Can depression cause fatigue? Find out the truth about a common symptom

Figuring out the cause of fatigue can feel impossible.

After all, fatigue (excessive tiredness) can be caused by any host of problems. It can have physical roots, or emotional ones, and many patients spend years looking for answers to their problem.

I certainly did.  I spent years after the birth of my second child trying to figure out why I was so tired.  We did MRIs, EEGs, and sleep studies.  We changed my medication.  Increased dosages. We did blood work. I tried changing my sleep habits.

There was so little that seemed to help.

So, believe me.  I understand how frustrating fatigue is.  If you live with depression, and find yourself feeling tired constantly, I know how desperate you are for answers.

Sadly, excessive tiredness is a very common symptom of depression, and the first one I wanted to start out talking about in this series.  Keep reading to find out some helpful information, and remember: If you are one of millions affected by this, you are not alone.

Check out the first post in this series here in case you missed it: 11 Physical Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

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Also, I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Just someone who has lived with anxiety for many years who is passionate about sharing her experiences and tips for success. If you are in crisis call your doctor, then click here for some good mental health resources.

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Can depression cause fatigue?

According to Medical News Today, feeling fatigued when you have depression is incredibly common, maybe more than you would think.  “Depression can cause debilitating fatigue and make the simplest activities, such as getting out of bed, too difficult to manage. According to a 2018 report, fatigue affects over 90 percent of people with major depressive disorder.”

So when I said earlier that you weren’t alone, I wasn’t kidding. That is 9 out of 10 people with depression who live with chronic tiredness or sleepiness. Staggering, isn’t it?

I know all too well what it’s like to be so tired you can’t function. For a long time, I had the super exciting lifestyle of falling asleep around 6:30 PM regardless of how much caffeine I had consumed. Along with that, I was also fighting to stay away in the middle of the day.

It sounds like a horrible way to live, and I still have a long way to go to get where I would like to be.  But I have found ways to improve, which I will share in an upcoming section.

can depression cause fatigue

Why does depression make you tired?

According to the article I linked above, there are several reasons why depression can make you feel constantly tired.

  • Sleep issues like insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Poor diet
  • Stress, which affects feel good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine
  • Antidepressants.  This is a huge issue for lots of people, so I will go into more detail on this.

The problem with meds

Now, just to be clear, I am not anti-medication.  Antidepressants have saved countless lives since their inception, and continue to do so each day.  They help to restabilize brains torn apart by emotional warfare, and help people return to some semblance of normal life.

But they aren’t perfect tools.  Hopefully one day they will be, but for now they come with side effects that are often unpleasant.  One of the biggest ones I have personally experienced is chronic fatigue.

My energy levels definitely depend on what medication or dosage I am currently on.  I am still an advocate for trying medication when you feel depressed.  But this is precisely why it needs to be done under the careful guidance of a medical professional.  Make sure to regularly track your symptoms so that your doctors or therapists have the best possible picture of how things are going.  This way they can tweak your meds accordingly.

How do you know if you’re depressed?

Disclaimer: I do not want anybody to read this section as a diagnosis.  I am not a doctor nor do I have any sort of mental health training.  I am going to list symptoms for depression that I found on a reputable website.  You can use them to make educated guesses on your own behalf about whether or not you need to speak to your doctor.  I also want to put a trigger warning on the following section for mention of suicide.  Do not continue reading if that is triggering for you.

Depression can have the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

Personally, I’ve experienced every single one of these at one point or another.  They aren’t always at the same time, and some days are better than others.  Some days, my symptoms are very, very low.  Other days they are much more pronounced.

That’s the journey we walk when we live with depression.  We have to take things one day at a time.

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Side effects of fatigue

Even though fatigue is a symptom of a larger illness, it also has side effects of its own.  Let me know in the comments which one of these applies to you.

Crankiness

I don’t know about you, but when I don’t get enough sleep, or enough good quality sleep, I am super cranky the next day.  Everything sets me off, and sometimes I get weepy.  Proper sleep is important for emotional regulation.

Identifying your triggers for irritability is really important. I would write down any time you feel irritable, along with what caused it. This can be a really helpful tool for getting back some joy. Knowledge is power!

Brain fog

Another common byproduct of fatigue is brain fog.  You know that feeling where you just can’t think straight, and words seem to fail you? That’s what brain fog is, albeit a slightly oversimplified version.  Most parents refer to it as “mom brain,” but it affects non-parents living with depression too.

