundation
Obviously, I've neglected my blog for a few months. Fatigue, more than chronic pain this time, has really gotten me down since January. Fatigue has been an on-going struggle for me in the last few years.
I had some bloodwork done recently to test for anemia, and possible thyroid issues that might explain this heavy feeling throughout my body. My bloodwork came back normal! That’s good news, right? But it doesn’t solve the fatigue issue.
Fatigue is often a typical part of living with chronic pain. I recently read that fatigue can also be a problem in the early years of menopause. Great!--maybe that’s part of it too.
I live in the maritime Pacific Northwest, where it’s overcast more months of the year than not, and I’m pretty sure I have some degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD’s symptoms include depression, loss of energy, loss of interest in activities, craving carbohydrates, difficulty concentrating and processing information.
There are a lot of things contributing to the fatigue I experience, so my approach is multi-modal. Here are a few tools I use:
My rheumatologist and my primary care both said the best way to fight fatigue is to exercise five days per week, 30 minutes each day. If I can get my heart rate up to my target rate, that’s ideal, but it’s easier said than done, when you have inflammatory arthritis. Nevertheless, I keep trying. I do find that regular exercise of any kind helps me function better. I just need to work on the cardio.
Schedule My Sleep
I go to bed at the same time each night, and attempt to get up at the same time each morning. When I succeed, I do feel better throughout the day, especially after a few days of doing this. But fatigue in winter can be a vicious cycle. When I’m tired on waking, I don’t want to get out of bed, so I doze a little longer, which can make me sluggish later. The body really likes rhythm--in this case, the circadian rhythm. The human body prefers a regular sleep schedule. So I am back to setting my alarm and practicing good sleep hygiene.
A Light Box
One of the ways I cope with SAD is to use a light box in the morning in winter months for about 15 minutes after I get up. Still, this wasn’t enough this last winter. I’m going to try using it for 30 minutes daily next winter, because my body seems to need more sunlight. In summer, when the days are gloriously long and bright, I usually have better energy.
I bought this one at Costco several years ago. It uses blue LED lights. On a dark morning, it's super bright!
Plant-Based Energy Support
On the suggestion of my naturopath, I also take 1-2 capsules of the herb Ashwaganda daily. Ashwaganda is an adaptogen, which means it helps the body regulate its energy levels, when used over time. Some adaptogens can cause flare-ups with autoimmune disease, so you may need to try a little at first and discontinue it if you have any increased symptoms. For example, I cannot take Astragalus, which tends to stimulate the immune system; for me, it counteracts my prescription anti-TNF blocker, causing a pain flare-up.
I LOVE my morning cup of coffee. There’s something so comforting about holding, smelling, and drinking a mug of rich, dark roast coffee, especially on a dark winter day. The caffeine in coffee, however, gives a sudden boost of energy, followed by a bit of a crash later. I’ve recently discovered yerba maté tea, which naturally contains some caffeine, but it provides a steadier, longer-lasting energy. This afternoon, I wanted a little pick-me-up, so instead of reaching for another cup of coffee, I made myself a yummy yerba maté latte.
Yerba Maté Latte
1 Tbsp. yerba maté leaves (I used unsmoked)
8-10 oz. hot water
1 Tbsp. cashew butter
1 Tbsp. honey
Optional: a dash each of cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger for a chai-like flavor
What are some of your favorite ways to treat fatigue?
Hi, my name is Kalyn. I love plants and all things nature, so I find myself turning to nature to help me cope with the multiple chronic illnesses. May you find inspiration here.