Anxiety & fatigue: Why anxiety makes you tired
Anyone who’s experienced even a mild amount of anxiety understands how draining it can be. Even a few anxious minutes can leave you feeling exhausted and ready for a nap. Turns out, there’s plenty of science-backed reasons to explain this phenomenon.
Here, we explore exactly why anxiety is so tiring, how you can boost your energy levels if your worries are leaving you drained, and when it might be time to seek professional help.
How does anxiety contribute to fatigue and tiredness?
Anxiety’s impact on the body is significant. In addition to making it hard to get quality rest, anxiety causes chemical changes in your body that can contribute to overall fatigue and leave you tired all the time.
One of the main symptoms of anxiety, and of many anxiety disorders, is sleep problems. For many people, racing thoughts and constant worry are difficult or impossible to “turn off” at night when it’s time to sleep.
Regular sleeplessness can, of course, contribute to fatigue. It’s unsurprising, then, that tiredness is a very common symptom of anxiety. Unfortunately, a lack of sleep, or poor sleep quality, can also make anxiety worse, leading to a negative feedback loop that can be difficult to break.
Anxiety can trigger the body’s “fight-or-flight" response—an activation of the nerves of the sympathetic nervous system. “Fight or flight” is a complex biological process meant to ready our bodies to respond to threats by raising blood pressure and heart rate, slowing down digestion, and flooding the body with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Unfortunately, chronic, long-term anxiety can mean locking your body in “fight-or-flight.” Unless you can release this state by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, it’s difficult to calm down and relax. This constant physical stress can lead to physical symptoms like fatigue and exhaustion, as well as muscle tension and brain fog.
What about “adrenal fatigue”?
If you’ve researched the effects of stress and anxiety on the body, you may have come across the term “adrenal fatigue.” “Adrenal fatigue” is not an accepted medical diagnosis since there is no scientific proof that supports adrenal fatigue as a medical condition.
The phrase is used by some people to describe a collection of vague symptoms—including fatigue, body aches, digestive problems, and sleeplessness—linked to chronic stress. The theory behind “adrenal fatigue” is that chronic stress limits your adrenal glands’ ability to produce adequate amounts of the hormones needed to keep you feeling well.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, the best course of action is to consult your primary care physician. They can do a full assessment of your symptoms. If your PCP suspects your symptoms may be related to a mental health condition, they may suggest a referral to a psychiatrist, who will discuss treatment options, including medications and/or supportive therapy.
How can you manage fatigue from anxiety?
If you’re suffering from fatigue caused by anxiety, there’s a number of changes you can institute to help your energy levels.
Practice good sleep hygiene
All those tips you’ve heard a million times about “good sleep hygiene”? Turns out, there’s something to them. Setting a consistent sleep and wake schedule, avoiding screens for a set period of time before bed, and avoiding large meals, alcohol, and caffeine before bed can all contribute to a longer, more restful night’s sleep. Overhauling your nighttime routine can feel daunting. Start with just one change, like going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, and go from there.
Although the sleep needs of adults vary, most experts agree that aiming for 7-9 hours is appropriate.
Try relaxation techniques
If you constantly find yourself unable to relax thanks to anxiety, it might be worth trying out some tried-and-true relaxation techniques. These can be especially effective at turning off your “fight or flight” response and activating your body’s parasympathetic nervous system—the network of nerves that helps you relax and rest.
Proven techniques that can help ease anxiety include:
- Grounding techniques: coping strategies that can help bring you back into the present moment, i.e., ground you., by offering a mental distraction and snapping you out of “fight-or-flight.”
- Deep breathing exercises: which can calm you and help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps your body relax.
- Mindfulness meditations: which involves focusing on your breathing as a way of bringing your mind’s attention to the present moment without worrying about the past or future.
We know, we know—if you’re already tired, how is exercise going to help? Turns out, regular exercise has been demonstrated to be protective against anxiety and other health problems. And one study found that even a single yoga session can help ease anxiety when it hits. That means you’re more protected from the depleting effects of anxiety, leaving you with less fatigue.
Plus, exercise itself can be energizing. It boosts mitochondria production in your cells, which may increase your overall energy, and increases your overall oxygen circulation, which can leave you feeling more alert. It doesn't have to be high intensity, either. Any sort of physical activity—including simply heading outside for a quick walk—can have positive effects.
Consult a professional
If these tips aren’t enough to boost your energy levels, and you constantly find yourself feeling exhausted thanks to anxiety, it might be a sign to seek professional treatment. Up to 30% of Americans will suffer from an anxiety disorder, like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety disorder, at some point in their lives, making anxiety disorders the most common mental health conditions in the country. If your anxiety is causing symptoms severe enough to disrupt your quality of life and general well-being, help is available.
If you’re living with an anxiety disorder, extra support—with medication, talk therapy (like cognitive behavioral therapy), or both—may be necessary to control your symptoms. While therapists use talk therapy to help you overcome your symptoms, psychiatrists can prescribe you medications to manage your condition. Most people with anxiety disorders will benefit from a treatment plan that combines medication and supportive therapy.
With Talkiatry, you can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of your home, and you can schedule your first appointment in a matter of days. To get started, take our free online assessment, to see if Talkiatry is right for you and get matched with a psychiatrist.
Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Satveet Khela is a board certified physician specializing in adult psychiatry. She has been practicing since 2021.
In addition to focusing on medication management, Dr. Khela's practice also prioritizes a whole person approach, incorporating aspects of nutrition, lifestyle, mindfulness, and supportive or brief cognitive behavioral therapy into the treatment plan. Occasionally, Dr. Khela may believe that additional therapy is also needed and ask that you see a separate therapist to provide the best outcome.
Dr. Khela received her undergraduate degree from University of California Berkeley and her medical degree from A.T. Still University. She completed her residency at University of California San Francisco Fresno, where she served as chief resident in her final year. After completing her training, Dr. Khela worked with medically ill patient's with co-morbid psychiatric illnesses. Throughout her career, Dr. Khela has worked with a diverse set of patient in various stages of their lives.
Dr. Khela focuses on treating patients with anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, OCD, and other mental health issues. She believes in empowering her patients to be active players in their treatment plans to facilitate the best care possible.