In her first post The Style Edit’s new Health Contributor, Dr Doireann O’Leary discusses tiredness.
Firstly, let me introduce myself, I’m a 31 year old doctor working in General Practice. I worked in the hospital system as a junior doctor for seven years before finally making it to my dream job in general practice. I’m passionate about what I do and I believe in practicing what I preach. In my down time I enjoy hitting the gym, simply chilling at home with my husband or writing for my recently created blog. I enjoy fashion too – which is why I’m delighted to be writing for TSE. For my first article, I’m going to talk about feeling ‘tired all the time’ something I think we’ve all experienced at one time or another.
Do you sometimes feel that you should have far more energy? Does it feel you’re not ‘living your best life’ due to exhaustion? If you do, you’re certainly not alone. Feeling tired all the time is one of the most common presentation to GP’s. So much so that we abbreviate it to ‘TATT’.
It’s little wonder that TATT is becoming increasingly more common. The expectation on us to have it all and do it all is becoming more and more intense. We look at others and think ‘how is she able to work, lead a lively social life, have the perfect relationship, travel constantly, get to the gym five times a week, meal prep, and look effortlessly chic whilst doing it?’ It can make us feel like we aren’t doing enough with our own life. We can feel guilt and shame for just wanting to watch tv in our loungewear come Friday night. We have all learned to say ‘it’s ok not to be ok’. But how about ‘it’s ok to take some downtime’?
There’s a competitiveness in modern society and somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten that it’s ok to do nothing sometimes. I was recently chatting with a dentist friend of mine about how people boast about how busy they are. When and how did being busy become a badge of honour?
So with all of that said, before you think that you don’t have enough energy, ask yourself if you’re simply demanding too much of yourself to keep up with the Instagram set?! Taking on too much and expecting too much of yourself is the most common reason for feeling TATT.
The second most common reason, in my experience, is poor sleep. The first questions I ask when someone tells me they’re exhausted are ‘Do you sleep well? Do you feel rested when you wake up in the morning?’ Very few people report good restful sleep. Sleep is a cornerstone of good health. We need 7-8 hours of good quality sleep each night. If we aren’t sleeping well we will of course feel zapped and down. It can mess with our mood, energy and hormones. There are many ways to help you achieve good sleep. Simple measures like cutting back your caffeine intake, blackout blinds and a good eye mask can all help.
Clinical depression, anxiety, stress and recent bereavement are important psychological causes of fatigue which should be discussed with your doctor you’re affected by them.
Social and Working Life
Are there aspects of your social life or work that are zapping you of energy? It’s widely recognised that our social circumstances play a key role in our physical and mental wellbeing. That’s why doctors are always taught to consider the holistic ‘bio-psycho-social’ model of good health. Are there negative people in your life insidiously dragging you down? Negativity can slowly, perniciously and unknowingly wear you down. Rid yourself of your frenemies! Your job is also an important component of your wellbeing. Do you dread going to work everyday? Or are you working too many hours? Sometimes we have no choice but to burn the candle at both ends for work but remember to not feel guilt when you inevitably just want to spend your time off just relaxing. You don’t have to wedge in a mountain hike at the end of a crazy busy working week! If you feel your job is dragging you down maybe even consider a career change.
We can’t expect our bodies to feel spritely if our diet is poor. Feed it rubbish and you’ll feel like rubbish. Make sure you’re getting plenty of iron and B12. Green vegetables are a good source of iron. No need to go pay a fortune at the health food shop. Just hit the vegetable aisle in Tesco – far cheaper!
Exercise is key for boosting energy but a delicate balance is needed. Both too much and too little exercise cause fatigue. I’ve had people come in to me after triathlons wondering why they’re tired! Aiming for a workout about 3-4 times a week is satisfactory. Some weeks you’ll meet that target. Some weeks you won’t. That’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up. Despite what the #fitfam tell you, there are legitimate excuses that you can’t make the gym!
There a many medical conditions that can cause tiredness. Ranging from acute infection (eg Flu) to thyroid disease to Lyme disease to chronic fatigue syndrome. Your doctor will do baseline blood tests on including a full blood count, iron levels, B vitamin levels, thyroid hormone levels as well as liver and kidney tests and making sure your cancer screening is up to date. Serious medical causes will be searched for on physical examination. However, there’s often no medical cause found. Psychological causes and a hectic lifestyle are often the root causes of tiredness.
If you’re feeling tired all the time take a look at your lifestyle, sleep, diet, exercise, job and the people who surround you. Chat to your doc about your symptoms and get the bloods done. Be kind to yourself. Don’t expect too much of yourself. Nobody’s life is as perfect as it seems online. So don’t wear yourself out trying to keep up with something that doesn’t even really exist.
Dr. Doireann O’Leary. MB BCh BAO
IG: dr.doireannoleary Twitter: @doireannod