How do I deal with profound emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion?
March 2, 2014 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Whenever I have a particularly stressful or taxing day, I end up being profoundly exhausted for 2-3 days after. We're talking sleeping for 16 hours each day, walking around in a daze, feeling sick after eating, and just feeling unable to do anything I want or need to do. It's like I'm dealing with trauma, but surely this isn't a normal or even reasonable response to trauma, right? If you've dealt with this in the past or are dealing with it now, could you please share any solutions you've found that have worked for you? This has been going on since 2008 for me.
posted by These Birds of a Feather to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I'm confused: What is a particularly stressful kind of day for you?

And yes, those responses can be a totally normal response to trauma. To me, trauma can look like: Unexpected death of someone close to you; being in a bad accident; seeing someone killed. Those aren't the *only* traumatic scenarios, but to me there's a difference between something like that and a very long and busy day at work, assuming work is a regular office-type job.

I think you're going to have to be a little more specific.
posted by rtha at 3:12 PM on March 2, 2014

I don't think what you're describing is out of the realm of the normal response to trauma. Emotions aren't reasonable, and they definitely don't care what your schedule is or what you "have" to do. It's not convenient, but the trick to mitigating the exhaustion is to find out what's zapping your energy ASAP and nip that in the bud as best you can. For me, when I'm super stressed out, what really helps is sleeping with earplugs. I'm especially sensitive to sound when I'm over stressed. Food-wise, I'll also put polenta in a slow cooker and eat that with some avocado or a bit of butter, since stress hits my gut too. It helps to not have to cook when you're completely taxed - bonus point for the slow cooker here.

You mentioned 2008. Is there more to that - did something happen that can give you some insight into what is causing the reactions you're having? (Rhetorical).

Also, is it possible to "lean in" to whatever is bothering you? Like, if all you can handle is simple foods and calling in sick, if it's once a month or less, is it really a bad thing to give your body and mind what they need for you to feel well?
posted by onecircleaday at 3:14 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you should talk to a doctor about this.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:17 PM on March 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

Is it possible that you've got low-level depression or anxiety issues? And you're doing ok, doing ok, and then suddenly boom, super stressful day, and your already limited coping resources are overtaxed, and you basically shut down. I ask only because what you're describing sounds not totally unlike what happens to me after a massive panic attack--several days of being unable to deal with anything, desperate to sleep, etc.

Anyhow, obviously this isn't something to self diagnose, but there's medication that can help. Talk to a doctor--even if it's not anxiety, they can probably still help.
posted by MeghanC at 3:19 PM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

This has been interfering with you functioning normally for 6 years?!

You need to get a thorough exam by a doctor. This could be almost anything.
posted by kinetic at 3:21 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with talking to a doctor. There are a lot of things that can cause fatigue, and a particularly stressful day can exacerbate most or all of them. Low vitamin D, anemia, low B-12/pernicious anemia, thyroid issues, sleep apnea, autoimmune disorder (particularly celiac/inflammatory bowel, since you mention feeling sick after eating)... lots of things.

I've had fatigue issues that ended up being a medical problem, and it sucked, but once I got diagnosed it made it a lot better to deal with -- both because I knew what was going on, and because the doctors were able to help with the issues I was facing. Seeing a doctor is definitely the place to start.
posted by pie ninja at 3:27 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

You need a complete physical exam. You could be anemic, for instance, which would account for your extreme fatigue, or your thyroid could be letting you down, or your B12 levels could be low, or ... you could have something wrong with your heart or an autoimmune disorder or kidney disease or diabetes or ... it could be depression and anxiety.

But - get a physical before you decide it's all mental. People who have physical illnesses get fatigued and then anxious and then depressed - and people who have anxiety and depression often develop physical problems.

Don't let any doctor automatically stop with an anxiety/depression diagnosis until you've had a thorough physical workup. After this many years - and I'll bet it's been slowly getting worse, right? - you need an answer and an effective treatment.

Good luck.
posted by aryma at 3:34 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you need to take a hard look at the things that are stressing you out that much. What you're describing does sound like a response to trauma, and you really shouldn't be subjecting yourself to trauma on a regular basis. If these things are so traumatic, it may be that you'll have to find some way to not do them anymore, or to do them in a very different way.

It is possible you have something medical going on, and your body can't handle everyday stress. But I think it's more likely that there is something wrong with your life in a big way, and you are making yourself sick trying to deal with it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:36 PM on March 2, 2014

Best answer: You are an educator, right? Is this exhaustion coming from classroom interactions? If so, then it is possible you are burned out. In Australia, over 1/6 of all stress leave claims are lodged by educators.

