What a psychologist says

Doctors used to call fatigue the “yuppie disease,” thinking that it most commonly affected people of high socioeconomic status. We know that it’s actually more common in people with fewer resources for several reasons, including higher stress and a compromised diet. Some people with severe mental fatigue may have memory loss; those with severe physical fatigue can feel like every muscle is drained, leaving no strength or energy to do the simplest tasks. If fatigue lasts for a month or longer, you might want to go to a physician. But if there isn’t a medical cause, you should assess your nutrition, sleep, and “energy envelope,” the amount of energy you possess for daily activities.

People suffering from fatigue might consume too many stimulants such as caffeine or eat a diet high in fat, sugar, and salt. Exercising, eating chocolate, drinking alcohol, and obsessing over what you have yet to accomplish before bed might interfere with sleep patterns. These things stimulate the brain’s amygdala, keeping you awake and making it difficult to organize, remember, and process information.

For people with less severe fatigue, a gentle-exercise program, such as a short walk, and proper nutrition—complex carbohydrates from whole grains and good fats such as omega-3s from salmon—minimize fatigue. In terms of the energy envelope, the goal is to not extend beyond this level. Some fatigued people can’t complete essential duties; when responsibilities pile up, they try to do them all, which can result in overextension and collapse. To strengthen your energy reserves, it is important to not overexert yourself and keep expended energy close to available energy.

Leonard A. Jason, PhD, Center for Community Research, DePaul University, Chicago