Tired. Low energy. Exhausted. Lethargic. These are some of the ways depression might make you feel.
Of the many feelings depression can cause, fatigue is one of the most common. Fatigue occurs in over 90% of people who are experiencing depression.
If you’re currently experiencing depression fatigue, know that
Aside from fatigue, depression is often associated with:
- persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety
- a loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
But the good news is that there are strategies for managing your feelings of exhaustion and low energy.
Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between depression and fatigue. What, exactly, is the link?
There’s no single answer to this question — depression and fatigue are associated in many ways. Depression might directly cause fatigue, but it also has indirect effects on our sleep, diet, and exercise that can drain us of energy.
Depression can cause you to feel low-energy in many ways:
- It may make it more difficult to sleep.
- It can affect your eating habits.
- It can disrupt your exercise or workout routines.
- It can cause general stress in your life.
- Cutting back on pleasurable activities can increase fatigue and lower motivation.
When depression takes away the fun activities and lowers your motivation, this creates a vicious cycle of depression. It can be hard to break, but breaking it is possible — especially using behavioral activation (which we’ll discuss below).
Again, getting a solid understanding of your own experience of depression fatigue is a great first step in managing it. Here’s a more in-depth look at the ways depression may be causing your fatigue:
You don’t sleep as well
But it’s not just a lack of sleep that causes tiredness. Oversleeping, which is also a common symptom of depression, can cause similar feelings of fatigue over a period of time.
These kinds of sleep irregularities are among the biggest causes of fatigue in those who experience depression.
Depression affects your diet
When you’re feeling depressed, you might have less of an appetite, skip meals, or have an overwhelming desire for sweet foods that have less nutritional value.
Large quantities of fat and sugar can make you feel groggy and tired.
Nutritious foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can provide healthy antioxidants and nutrients with energy-boosting effects — and these are the foods that we tend to put to aside when depression arises.
It’s harder to exercise when you’re depressed
Exercise is a great source of energy, but feelings of depression might make it harder for you to want to work out on a regular basis. Depression can cause you to experience a lack of motivation in many aspects of life, and this can channel into a lack of desire to exercise.
But don’t think that this lack of exercise is because of laziness. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
Summoning the motivation to exercise is already hard enough. But feelings like reduced self-esteem and pessimism are specific depressive attitudes that research suggests may be interfering with your exercise.
It’s completely understandable that you might not be working out as much as you used to or would like to. Recognizing that these thought patterns are a result of depression means you’re better equipped to deal with the challenge of motivating yourself to exercise.
Depression is stressful
Keep in mind that depression can increase chronic stress, and stress can lead to depression. No matter which one occurred first, they’re closely related. Depression-linked stress can lead to a loss of energy and exhaustion.
An inability to manage stress can play a major role in developing and maintaining depression.
An overactive amygdala, which is the part of the brain associated with anxiety, stress, and fear, creates a cognitive (thinking) bias towards interpreting the world and the self negatively. These are feelings associated with depression.
Simply put, depression-related stress might be creating overactivity in your brain that’s making you feel drained.
Depression is one of the most treatable mental health conditions. Somewhere between 80 and 90% of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment.
Almost all people who choose to treat their depression gain some relief from their symptoms.
What are my options?
Since depression is at the core of your depression fatigue, it’s important to look into ways that you might want to treat your mental health above anything else.
There are many options, and each type of treatment can offer a different approach in helping you to deal with the challenges (like fatigue) that come as a result of your feelings of depression.
Here are two main treatment options to consider:
Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy, is an umbrella term for many therapeutic methods.
The following therapies all seek to treat depression, but do so in distinct ways:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- behavioral activation (BA)
- acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- interpersonal therapy (IPT)
Of course, therapy isn’t one-size-fits-all. Don’t be discouraged if one or even a few modes of therapy don’t work for you. It may take time for you to find the therapy and therapist that are most effective in your day-to-day life.
With patience and commitment, you’ll likely see the benefits of therapy.
If you’re experiencing ongoing depression, you may want to consider medication for it. Antidepressants are the most common medication prescribed to people who experience depression.
To ensure your safety, a doctor will assess a variety of factors before prescribing an antidepressant. These factors include your:
- medical history
- personal history
- family history
- possible co-existing mental health conditions
If a doctor thinks antidepressants could be right for you, you’ll discuss receiving a prescription. It usually takes over a month to begin experiencing the effects of antidepressants.
