“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”- Vince Lombardi
I first heard this quote as a high school and college football player in the early 1970s. At the time, I naïvely accepted it as true because, after all, it came from the most iconic coach of that era. Of course, the connotation of this phrase applied it to quitting, giving up, and accepting defeat during a difficult contest. Vince did not have a “know when to hold them, know when to fold them” attitude towards the game. The implication of the quote was that, if you didn’t get tired, you would be more courageous, and of course you’d win more often. I’ve come across this quote two or three times in the past month and decided to do some research on what fatigue makes us. Lombardi was not 100% correct, but he also wasn’t too far off the reservation.
Fatigue is a physical and/or mental state of being tired and weak. It is also referred to as tiredness, exhaustion, lethargy, and listlessness. Physical and mental fatigue, while different, often coexist, as a physically exhausted person remaining in that state long enough will eventually suffer from mental fatigue as well. Mental fatigue is more insidious, creating states of poor concentration, impulsivity, and diminished decision-making capacity. Fatigue is a symptom, rather than a sign. It is usually non-specific and has many possible causes.
Physical fatigue is quite easy to understand. A person’s muscles simply cannot do things that were previously easy, for example needing to pause while carrying the groceries in, losing your form at the end of a sprint race, or you losing your hand eye coordination, all are simple examples. Doctors usually carry out strength tests (the “I’m going to push against your hands but don’t let me” thing) during routine exams, in order to diagnose causes of physical fatigue to rule out more serious problems.
Mental fatigue is harder to identify. Initially, it may appear as difficulty in concentration on tasks, which leads to low frustration tolerance. This can often lead to irritability and agitation if not nipped in the bud quickly. When symptoms of mental fatigue are severe, they are usually accompanied by physical fatigue. A person may eventually not want to get up in the morning or perform activities of daily living. People may feel sleepy all the time, have diminished capacity for consciousness, or even feel mildly intoxicated. Mental fatigue can be life-threatening if the sufferer has to perform tasks such as driving an automobile. A person’s reaction time is slower, attention is diminished, and they may experience micro-sleep; brief periods of time where they are not aware that they have lapsed into sleep. Mental fatigue is among the most common reason for accidents in transportation, aviation, and medicine, leading drivers to crash and doctors to make errors effecting their patients.
Obviously, Vince Lombardi was talking about physical fatigue that results from a lack of preparation for the specific athletic requirements of football. This type of fatigue will occur anytime a person repetitively does a physical action. At some point, you simply have to stop, rest, and regain your physical capability and coordination. Naturally, the better physical condition you are in, the longer you can fight off the obvious fatigue that simply has to occur. Experts say that 10% of all people globally are suffering from fatigue at any given point in time. Think about that for a moment. 10% of everybody on the planet is in a state of fatigue right now. The National Institutes of Health in the United States found that approximately one in five, 20% of Americans, claim to have fatigue severe enough to interfere with normal daily life.
Fatigue is a more chronic condition than sleeplessness, lingers for a longer period of time, and is potentially more damaging. Sleeplessness can be ameliorated through a couple of good night sleeps, getting a person back to their normal baseline. Fatigue is accompanied by a lack of motivation, physical, and emotional energy. A person does not feel refreshed after sleeping an adequate amount of time. Some symptoms that distinguish it from sleeplessness are:
⦁ aching or sore muscles
⦁ apathy, lack of motivation, and lack of emotional and mental energy
⦁ poor concentration and decision-making
⦁ lack of hand eye coordination and fine motor skills
⦁ lack of large muscle control and coordination
There can be an almost infinite amount of reasons that one suffers from fatigue, some obvious, some not so much. If you’ve ever played a demanding, physical sport then you know exactly what Lombardi was talking about. Technically, you weren’t a coward, but after you quit I’m sure you asked yourself if you had give up a little too prematurely and felt you might have been able to push through it. Part of the culture of athletics is that you push yourself to the max and, “leave it all out there on the field,” meaning that you gave absolutely everything you physically and mentally had to the event. Did you really? Who knows, but any honest athlete has to ask themselves that question occasionally. Whether you did or not, I’m sure you know exactly what physical fatigue feels like, and can identify with the desire it creates to find that soft spot to lie down on and quit.
