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Fatigue: how I've learnt to live with it and what I do to live more without it

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Ironically I'm a bit too tired to write about this right now. My husband, aka The Hairy One, has said that even trying to understand the title has given him fatigue.

We've recently recovered from Covid. And although the actual virus wasn't too bad - cold symptoms, tiredness etc - the post-viral effect has been a bit slower to lift.

I'm not writing this for sympathy, I'm writing it in the hope that it helps someone to know that a) they're not alone with the weirdness of it and b) that it is possible to reduce the severity, length and frequency of its occurrence over time.

Fatigue can be really hard to describe, as it manifests itself in so many ways, physically and cognitively. It can understandably be mistaken for tiredness, but it is radically different. An everyday tiredness is usually as a result of over-exertion or illness, and is reduced with rest. Fatigue is not as a result of over-exertion, and it is not resolved with a standard amount of rest.

When I am creeping towards fatigue, I can feel it looming in the background like a spiky, heavy shadow, which is impossible to ignore. Unexpected breathlessness from everyday activities. The inability to make a decision. Difficulty processing information. And for me personally, a stiffness in my upper back and shoulders followed by at a migraine-style headache for at least a couple of days.

And even though it sounds pretty dark, since I have been able to get more of a grip on it, for me it has also been enlightening. Over the years it has helped me prioritise in a way that can only be done by someone who has no energy to give a shit about anything but love and happiness. It forces me to ask for and accept help. It awakens creativity, resourcefulness and a passion in me for using difficult times to learn ways to help others do the same. I know I'm not alone in finding inspiration during a struggle.

The reason I personally experience fatigue is because I have multiple sclerosis, but there are lots of conditions and life events that can cause it, at varying degrees of severity. For example, perimenopausal women can commonly be affected by brain fog and physical fatigue. Autoimmune conditions such as CFS, coeliac disease and arthritis are all other examples. There are many more.

If fatigue is something you live with, I imagine that at least some of the list of symptoms below will look quite familiar to you. I'd also love to hear about your own experiences and symptoms, so feel free to send any new ones over to me, or comment in the box at the bottom.

#1 Sleep My least favourite characteristic of fatigue is that I can't sleep properly. Thereby exacerbating my feelings of tiredness, in amongst the already exhausting period of fatigue. It's frustrating, annoying and therefore makes it even more difficult for me to sleep.

#2 Full of ideas I have so many ideas. Like my brain has gone into overdrive.

#3 Sore muscles I'm pretty fit and active outside of this fatigue malarkey, and I have multiple sclerosis, so sore muscles are a regular part of my life. However, fatigue-induced sore muscles are something else. No amount of magnesium in my bath is going to stop this.

#4 Headaches In the past, before I realised how to manage it, I would end up with a full blown, eye watering, nauseating, flashy eye migraine experience. Regularly. I haven't experienced anything even close to that now in well over 5 years.

#5 Mood swings I can be elated, furious and in tears within a couple of hours. There is a pattern that I now recognise, and on a particular day during that process, I have to get out of the house and do some exercise no matter how difficult it is, or I am horrible to be around. Releasing some of that frustration exhausts me, then I am able to rest properly, then I start to feel much better. As I write that sentence, I can feel the big relief that it creates.

#6 Difficulty in decision making and processing information After years of not realising this, I battled with forms, planning and organising. Then I realised it was pointless and actually made my fatigue worse. So I stopped during these times. And guess what. The world carried on and is still here.

#7 Memory My body and brain has no time for remembering stuff. Focus is wholly on getting me back out on that bike. So I won't be remembering anything you tell me unless you physically see me writing it down in my paper (not digital) diary so I can look at it when I feel better. (It's still worth a nudge btw!)

#8 Overwhelm It can all feel so much. Kids, work, house, shopping, finding stuff, remembering stuff, getting upstairs, feeding myself properly, too bright, too loud, too busy, too many different sounds. Prioritisation and brutally ditching anything unhelpful is key at this time.

Here are some things I do during fatigue and non-fatigue days. Try them, adjust them, add to them, keep them up, tell me about any you have in your toolkit! These are the habits that I've formed which have maintained a balance in me that keeps levels of inflammation down, meaning that I experience less incidence of fatigue, and if I do, it is much less severe or long lasting.

#1 Drink enough water even without fatigue, dehydration can affect energy levels.

#2 Plan your days around a combination of exercise and rest periods. Exercise for you may be stretching your muscles and practising mindful movements from a chair. For someone else, it might be going for a walk outside or hopping on a bike or into the sea. We are all different. Listen to those differences and act accordingly.

#3 Eat properly and nourish yourself with as many different whole, plant foods as you can. Add in healthy fats from oily fish, nuts and seeds and cold pressed oils. Minimise ultra processed foods as much as you can reasonably do so. When you're feeling well, batch cook a bunch of easy to reheat foods so you have something brilliant to eat in the freezer when you need it. Most importantly, enjoy your food!

#4 Rest your brain daily with a calming practise such as yoga, meditation, conscious breathing, yoga nidra (a deep yogic relaxation which is all manner of magic). All of the above if you're into it. At least one of them if you're not. Try it until it works. These practises lower blood pressure, stimulate the 'rest and digest' part of your nervous system (parasympathetic) and allow your body and brain to completely rest leaving space for healing. This is not "sleeping rest". It is a much deeper level than that. Yoga Nidra in particular is one of the best ways to reach this, but may need a few tries before it feels familiar enough to take effect.

#5 Get outside and be in nature to breathe in the air, and take in the surroundings. I have yet to meet a person who doesn't benefit from this. Even if they stubbornly reckon it doesn't (i.e. my kids who moan all the way there and then never want to leave).

#6 Coffee Not everyone can tolerate or feel good on caffeine, but for me, having one good quality cup of coffee per day offers me a little clarity and space to get my brain organised, which reduces levels of stress associated by not being able to do much at times. Too much can do the opposite, so only have it if it has a positive effect, and avoid if it doesn't. (I reckon this is a pretty good rule for living in general. I'll keep that one in mind... and you could apply it to all sorts - people, jobs, Tesco's strip lighting...)

#7 Holistic Therapies If you enjoy therapies such as massage, reiki, a meditation class, a yoga nidra session, then book yourself some in as part of the whole plan. And not just when you're feeling fatigued. These therapies work much better as a maintenance tool. Whatever you can fit in and whatever you can afford is beneficial. It may be that your muscles need a good pummeling to release tension and help you rest more comfortably, or it may be that you need someone to guide you into a deeply relaxed state. Whatever and whoever helps you feel deeply relaxed, go with that.

#8 Don't panic and believe that you can feel better. Taking steps towards living more healthily (see everything above), almost always, very quickly starts to have a positive impact on the people who I work with by empowering them with the knowledge to improve their wellbeing. Knowing that they are feeling better because of the actions they have taken offers such a boost.

#9 Don't panic if you have a dip Expect the dips and stick to your guns. These dips will become less frequent and will go away much quicker with the implementation of a healthier lifestyle both physically, emotionally and mentally.

Phew. That is a lot of info. I'm up for questions, ideas, experiences, and symptoms to add to this. Please feel free to get in touch or comment in the box below if you feel like you connect with this.

Lynne x

My Yoga&Wellness Holistic Health Coaching sessions can be on a one-to-one basis, as well as workshops and classes in person and via Zoom. If you feel that you would benefit from some personal coaching including yoga, nutrition and lifestyle choices, I offer retreats, workshops and private sessions in person and online (via Zoom). Go to my website to read more about what I offer and how it can help you. Lynne x

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