There are many factors that can cause chronic tiredness. Find out how your lifestyle can contribute to that permanent “whacked out” feeling.

Common causes of tiredness

Long working hours

Internationally, Australia has the reputation of being a laid-back paradise with nothing much happening besides lazy barbeques on sunny beaches. However, nothing could be further from the truth, and according to studies, Aussies work some of the longest hours in the world – with many people putting in 50 hours per week or even more.

Lack of sleep

This is often the primary cause of tiredness and feelings of lethargy. Make sure you’re getting sufficient sleep to suit your lifestyle and life stage. If you’re permanently burning the candle at both ends, you will be tired, so make sure you catch up on the sleep you have lost.

Lack of exercise

People who don’t get regular exercise are more prone to feeling tired, and have less stamina than those that work out in a gym, walk, run or jog, swim, or participate in sport 3 to 4 times a week. The solution to "couch potato" tiredness is to get moving and get into the habit of regular exercise. You will also find that you sleep better and wake up more rested and refreshed after vigorous exercise. Australia enjoys good weather almost all year round, and with its great outdoors, you have every opportunity to get moving.

Physical illness

There are many different physical illnesses that can make you feel tired, e.g. diabetes, infections, hormone imbalances, and especially thyroid gland imbalances. Have a thorough check-up and specifically ask your doctor to investigate thyroid function if you are constantly feeling tired.

Emotional problems

Both anxiety and depression can cause you to experience abnormal exhaustion. It is quite understandable that you will feel tired and unmotivated if you are constantly stressed beyond breaking point. On the other end of the spectrum, one of the most important symptoms of underlying depression is tiredness and the desire to sleep all the time.

If you suspect that your tiredness is caused by emotional problems, consult a clinical psychologist to help resolve whatever problems you’re struggling with. The only way to free yourself from anxiety and/or depression is to define the cause and work out a plan of action to address it. Call the beyondblue support service on 1300 22 4636 if you need to talk to someone right now.

Dietary factors

Diet can play a major role in combating tiredness. The first step towards preventing tiredness by nutritional means is to make sure you’re following a balanced diet. This includes plenty of fresh, preferably raw fruits and vegetables, wholewheat or unprocessed grains and cereals, legumes and nuts, low-fat or skim milk and dairy products, moderate quantities of lean meat, fish and chicken, eggs, and small quantities of poly- or mono- unsaturated oils and fats.

Diets that contain too little carbohydrates, and too much fat and/or too few vitamins and minerals, will all contribute to tiredness. Very low calorie or starvation diets that don't supply sufficient energy to keep your body going will also make you feel exhausted. Don't go on a starvation diet to lose weight – you’ll get depressed, lack energy and end up eating more “forbidden foods” than ever before.

Anaemia is another diet-related cause of tiredness. The most common type, occurring mainly in women of childbearing age, is iron-deficiency anaemia. As the name implies, this type of anaemia is caused by a lack of iron in the diet.

Women who develop iron-deficiency anaemia often don’t obtain sufficient iron from their diets to replenish the iron that’s lost through menstruation. On the other hand, individuals who don’t eat animal foods that contain the most biologically available iron (also called heme-iron), can develop this type of anaemia.

If you suspect that you’re anaemic, ask your doctor to do a serum ferritin test. The latter is a more accurate indication of body iron supplies than tests that just determine blood iron levels.

If you do have an iron deficiency, you need to take iron supplements (select a supplement that agrees with you), plus vitamin C (to help with the absorption of iron) and folic acid. Iron injections are also an option. The following foods are rich in iron: liver, red meat (beef, lamb, pork), chicken, egg yolk and fish, dried fruit, especially raisins, and wholewheat grain products.

Another type of anaemia that tends to occur in older people is caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. If this is the case, your doctor will prescribe a course of vitamin B12 injections until the anaemia is under control. Foods that contain lots of B12 include liver, meat, fish, chicken, eggs – in other words, foods obtained from animal sources and brewer's yeast.  Plants don’t contain vitamin B12.

Calcium and magnesium deficiencies can also make you feel tired and listless. The best dietary sources of these minerals are calcium from milk, yoghurt and cheese, magnesium from wholewheat grains, green leafy vegetables, and fruit.

You might need a holiday

If none of the above applies to you, it may just be time to take a good holiday. Pack your bags and head into the blue yonder – you’ll be surprised what a difference a change of scenery can make to your outlook and energy levels.

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