Persistent lack of energy, often classified as “chronic fatigue,” is a serious warning light in life. Left unaddressed, this feeling can quickly spiral into a profoundly negative feedback loop.
Fatigue can keep us from accomplishing what the world requires of us. This can lead to self-deprecating thoughts and feelings, which can lead to further decrease in motivation, compounding our fatigue. Soon, we’ve entered the land of depression. From here we shy away from social contact out of shame and/or apathy, leading to feelings of isolation. Deeper depression ensues, and so on.
Sweat the Check Human Light
Let’s think of chronic fatigue as a “check engine” light on our car’s dashboard. A “check human” light if you will. If our check engine light comes on, we have some options. We can ignore the light, thereby ignoring the near-guarantee that the issue will progress into something that completely inhibits our car’s ability to function in the near future.
Alternatively, we can voluntarily shoulder the inconvenience of identifying the issue and take the necessary steps to resolve it before it gets worse. The same options exist for the check human light (a.k.a. chronic fatigue).
The potential causes of fatigue are numerous, stemming from issues with nutrition, exercise, behavior, mental health, negative circumstances, and more.
Often times, potential causes of our fatigue are easy for us to identify. The difficulty lies in manifesting the will to address those issues. This, in and of itself, is a massive “cause” of fatigue that is worth addressing first.
1. Actually Care About Your Own Well-Being for Once
We all have that friend that flies the flag of the perpetual martyr like some crappy badge of honor. “I care about other people so much that I forget to care about myself.” As their eyes twinkle with pride.
Look, caring for others is absolutely a virtue. Not caring for yourself, however, is not.
In Jordan Peterson’s new book 12 Rule for Life, he lays out a crazy fact. There is a large number of people that, as you read this, are on dialysis. Stuck pumping their body’s entire blood supply through a machine for hours on end, several times a week. They are glued to this miserable process for years before they can finally be matched to a kidney transplant. They spend thousands of dollars and undergo an extremely serious surgery to get the new organ.
Can you guess the most common cause for the new kidney to fail? The person doesn’t take their anti-rejection medication, so their bodies reject the kidney. Years of suffering finally gets offered a resolution, but taking a pill proves too much to ask. That same person, however, can have a beloved pet fall ill and require medication to be administered at a similar cadence. The person will not miss a single dose. A dog means more to them than they do. (We can sympathize, dogs are awesome, but so are you.)
How are we supposed to adequately care for the world if we cannot care for ourselves? The answer is we can’t. If we are serious about serving the world then we must put our own house in order first.
I get what you’re saying, but I just can’t get there emotionally. How do I make myself care more about myself?
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
You are a member of a species that came to dominate an entire planet through the ability to figure things out. Therefore, providing a reason why is (in theory) more powerful than a way how. It all depends on what is standing in your way.
For example, are you holding yourself in contempt about a failure, bad decision, or time you hurt someone? If so, take some time to disassociate. Try to view yourself as you would view a friend. Picture your disassociated self asking for your forgiveness in earnest. Try to provide that forgiveness. Attempt to begin seeing yourself as a person you genuinely care about. Repeat this regularly, and you will make progress. The point is, assess what is standing in your way and figure it out. You can do it. If need be, find someone who can assist with the process.
2. Set Attainable Goals and Accomplish Them
The DNA in every cell of your body has an unbroken lineage that stretches back 3.5 billion years. It has had a de-facto eternity to refine its ability to get you through life. It’s good at it.
The issue that modern humans face is how quickly our environment has changed. Our DNA is designed for a hunter/gatherer existence in the forest, not Netflix binges and GrubHub deliveries. Because of this, it is necessary to understand our innate reward mechanisms and make conscious efforts to trigger them. A modern lifestyle simply lacks the conditions required to trigger them automatically.
It is all too common that people go to work at a job that they are not emotionally invested in. We watch the clock until it’s time to leave, go get some rest, and repeat it the next day. To our brain, we are saying, “The environment is bleak, there is nothing to accomplish here.” In turn, our brains respond with, “Uh-oh, resources in the environment are low. Conserve energy until conditions improve.” This message comes in the form of, you guessed it, chronic fatigue.
It is mission-critical that we engage emotionally with our environment.
The solution is simple, set goals and accomplish them. Start small, complete a puzzle, climb a hill, empty your email inbox. It will feel bad at first, but it will feel good once it’s done.
If you set a goal and don’t accomplish it, lower the bar and try again. You will begin to build resilience, your goals will get harder, and the sense of accomplishment will scale with the level of difficulty. Soon your brain will be sending the message, “Resources in the environment are plentiful, fire up the engines and go collect them.”
3. Treat Sugar Like You Treat Heroin, Except on Birthdays
It is an irrefutable truth that chocolate birthday cake is awesome. There is no need to get crazy and axe the birthday cake. That being said, your body is absolutely not designed for high levels of sugar.
The biggest negative effect is inflammation. Sugar and other processed carbohydrates cause inflammation in the entire body. This is like standing on the gas pedal and the brake at the same time. Your body is burning energy at twice the rate it otherwise would be.
The other issue with a sugar-heavy diet is blood sugar spikes. If you grab a pumpkin spice latte and a muffin before work, it might give you a quick boost. However, your body will respond to the spike in blood sugar with a spike in insulin. The sugar in your blood is then quickly mopped up. Now your cells are looking for glucose rather than ketone bodies (from fat) to generate ATP (energy) in the cell, but there is none. This causes an energy deficit that you experience as a deep longing for a mid-morning nap. The takeaway here? Ditch the sugar.
4. Move Your Meat Suit
You’re smart. You read stuff. This one likely comes as no surprise. The human body will acclimate to the amount of effort that is asked of it. This fact doesn’t require much research to ascertain. People who run 5 miles every day, tend to wake up with enough energy to run 5 miles. People who don’t, don’t. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
That being said, it’s not so easy, is it? Luckily, we’re armed with an almighty why (See Rule 1). So now that we have some semblance of motivation in hand, what else can we do to make meat suit movement more attainable? We make it enjoyable.
Remember childhood when we made time for fun? It turns out that during adulthood fun is still fun. Shooting hoops is fun, hitting a punching bag is fun, dancing is fun, you will be amazed at how much fun stuff is still fun.
The trick here is to make it a practice, set time aside on a regular basis to have a little fun. Just ensure that the fun also requires meat suit movement. (I work at a computer all day and my butt gets sore. When that happens I pull a hacky sack out of the drawer and I have a little fun.)
Bringing it all Together
The nuts and bolts of chronic fatigue are relatively straight-forward. Good information exists all over the web on various potential causes. If you’re experiencing chronic fatigue, it all starts with experimentation.
The issue really breaks down into four main categories: psychology, behavior, nutrition, and exercise. The macro-level answers to these categories are the four steps laid out here. Care about yourself, set and achieve goals, eat right, and move.
Of course, you can get far more granular on the subject, and we encourage you to do so. If you’re suffering from chronic fatigue, you got this. You are not a victim. You are, as previously stated, a member of a species that came to dominate a planet through its ability to overcome challenges. We wish you the very best; you deserve it.