I had a client come to me about a month ago saying, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m tired all the time. I’m sleeping 8 or 9 hours a night, and I still don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t feel like doing much during the day. I’m not usually this unmotivated’.
This client is not alone, many of us tiredness experience ongoing tiredness that is interfering with our enjoyment of life. And we often don’t know what to do about it.
The problem is, fatigue can come from so many different underlying causes, it’s hard to know how to respond. Chinese medicine recognises two major categories of fatigue: depletion and stagnation. They feel similar (tired is tired, after all), but they have different causes, and different cures.
The better you understand your tiredness, the easier it is to do the things that helps get your energy back. Following is a quick and easy guide to diagnosing your fatigue and responding to it.
Type 1: Depleted
This is the most logical form of fatigue: you are simply, genuinely worn out. The hallmark of this tiredness is that rest helps. If you find you feel better in the morning or after a nap, and are more tired at the end of the day or after exercise, you’re dealing with depletion fatigue. To use an automotive analogy, it’s like having an empty fuel tank. Out of fuel equals no energy.
The three best things to do for this kind of tiredness:
Tired Type 2: Stuck
In this type of fatigue, you actually have plenty of energy in your system, but for some reason it’s not available. Rather than an empty tank, this is more like a clogged fuel line. It doesn’t matter if the tank is full, nothing’s getting to the engine, and the effect is exactly the same. In fact, filling an already-full tank only causes more problems.
The hallmark of this type of fatigue is that anything that gets you moving will increase your energy level. If you have a lot more energy after you exercise, or when you’re having fun or feeling interested and engaged, that’s the stuck pattern of tiredness. People with this kind of fatigue often feel terrible when they wake up, or when they’ve been sitting still for a long time (long meetings can be especially brutal). Stress usually makes this kind of tiredness worse, as well.
The three best things to do:
Tired Type 3: Wired and Tired
Ever have that feeling where you’re exhausted and hyper at the same time? This is a particularly tough one, since it’s impossible to relax or get any real rest, but activity only makes you more tired.
This type of fatigue is actually a specific kind of depletion, known as “yin deficiency” in Chinese medicine. Yin refers to the deep, quiet, cooling, soothing, nourishing and grounding aspect of your energy. This is the reserve you tap into when you’re running on empty. When you start burning through too much of that reserve, you’re left with nothing but nervous energy and underlying exhaustion.
This is really common in our culture, because we’re all about doing, and doing, and doing more. We’re not so great at resting, or just letting things be, or replenishing our reserves.
If you feel profoundly drained and highly agitated at the same time, this is probably you. You might be irritable, anxious, or easily overwhelmed. Sleep is often restless, with frequent waking. You might also feel dried-out, thirsty, or hot.
Three best things to do for this:
Just Do One Thing
The hardest part, of course, is getting started with any of these changes. When you’re tired, the last thing you want is to start a new habit, or give up something you’ve been using to get yourself through the day.
Start with the suggestion that sounds easiest, and as you feel better the other changes will seem more manageable too.
Severe or persistent fatigue may require treatment in addition to diet and lifestyle adjustments -Acupuncture can be very effective in treating fatigue. It is particularly helpful for the “stuck” kind of tiredness, since it quickly and effectively gets energy moving, and can address the underlying causes of stagnation.
Patients often find that treatment for fatigue also improves other symptoms, such as digestive problems, headaches, insomnia and anxiety.
It’s really okay if you need a little jump-start — it’s what your practitioner is there for! Treatment can help you find the energy to make changes that ultimately put your health and energy in your own hands.