Can stress make you feel tired? And can stress make you feel tired all the time?
We’ve all been through stressful periods in life, whether they’re caused by a demanding job, an overwhelming study schedule or simply a difficult personal life. And during periods of chronic stress, it’s common to feel emotionally, mentally and physically drained. (Read: tired.)
This feeling is often referred to as emotional exhaustion, and it’s a common problem for people affected by immense stress.
Not only can emotional exhaustion and tiredness from stress affect your quality of life, but it can also contribute to burnout, irritability, feelings of apathy and have a negative impact on both your physical and mental health.
If you’re feeling stressed and notice that it’s starting to take a toll on your physical wellbeing and mental health, it’s important to seek expert help.
Below, we’ve explained how stress can make you feel tired, as well as the symptoms you may notice if you’re suffering from emotional exhaustion.
We’ve also shared some simple, evidence-based techniques to help relieve severe or chronic stress, treat emotional exhaustion and improve your quality of life.
Emotional exhaustion is a state of feeling emotionally and physically drained and worn out due to the effects of severe or chronic stress.
Stress is your body’s chemical reaction to challenging or difficult situations, such as long-lasting periods of suffering, or sudden, significant danger. It’s caused by the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline, which is also referred to as epinephrine.
Adrenaline causes you to feel alert and able to cope with difficult situations. It’s a hormone that helps you take swift, decisive action when it’s required most, such as running from danger or quickly braking to avoid a car accident.
A range of factors may cause you to feel stressed. Common causes of stress include situational issues that occur in your daily life, such as being delayed or inconvenienced by a factor that you can’t control, missing an appointment or getting in an argument with another person.
Ongoing problems in your life, such as an overly demanding workplace or educational schedule, can also contribute to stress.
Sometimes, stress is caused by a long-term issue, such as an unhappy relationship, poverty or ongoing financial problems, unfair treatment or discrimination, or a traumatic event that affects your wellbeing and sense of personal safety.
It’s especially important to be aware of stress if you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant in the near future, as high levels of stress are linked to an elevated risk of aches, sleep problems, high blood pressure, problems with eating and other issues during pregnancy.
While some amount of stress is important for alertness and a functional life, chronic stress can have a serious impact on your mental and physical health.
When you’re under a significant amount of stress, you may notice the following symptoms:
Headaches and migraines
Back pain and other forms of pain and discomfort
Upset stomach and other digestive problems
Changes in your appetite and eating habits
Acne breakouts, rashes, hives and other skin issues
Difficulty remembering things and focusing
Reduced levels of energy and a general feeling of fatigue
Irritability and a sense that you become angry more easily
Less interest in the things you normally enjoy, such as hobbies
Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping normally
Feeling as if you have limited or no control over your life
When the mental and physical symptoms of stress become severe, they’re sometimes referred to as stress-related exhaustion disorder.
Stress-related exhaustion disorder can have a real impact on your ability to function. You might notice that your workplace or academic performance declines, that you feel less motivated and that you’re less able to meet deadlines.
In addition to affecting your feelings, thoughts and levels of energy, stress can have a significant impact on your physical wellbeing as a woman.
Severe or chronic stress can cause or contribute to:
Cardiovascular health problems. Over the long term, chronic stress can increase your blood pressure, causing hypertension. It can also increase your heart rate. These issues can increase your risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke.
Digestive problems. Several common stomach and digestive issues, including diarrhea and vomiting, are associated with stress. High levels of stress may increase your risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Changes in your sex drive. High levels of stress can make it difficult to become sexually aroused and reduce your level of interest in sex. Research shows a clear, negative link between stress and a person’s amount of sexual activity.
Difficulty becoming pregnant. Stress can affect your menstrual cycle and cause issues such as irregular periods and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Stress is also associated with an increased risk of experiencing difficulties becoming pregnant.
Weight gain and obesity. Stress is often linked to weight gain, especially in women. If you feel stressed, you have an increased risk of eating more calories and storing fat due to increases in stress-related hormones such as cortisol.
Depression and/or anxiety. Women may be more at risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders in response to stress than men. Depression can affect your thoughts, moods and your physical health, including your physical drive and energy levels.
Many of these issues can create a vicious circle in which stress affects your physical and mental health and wellbeing, contributing to higher levels of stress. Some, such as obesity, heart issues and depression, may also contribute to feelings of tiredness and reduced energy.
In short, stress can make you feel tired. Here’s what to do about it.
Stress can feel overwhelming, especially when it’s caused by a difficult personal situation or a demanding career.
However, there are steps you can take to reduce your levels of stress and improve the way you feel. Many of these steps can help to improve your energy and reduce the tiredness that often accompanies chronic or severe stress.
Below, we’ve shared ways you can lower stress, increase your energy and improve your quality of life, along with the science behind each approach.
Sleep, or lack thereof, and stress go hand in hand. In fact, research on sleep-deprived medical professionals in residency shows that staying awake for long periods of time has a major effect on stress levels, mood and physical and mental function.
One of the most effective ways to lower your stress and feel less tired is to improve your sleep quality.
Start by making sure you get enough sleep. The CDC recommends that adults get seven hours of sleep per night. This means that if you want to wake up at 7AM, you’ll need to be in bed with the lights turned out by around midnight.
To make getting a full night’s sleep easier, try setting a consistent bedtime, avoiding your phone and other bright electronic devices before sleep, keeping your bedroom nice and quiet and at a comfortable temperature and limiting your caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening.
Regular exercise has numerous physical health benefits, from helping you to control your weight to reducing your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
It also has several mental health benefits. For example, when you exercise, your body releases natural chemicals called endorphins that help improve your brain function, lower stress levels and reduce your risk of developing depression.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to train hard and often to get noticeable benefits from exercise. Instead, a few short workouts a week is all it takes to improve your physical wellbeing and reduce the severity of stress.