I have been burned out by work and it does feel like an unspecified trauma has occurred. But because there is not actual 'traumatic event', it is hard to pin down exactly what is going on.

If this sounds possible, then there really is only a few cures for burnout. One is taking a lot of time off to recharge. Are their any options in your employment for taking stress leave? If so, it is time to utilise them. And please don't get caught up in the 'indispensable' mindset, or feel that you are letting your students down. That kind of thinking can exacerbate your stress. It makes you want to give and give until there is nothing left, and that benefits no one.

Find out what your sick leave, stress leave options are and pursue them. You need time away to heal and recharge. It doesn't mean you are weak, or can't cut the mustard. It just means you are human, and probably a very caring one at that.

Good luck.
posted by Kerasia at 3:52 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Definitely get checked out by your doctor, but my spouse has had a similar issue, which was recently diagnosed as very severe anxiety. He had been essentially collapsing for a couple of days several times a month, pretty much unable to get out of bed, sleeping hours and hours. Turns out, a booster med (buspar on top of an existing Lexapro dose) has made an incredible difference for him.
posted by instamatic at 3:56 PM on March 2, 2014

I agree with aryma and pie ninja. I experienced similar problems (including needing 14 hours of sleep) and now I take iron pills daily and they have made a world of difference. Get checked out!
posted by monkeymonkey at 3:56 PM on March 2, 2014

I used to get like this too. Ignored it forever. After a year of 100-work weeks destroyed me, the dr diagnosed me with lupus (and other things). If I'd been a better advocate for myself then, I would have insisted on a diagnosis and probably only work 60 hours a week. Feel free to memail. It's like I could get through the extreme stress and the first moment I could take a breath, my body would shutdown.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 3:59 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You are not alone in this response to stress. It may certainly be a signal that something is underlying. But it also might be within the range of normal. The Atlantic just did something with this, called Why Some People Respond to Stress by Falling Asleep.

Definitely see a doctor. My own severe fatigue is caused by Stage 4 Endometriosis, which is partially treated and while I feel worlds better since surgery, I still have a lot to do. Stress exacerbates this. I also deal with depression, and that can cause a lot of sleepiness in response to stress, or just because. Lots of people are depressed and don't know it.
posted by bilabial at 4:04 PM on March 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

This is probably different because yours comes and goes, but I recently went through about a week and a half of way more than normal tiredness, and it turned out my Vitamin D levels had tanked again. It makes all the difference when that is taken care of. It might not be your primary problem but it could be a factor and wouldn't hurt to check.
posted by Glinn at 6:32 PM on March 2, 2014

Best answer: See a doctor. It sounds like possibly an autoimmune thing to me -- I have a tendency toward autoimmune problems myself, and when I'm in a flare-up, a busy day will put me out of commission much like what you're describing. A rheumatologist could help put this together with other symptoms you might have (for example, do your joints get achey or tender when this happens?).
posted by scody at 6:34 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Please see a doctor to start to understand what is causing this. It could be stress/burnout but it could so easily be hundreds of other things, all the above possibilities and more.

I've been experiencing something that feels like what you describe (but may easily have different causes) on/after acutely stressful days, particularly emotionally hard ones - feeling like having been hit by a truck, needing days to recover, finding getting going hard - but in my case it's time-limited, ending soon, the causes are clear (ongoing grind + acute, identifiable stressors + lack of sleep). I cannot even imagine enduring anything like it for six years...

I haven't found a solution other than rest and letting some things drop when they have to drop. Do try that to help cope until you know for sure what this is! Take care.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:49 PM on March 2, 2014

Response by poster: Well, I discovered one thing today: I definitely have oral herpes, and the onset of the herpes coincides with the onset of the sudden profound exhaustion. I had an outbreak last week and didn't put two and two together until I saw a dermatologist today. :( I will start taking an anti-viral to suppress outbreaks, and at the same time attempt to start dealing with the source of stress that is causing the herpes to begin with. What a bummer. Thank you for all your input. :(
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:22 AM on March 5, 2014

If this is a reaction to stress, you should realise that even mild levels of stress will tire you out over time. You can ameliorate this somewhat with sleep and regular exercise, but in the long term you need to deal with whatever is causing you this stress. It may be as simple as doing some cognitive therapy to reframe your stressful thoughts. Two books I'd recommend are Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky, and Feeling Good by David Burns. Just knowing what you are dealing with will help, I think, and you may want to see a doctor about CBT or similar. Don't forget to get a physical checkup too, though!
posted by danteGideon at 6:05 AM on March 7, 2014

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