Lack of motivation

When you’re tired, you just don’t want to do anything. This one is so common for me. I just want to lie around and watch Netflix and say bye bye to responsibility. Do you deal with this ever? Let me know in the comments! How do you deal with it?

Poor decision making

If you are fatigued, you might not take the best care of yourself. You eat junk food because cooking healthy meals feels impossible. You lie in bed instead of getting physical activity. Sometimes, you might even call off work to stay home and rest.

5 ways to cope with being so damn tired

So, you can see why it’s so important to get your fatigue under control.  As I said, my own tiredness is a work in progress.  But I’m trying.  And sometimes, just the effort of trying to make a change can have its own benefits!

That sounds silly but it’s true. I think when you make the attempt to do something positive, it sends a signal to your brain. So even if the attempt is unsuccessful, it still helps you make progress. That’s why you need to keep the efforts up. I promise they will make a difference in the long run!

Alter your sleep cycle.

This has been really key for me. It’s a tough pill to swallow. After all, when you’re exhausted, all you want to do is sleep. But having proper circadian rhythms is very important for managing your depression and anxiety. That’s why you need to do what you can to establish a regular sleep pattern.

For me, I had to stop going to bed at 6:30 PM. Unless you do shift work and have to work at a weird time, this is not a normal time to go to bed. This is when many people are eating dinner. By pushing back my sleep until 7:30 at the very earliest, I have been able to feel a little less depressed.

Avoid caffeine before bed.

Caffeine is a mom’s best friend as I’ve come to find out, but it’s really best to cut yourself off at a certain time. For me, it’s about 3 or 4 o’clock. I hate coffee, but if I drink a soda past that time, my sleep is always disrupted and I have a lot of unwanted wake-ups.

To be honest, if you live with depression and anxiety, many people find it better to give up caffeine all together. It can cause irritability in large doses. A lot of people have an easier time managing their moods if they stick to water and juice.

But, I get that it’s hard. Like I said, I’m a mom. My kids are little, so caffeine is life currently. Just try to make sure you cut yourself off at least a few hours before bed time.

Pinpoint what sort of rest your body needs.

It sounds strange, but when you are fatigued, the thing you need might not be sleep! That’s a little counter-intuitive, but it’s a lesson that has really come in handy for me in recent months. My sister recommended the book Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, and it completely changed the way I think about my tiredness.

Am I tired because I exerted myself too much?

Am I tired because my brain did way too much thinking today?

Being able to identify why you’re tired is going to cause a massive shift in your healing, so make sure to check out this book!

7 types of rest, can depression cause fatigue

Get more exercise.

It will really help you to force yourself to be active for 15 minutes a day. I say 15 minutes because I think that is a really manageable chunk of time. When you get out of bed to eat breakfast, go for a 15 minute walk first. You can gradually increase the time. But I think if you start slow, you will have a higher chance of sticking with it.

Try to eat healthier foods.

It stinks, but when you load your body with junk, you are going to be tired. I love cookies and ice cream as much as the next person, but when you’re diet is filled with sugar and unhealthy fats, you will feel run down and lacking in energy. Here are some things to try instead:

  • Protein packed greek yogurt and granola
  • A handful of sweet bell pepper slices
  • An orange and strawberry smoothie

There are lots of options to satisfy the munchies that can boost your energy, and not deplete it.

Depression and fatigue are besties.

Sad, but true. They freaking love each other. But if you can make some simple lifestyle changes, track your symptoms, and identify why you’re tired, you can begin to get a little energy back.

Taking control of your health is one of the best gits you can give yourself. So, love yourself. Get some rest. Take your meds. And most importantly, keep the faith. You can feel well again.

Share your story in the comments!  Is this a symptom that you struggle with?  If so, let me know.  Let’s show solidarity for those who feel insecure about their illness.  And as always, don’t forget to share this post.  It could be really helpful to someone!

Read the previous installment of this series here: 11 physical symptoms for anxiety and depression that you need to be aware of

Does your depression cause you to be fatigued?


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Related posts for depression and fatigue:

How to start over with fitness- and why it matters

How to recognize the physical symptoms of depression and anxiety

Health anxiety: What it is & What you can do

Eating for depression and anxiety