Mental fatigue is harder to identify, assess, and pinpoint causality. Mental fatigue can be caused by:
⦁ grief, loss, and bereavement
⦁ poor diet
⦁ alcohol and drug consumption
⦁ anxiety and depression
⦁ endocrine and metabolic problems
⦁ undiagnosed sleep disorders
⦁ improperly managed chronic pain
⦁ poor stress management skills
If you are suffering from fatigue, the good news is that there is a lot that can be done to alleviate it. While fatigue can be a symptom of a larger medical issue, it usually is not. In most cases lifestyle, attitudinal, and time management adjustments can make a huge difference in how you feel those 16 hours per day that you are awake and functioning. There are some action steps that you’ll need to take:
⦁ Start with a full physical from your primary care physician. If you are over age 40 you should do this every few years. My suggestion is that you do it every year, regardless of your age. Too many people think they had a physical in the past year when, in fact, it has been years. Our minds tend to create internal stories that we want to believe about things we find uncomfortable. Getting a complete physical is one of them. This is absolutely necessary as all the “want to,” desire, and motivation in the world is going to take you nowhere if your thyroid, blood sugar, or metabolism needs tweaking
⦁ Develop some kind of exercise regimen that you perform a minimum of three times per week and have at least one period of light exercise every day. Don’t create the “too busy, don’t like it, or I get enough exercise working around the house,” excuse to justify the fact that you’re not doing it. Three formal exercise periods per week, accompanied by light stretching or walking every day will keep your body tuned up. You don’t need to be fanatical about this, but you must be meticulous. You simply have to get moving, as motion is a primary condition for life and the creation of energy. Don’t think you need to go to a gym or make a huge time commitment. My hunch is that you have a living room floor, a little space in your bedroom, and gravity available in your home. Use it wisely.
⦁ Make sure you drink enough water. Chronic dehydration is a major cause of episodic fatigue. How much water we need daily is a controversial topic, depending upon a person’s unique physiology and the amount of liquid in the foods that they consume. The bottom line is, no pun intended, the color of your urine. If it’s relatively clear you’re probably fine.
⦁ Get enough oxygen by learning to breathe properly. Lack of oxygen to the brain is the reason that we yawn. Most of us don’t get enough fresh air, and those of us who do could maximize what we do get by breathing correctly. It’s a little adjustment that yields huge dividends. Refer to http://mindbodycoach.org/breathing-101-improving-lifes-basic-activity/ to learn how.
⦁ Train your mind and brain as if it was a muscle. What you read, watch, and listen to on a regular basis will impact your mental energy and focus. A brief meditation practice done consistently is among the best activities that you can do to create the mental relaxation required to avoid fatigue. Refer to http://mindbodycoach.org/moving-meditation/ for suggestions if traditional meditation is difficult for you.
⦁ Train your mind and body to maximize your sleep. Sleep is, by far, the most overlooked activity that contributes to physical and emotional wellness. Refer to http://mindbodycoach.org/winding-falling-asleep-easily/
If your fatigue symptoms do not respond to the suggestions here, then medical attention must be a part of your solution. In most cases, there will be an easy fix that a doctor will be able to help you through. Your doctor may also be able to refer you to appropriate specialists, including behavioral health experts. Too many people put off the annual checkup because of fear and a type of “what I don’t know can’t hurt me” attitude. Well, it can. Confronting this fear of your doctor and getting to the origin of your fatigue is robbing you of a lot of what life has to offer.
If you suffer from fatigue, don’t be a coward. Find out why and do something about it.
P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org