7 Signs you’re exhausted: causes and symptoms

November 9, 2020 7 mins read
7 Signs you’re exhausted: causes and symptoms

You may think it’s easy to spot symptoms of exhaustion, but the signs can be more than just getting the yawns or hitting the snooze button. Knowing the difference between being exhausted and just feeling tired is vital to your health.

Our bodies can tolerate a lot of what we put them through on a daily basis. Be it stress, a late night here and there, the pressure to keep our summer bodies in shape or tackling the challenges of parenting, it all starts to accumulate. And as much as we wish our bodies were the “little engine that could,” it can sometimes lead to burnout.

Knowing the signs of exhaustion and understanding what could be causing it may signal that it’s time for you to take a timeout and give your body some restorative sleep.

What is mental exhaustion?

We’re all used to feeling stressed from time to time. After all, it’s our body’s natural response to situations that are new, exciting or scary. And most of the time we’re able to take it in our stride…

But what happens when we stop paying attention to how much we can cope with and let what may seem like little stressors, stretch us to capacity? It’s a fast slide down a slippery slope into mental exhaustion.

When you let stress get out of control, you’re essentially draining your mental capacity. This then starts to affect other areas in your life such as your sleeping patterns (or lack of sleep), digestion (you eat more when you’re tired as your body is trying to find energy) and keeping your immune system active.

What is physical exhaustion?

If you let your mental exhaustion go unattended, you will find yourself at the final stage of exhaustion, physical exhaustion. This is an extreme state of unrelenting tiredness that can leave you physically drained. It starts to impair your physical abilities, making even the simplest task feel overwhelmingly demanding. And it affects your sleep-wake cycles, bringing on excessive sleepiness.

Allowing your body to reach this stage of physical exhaustion can be really dangerous.

7 Symptoms of exhaustion

If you’re starting to feel a little more tired lately or battling to keep up with work demands, this could be your body waving the white flag to get you to surrender to sleep.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s time to take a timeout:

1. Lack of focus and confusion

If you’re starting to feel like your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders, things are starting to become a little fuzzy, and you’re forgetting important information, it’s time to take a rest. During sleep, your body performs mind miracles. It balances chemicals, refreshes memories, and stabilizes your moods, all so that you can wake up feeling clear-headed and ready to take on your day.

When you’re overly stressed, your mind doesn’t allow your body to reach all its sleep stages, particularly rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, in which this mental restoration takes place.

2. Your diet has changed

When you’re tired, it simply means that your energy reserves are running out. What do we do to replace energy? We eat. However, when you’re physically drained, your stress hormone (cortisol) starts to peak, and the only thing your brain knows how to do is seek out a calming antidote (serotonin).

This hormone is usually found in comfort foods which are high fat, carby delicious things full of sugar. The problem with stress eating is that you’re causing your body to get spurts of energy from the sugary treats, but as soon as these are digested, your sugar levels plummet. This sends you back into a deeper state of exhaustion.

3. You feel stressed

Like, really stressed. The type of stress that makes the simplest annoyances send you into a tizz and keeps you awake at night. The danger of stress is that its peripheral symptoms can have a knock-on effect on other areas in your life. Stress can cause insomnia, which can lead to sleep deprivation which can lead to serious health implications, such as depression and physical exhaustion.

4. Shortness of breath

If you feel short of breath when you’re tired, do not ignore it. This is a key signal from your body that it is struggling to keep up. Because your heart is working overtime to keep your blood flowing, shortness of breath and fatigue are often linked to signs of a heart attack. If you’re experiencing this symptom of exhaustion, let your doctor know as soon as you can, to rule out any underlying health worries.

5. You can’t face exercising

We know there are some die-hard fitspo’s out there, but if you find yourself at the gym and notice that you’re not crushing those calories like usual, it could be a sign that your body is just saying, “nope.”

When you exercise, you require mental focus as well as physical exertion. If you’re not at your energy peak, you will find it hard to perform. But not only that, if you’re exercising a tired bod and hitting the gym to seek endorphins, you may not be giving yourself enough time between workouts for recovery. When you’re tired (read: exhausted), your body can’t repair your muscles as fast as usual, which may lead to injuries.

6. You have dry lips

Typically, if you have dry or chapped lips, you’ll blame it on not getting your eight glasses of water a day. But dry lips don’t necessarily mean that you’re dehydrated. While you should most definitely start rehydrating (because water gives you energy), it could mean that you’re suffering from sleep deprivation, chronic stress and physical exhaustion. Dry and discolored lips can also be a sign of adrenal fatigue, which is why it’s important to pay attention to other symptoms to rule out simple dehydration.

7. You’re sleeping poorly

Unfortunately, exhaustion can create poor sleep too. Just like stress, your mind is trying to figure out why you can’t sleep, which makes getting to sleep harder. So if you’re experiencing any sleep issues, be sure to figure out why so that you can help your body get the rest it needs.

What causes exhaustion?

Some of the most common causes of fatigue include lifestyle habits, vitamin deficiencies, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders, which can snowball into burnout.

If you’re getting less sleep than usual (because life, work, Netflix, etc.), try to make sure that you’re not making it a habit of it. When you start shaving off hours of your sleep to maintain other areas of life, you begin to go into sleep debt. This means that the important restorative hours needed to maintain your mental state start to get shorter and shorter, which can lead to intense fatigue.

When you mix stress, fatigue and sleeplessness, with being overworked and burning yourself at both ends of the candle, you can imagine that this leads to some pretty serious health consequences.

Can exhaustion make you feel ill?

When we start to tamper with our sleep schedules, whether because we’re under stress, have a sleep disorder, or we’re slipping into chronic exhaustion, the negative effects of sleep deprivation can be severe, including weakening your immune system.

The first signs of your immune system beginning to feel run down are often presented as headaches and migraines. Migraines, in many cases, can make you feel ill. You may also start to experience joint pain as your limbs become fatigued.

Sleep has the most amazing benefits for our overall health and wellbeing. It’s what makes us perform at our best during our waking hours. Understanding what triggers your exhaustion (whether it’s overworking or financial stress) will help you prepare for these situations, so even when you notice the onset of fatigue, you can put in necessary steps to prevent burning out.

Remember: when you put sleep first, you put yourself first.