If you’re currently inactive, try to aim for the CDC’s recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week (for example, brisk walking around your neighborhood), plus two or more days that involve some amount of muscle-building exercise.
Your diet has a significant impact on your energy levels, making it important to focus on healthy, balanced eating if you often feel tired due to stress.
Try to eat a balanced diet that contains complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Some research suggests that B vitamins, which are found in leafy vegetables, avocados, fish, chicken and certain types of fruit, may help reduce workplace stress and depression.
To avoid sudden increases and decreases in your energy levels, try to limit your consumption of simple sugars, which are found in candy, syrups and soft drinks.
It’s fine to enjoy a coffee or two (or three, or an energy drink if that’s your preference). However, it’s also important not to use caffeinated drinks as a crutch to get you through days when you’re feeling exhausted.
While caffeine can be helpful in small to moderate doses, research shows that people who drink large amounts of caffeinated beverages are more likely to report higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than their peers.
The FDA generally recommends a limit of 400 milligrams of caffeine per day for healthy adults (which can amount to two cups of coffee or so — depending on your brew).
However, the effects of caffeine can vary massively from person to person, meaning you’ll want to adjust your consumption based on your own caffeine tolerance. In general, more isn’t always better, so skipping a cup might help if you often feel shaky or overly alert.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that involves training your mind to focus solely on the present to achieve a state of calm concentration. It involves two phases: paying attention to the present moment, and then accepting feelings and sensations without making any judgments about them.
Over the years, research has linked mindfulness meditation with several mental health benefits, including reductions in stress, anxiety and depression.
Other research has found that mindfulness meditation may improve poor sleep and treat some aspects of sleep disturbance.
One of the advantages of meditation is that it’s something you can do yourself at home in just a few minutes a day. You can also turn meditation into a fun social activity by taking part in a local meditation group.
Social isolation and stress are closely linked. When you have limited contact with other people, you have a higher risk of becoming lonely and stressed, as well as an increased risk of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
If you’re feeling stressed because of a lack of social contact, try reaching out to your friends and family members over the phone, via video call or to spend time together in person.
Simple things like meeting up for lunch, going shopping together or visiting each other’s homes for dinner can have a big impact on your wellbeing, helping you get through periods of stress and difficult life events.
When you’re feeling stressed, you can often calm your mind and reduce the severity of your symptoms by using relaxation techniques.
One popular relaxation technique is deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing — a breathing technique involving your abdominal muscles that’s linked to improvements in moods, feelings and reductions in stress hormone levels.
When you feel stressed, you can practice deep breathing by:
Sitting or lying down with one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your heart.
Slowly inhaling using your stomach muscles, until you feel your stomach rise and your lungs fill with air.
Holding your breath for a short period of time, then gradually exhaling and feeling your stomach muscles relax.
To get the best results from diaphragmatic breathing, try repeating this process five to 10 times until you feel calm. Diaphragmatic breathing only takes a few minutes, and it’s a technique you can use at home or in other settings to calm your mind and quickly deal with stress.
Sometimes, writing down your thoughts and feelings — including things for which you’re thankful — can make it easier to deal with feelings of stress and frustration. Research suggests it’s also helpful for dealing with anxiety symptoms, particularly in people with medical conditions.
If you’ve had a stressful day and feel tired, fatigued or simply overwhelmed, try writing as a form of emotional release. Write about how you’re feeling right now, as well as how you felt during the day. Try to note any positive developments that occur during each day of the week.
Alternatively, try keeping a gratitude journal that lists daily occurrences for which you feel happy and grateful. Even a few minutes of journaling each day may help you put your daily stress in perspective and build extra resilience.
Juggling a relationship, family and a demanding career (or other things that take up your time and cause you to feel stressed) can be a serious challenge, and it’s made more difficult if you’re not a naturally organized person.
If you’re prone to producing clutter or juggling multiple tasks at once without a clear system, try to become more organized.
Simple habits such as decluttering your work desk, using a calendar to organize your schedule and making to-do lists to prioritize important tasks can have a big impact on your effectiveness and productivity, helping you save time and avoid the stress of last-minute deadlines.
Not only can stress make you feel tired — it can also contribute to burnout that causes a lack of motivation and dissatisfaction with life.
Sometimes the best way to deal with stress is to take a break from stressful activities and give yourself what you need, whether it’s a quiet night in, a massage, a refreshing vacation or just a good book to take your mind off of your top sources of stress.
A little self-care can go a long way, especially when you’re under long-term stress. Our guide to self-care for women shares simple, effective ways to put yourself first and take care of your personal needs.
Stress is a common problem that can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. While mild to moderate stress often improves with relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes, if you have severe stress, you may benefit from talking to a mental health provider.
A licensed mental health provider can help you identify the cause of your stress and make changes to your life, including with techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Hers offers a range of mental health services online, including therapy online and online anonymous therapy for learning more about how to deal with stress, anxiety, depression and other common issues that can affect your mental wellbeing.
Chronic or severe stress can make you tired. No other way to say it.
Stress can take a toll on your mental and physical health, including by causing you to feel tired and drained of energy.
The good news is that stress, even when severe, is treatable. With the right combination of lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques and, if necessary, online mental health services, you can gain more control over how you feel and stop stress from having a negative impact on your life.
Interested in learning more about dealing with stress? Our guide to calming anxiety has tips to help you stay relaxed in tough situations. Our free mental health resources are also packed with techniques and actionable advice for dealing with stress, frustration and more.
Dr. Vicky Davis is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, leadership and education.
Dr. Davis' expertise include direct patient care and many years working in clinical research to bring evidence-based care to patients and their families.
She is also an active member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
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