Can extreme fatigue cause anxiety?

In our world today, cases of fatigue and anxiety aren't uncommon. In this article, we'll be looking to answer the question: Can extreme fatigue cause anxiety?

A tired man covering his eyes with his hands

Key takeaways

  • Anxiety and fatigue are cyclical (they work hand-in-hand). This means that if your anxiety level increases, so does your fatigue. 
  • Anxiety mainly involves mentally worrying or being nervous about something, whilst fatigue can be simply described as feeling overtired. 
  • Anxiety is caused by the constant release of the flight or fight hormone (adrenaline) from the adrenal glands into the blood at low intensities, usually without any immediate visible threat or symptoms. 
  • Fatigue can be caused by several things, such as lack of sleep, certain medical conditions and medications, life challenges, and eating poorly. These events and conditions can drain the body of large chunks of energy.
  • Anxiety can significantly impact an individual's mental health and can result in mental exhaustion, which could further lead to insomnia, reduced productivity, and fatigue.

Fatigue and anxiety are two common human feelings that most people experience at some point in their lives. Before we go any further, let's get to know what these two terms stand for. 

Fatigue can be said to be a feeling of overtiredness with low energy and a strong desire to sleep that can interfere with a person's normal daily activities.

Anxiety, on the other hand, can be defined as feeling excessively worried, nervous, or anxious about something. Anxiety is often interchanged with the word fear, but the two aren't synonymous. Fear is related to a visible threat, while anxiety is mostly future-oriented and involves worrying about certain outcomes or events that are yet to take place

Both anxiety and fatigue are two human feelings or emotions that are somewhat correlated and can impact our lives to some degree. 

Can fatigue cause anxiety?

Fatigue or excessive tiredness can be considered a symptom of anxiety. Both are linked because if your anxiety level increases, so does your fatigue level.

Fatigue often occurs due to stress from physical activity. People who often engage in physical activities that require large amounts of effort for a prolonged period are likely to get tired. Anxiety, on the other hand, usually affects mental health, but it can also affect you physically, in that being excessively anxious and worried about things can drain your energy, leaving you feeling fatigued.

Simply put, fatigue and anxiety can go hand-in-hand. Fatigue may not necessarily lead to anxiety, but anxiety can result in fatigue. 

The relationship between anxiety and fatigue is cyclical. Anxiety is mostly caused by the stimulation/activation of the body's fight or flight hormone (adrenaline), and a side effect of excess activation of adrenaline can result in fatigue.

In order to understand more about what anxiety and fatigue are about, let's look at a certain scenario.

You are on a hike, and suddenly, you encounter a bear. Your adrenal glands then release a hormone called adrenaline or epinephrine, a.k.a., the flight or fight hormone. This hormone enables your survival instincts to immediately kick in.

Your heart rate increases, as do your blood pressure and muscle tone. Your body starts preparing you to either engage the bear in combat (fight) or run away from it (flight). This preparation would obviously need energy, which is why whichever resolution you choose (either to fight or run away) may leave you exhausted (fatigued) at the end of it. 

Now, for a person with anxiety, there's no bear (no present danger). However, mentally, a certain thought has sparked the release of this hormone, but at a lower intensity since there's no visible danger. Hence, you could say that the symptoms of anxiety can be as a result of low-intensity activation of adrenaline.

Studies have shown that the presence of the flight or fight hormone caused by anticipatory anxiety can significantly lower your sleep quality. Seeing as your mind isn't quite settled in, your body detects this anomaly and releases this hormone to get you prepared, thus resulting in sleep deprivation and reduced quality of sleep. 

Sleep deprivation and low quality sleep can increase anxiety and also result in fatigue because your body isn't getting adequate rest for the amount of energy it is exerting.

What anxiety does to the body

Anxiety disorders are somewhat synonymous with chronic stress, but stress happens when there is an external factor called a stressor. Anxiety and stress may have similar symptoms, such as:

  • Insomnia (a sleep disorder)
  • Lack of concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Trembling
  • Muscle tension
  • Rapid heartbeats
  • Irritability

These symptoms, at a milder level, can be diagnosed by specialists as symptoms of mild or acute anxiety. However, when these symptoms increasingly grow beyond what a person can tolerate and begin to affect the individual's everyday life, they may be diagnosed as symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

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What is fatigue?

Symptoms of extreme fatigue

Symptoms of extreme fatigue include:

  • Extreme exhaustion 
  • Overall tiredness
  • Constant lethargy
  • Lack of stamina 
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness 
  • Psychological, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion 

Can fatigue have chronic effects?

When you experience extreme fatigue, or it persists for a long time, it can disrupt your everyday life. When chronic fatigue occurs alongside an anxiety disorder, it may cause symptoms like:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sore throat
  • Chills and night sweats
  • Shortness of breath

How anxiety and fatigue affect your mental health

The effects of anxiety and fatigue can take a high toll on an individual's mental health. It can trigger your sympathetic nervous system, affect your mental wellness, and lead to mental exhaustion. 

Anxiety and fatigue can affect your mental health by causing:

  • Nervousness 
  • Fear 
  • Elevated stress
  • insomnia
  • Decreased mental alertness 
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Reduced productivity 
  • Depression/emotional distress 

Tips for managing the anxiety-fatigue cycle

When it comes to managing your anxiety-fatigue cycle, there are two main things you should consider.

The first one is your sleep hygiene, i.e., sleeping habits that help improve your sleep. Improving your sleep hygiene is essential, as it helps you get the adequate amount of rest needed for you to get up and get going in order to be effective for whatever activity you have to do next.

The second one is relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques are certain techniques or exercises that are designed to help you find relief and control your stress and anxiety. Some relaxation techniques you can try out include:

  • Taking deep breaths
  • Meditation
  • Guided imagery (thinking happy thoughts)

These three relaxation techniques have proven to be very effective in helping relieve stress and anxiety, as well as control the anxiety-fatigue cycle.

Some other forms of relaxation techniques that may be effective include self-hypnosis, biofeedback-assisted relaxation (using an external device), progressive relaxation, and autogenic training. However, the first three techniques listed prior to these ones could be considered to be the three basic relaxation techniques. 

When to see a doctor for fatigue or anxiety

Individuals who have acute anxiety or fatigue could try using the relaxation techniques stated above to try and get better. However, if you still suffer from frequent anxiety and fatigue symptoms, then you should seek professional help by consulting your doctor or therapist. 


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  8. Centers for Disease Control andPrevention. (2021) Myalgic Encaphalomyelitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
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