While this may seem like a bit of a process, medication can be effective in treating depression. It’s an option to consider, even while going to therapy or implementing different management habits in your everyday life at the same time.
Because treating depression is a journey with no exact timeframe, it can be helpful for you to consider ways to directly address your depression fatigue in the meantime.
Here are some of the ways that you might consider alleviating feelings of low-energy and exhaustion:
Prioritize getting good sleep
Since depression may be causing you to have disordered sleeping habits, it can be helpful to develop better sleep habits.
“Sleep hygiene” pretty much just means “good sleeping habits.” Here are some
- Be consistent with sleep and wake times. Try going to bed at roughly the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning. This way, your body becomes accustomed to a certain routine that optimizes healthy sleeping.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature. You can experiment with different room temperatures or try out a white noise machine. With patience, you might discover the best room environment to promote sleep.
- Remove TVs, computers, and smartphones from the bedroom. This may seem like an impossible task sometimes, but avoiding harsh blue light will help you fall asleep faster.
Try eating a few more nutritious foods
Depression disrupts eating habits, which in turn can cause feelings of fatigue. Like implementing better sleeping habits, developing a more nutrient-rich diet can improve fatigue and exhaustion.
Some foods might help with depression, and a balanced diet helps to boost energy. This typically includes a range of unrefined carbs, proteins, and fats, with an emphasis on veggies, whole grains, and healthy oils.
Aside from just the types of food you should aim to eat, it also might be better to eat small meals and snacks every few hours than three large meals a day. More frequent eating, as opposed to a food overload in a few sittings, may result in more sustained fuel for your body.
Make an effort to connect with loved ones
It’s not always easy to reach out, but it’s important to have a support system. Because depression can cause you to feel isolated or alone, it can be especially comforting to connect with loved ones who care about you.
As cliché as it might sound, self-care is of the utmost importance when addressing depression fatigue.
Remember to prioritize your own needs whenever possible. Don’t be afraid to take personal mental breaks or time-outs when you really need to. Pay better attention to how you talk to yourself. Learn to recognize and heal your relationship with yourself.
Aim to exercise more, and start small if you need to
Though depressive attitudes may make it harder to work out, implementing an exercise routine that’s realistic and attainable in your everyday life can ease depression fatigue.
Exercise has the added benefit of improving your sleep, too.
It’s OK to start small — even just walking for 30 minutes a day will likely boost your energy and mood. Exercise is truly an organic and reliable way to help address your depression fatigue.
Think about new hobbies
Some hobbies can help you express your emotions in a healthy and cathartic way. Creative expression, such as journaling, painting, drawing, or instrument playing, may be useful hobbies to take up as a way of channeling and managing your depression.
By incorporating certain self-healing hobbies in your routine, you may begin to alleviate your feelings of depression and fatigue.
Try increasing your activities
It can be hard to find the motivation to do pretty much anything when you’re depressed. And when your activity level drops, you might feel even less motivated and more tired. This leads to a vicious cycle.
With physical tiredness, you need to rest. But with depression, it’s the opposite. Sleeping and sitting around often make you feel more tired and also gives you time to sit with depressive thoughts, which can make you feel worse.
One way to break this cycle is to start gently increasing your activities. This is a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique known as behavioral activation. The theory is that doing things will help give you the energy to do more things.
Again, start small, and prioritize manageable, reasonable activities that bring some enjoyment, or activities that provide a sense of achievement.
Here are some ideas for gentle activities to try:
- Go for a small walk, and smell the flowers that you pass on the way.
- Watch birds in your local park.
- Make a playlist of upbeat music.
- Move your body in a way that feels good.
- Research a topic that you’re interested in.
- Do a jigsaw or a crossword puzzle.
- Make a warm drink.
- Light a scented candle.
- Rewatch a favorite movie.
- Have a spontaneous picnic.
For more ideas and for a worksheet to help you monitor your activities and mood changes, you can check out the Behavioural Strategies for Managing Depression worksheet from the Center for Clinical Interventions in Australia.
Depression and fatigue are closely related. Most people who experience depression also report feeling fatigue. So if you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone.
After recognizing this, you may want further information and tips about depression and fatigue. For more support, you can read more here at Psych Central or visit: