Many Indian women are puzzled by their chronic fatigue and everyday unexplained tiredness. Some health tips to help explain your fatigue.
When 41-year-old Rekha Srinath* confided in her friends that she was becoming extremely tired for no apparent reason, she was amazed by the range of reactions the revelation evoked. From “who doesn’t feel tired” and “you’re stressed out” to “you need to try green tea and five minutes of very energetic exercise everyday” to “you must see a doctor, it could be serious”.
This is the thing about chronic fatigue – we all experience it at some time of our lives. Some of us dismiss it, some try home remedies, some head straight to the doctor. “Oh, I wouldn’t go to a doctor about feeling tired,” laughs Latha R.*, a lawyer, “My family doctor would only give me patronizing looks, a lecture about stress and a prescription for vitamins.” And then again, we have all heard the story of an aunt or cousin who ignored her tiredness until it was too late, only to be diagnosed with something sinister.
So where do you draw the line with tiredness? How do you know whether you need green tea or blood tests? Sometimes there is an obvious cause for this chronic fatigue – pregnancy, recovery phase from an illness or maybe you just tramped all over town to participate in a demonstration. But more often, you can’t really put your finger on any particular reason.
Tiredness is just one way for our body to tell us its requirements are not being met. Here is a list of things you may want to look at before you go see a doctor. Remember, women and health in India are often at odds with each other due to a lack of attention to the body’s warnings!
Are you getting enough sleep?
Are you getting 7 to 8 hours of undisturbed, good sleep? You may be young and healthy, but if you regularly try to make do with just five or six hours of sleep, you are sure to be exhausted. Shalini Raman* always “retired” at ten, a book in hand and woke up at six, not realizing that she spent well over two hours reading and not sleeping.
So if you think you are getting eight hours of sleep when you are actually spending part of it working on your laptop or watching TV, you are more than likely to feel exhausted during the day.
Some Indian women also suffer from sleep apnea, a condition where a person’s breathing stops several times during sleep due to some obstruction in the respiratory passage. These are the people most likely to snore. This is a serious condition that can lead to daytime sleepiness, not just fatigue, and needs medical attention.
Is your body getting enough ‘fuel’?
It is surprising to see how many health-conscious Indian women who are always talking calories, proteins and carbs skip their breakfast. “I know how important it is to have my breakfast,” concedes Latha, “but amidst the rush of getting everyone ready for the day I have to literally choose between breakfast and a bath and the bath obviously wins since I have to go to work.”
Then there are the fancy meals for people on the go – an orange juice for breakfast or a diet cola for lunch. The body doesn’t get its due nourishment from meals like these. The result – exhaustion. Skipping meals, having just one major meal in a day, eating foods without much nutritive value all take their toll on the body. Also, many of us have the habit of getting coffee to beat fatigue, but for some, caffeine overload itself can worsen tiredness.
So your diet is the next thing for you to check. Are you providing your body with nutrition or just empty calories? Have you recently embarked on a diet? Crash diets designed to help you lose weight quickly invariably leave you with chronic fatigue.
Are you working too hard?
Although the ubiquitous, omnipresent ‘stress’ gets blamed for nearly every malady in today’s world, stress can actually lead to weariness. If you are wearing yourself thin from work, you really need to stop and think. Are you pushing the limit? Are you doing several peoples’ work? Do you really need to run around so much?
Are you happy?
Depression is a well-known cause for chronic fatigue. After her divorce, Shravanti K. found herself with absolutely no energy for even the smallest tasks. Afraid she might be ill, her mother made sure she saw a doctor. She was found to be severely depressed and only recovered after several sessions of counseling.
Depression can make you feel deadbeat even when you are perfectly healthy physically. Are you unhappy about something? Is something worrying you? We sometimes don’t even realize how caught up we are in a problem. It may just be a matter of taking a break and beating the blues. If it’s more serious, get help.
Are you ill?
If you have ruled out all the above, then there is the possibility that some medical ailment may be causing your tiredness. Anaemia, for instance, a condition where the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood falls, is a common cause of tiredness. Hypothyroidism, where there is a deficiency of thyroid hormones, is another.
People with heart disease are likely to get tired with even the least exertion. Diabetes is another chronic condition that can present with tiredness. Food intolerance can also lead to fatigue and sleepiness. Most of these conditions can be diagnosed with consultation, examination and some simple tests.
If the tiredness bug has got you, the first thing to do is to check your routine. Are you eating well, getting plenty of sleep and not stressing yourself out? If you appear to be doing everything right and still feel exhausted all the time then it may be a very good idea to get a consultation. Remember, if you are feeling very tired, it may just be your body telling you to stop and take another look at yourself.
*Names changed to protect privacy