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Types of Fatigue, Early Warning Signs and Red Flags of Fatigue

Fatigue is a symptom and not a condition, and should not be confused with sleepiness or drowsiness.

types of fatigue, early warning signs and red flags of fatigue

We all feel tired from time to time, but these bouts of tiredness are connected to certain life events like working long hours, or having too many late nights. Fatigue, however, lasts for longer periods of time and can be described as a constant feeling of exhaustion, lack of energy or burnout, affecting most adults at some point in their life. Fatigue can reduce our ability to focus, stay motivated, perform tasks and stay energised.

There are different types of fatigue, the most common being physical and mental fatigue, and at times a combination of both. It’s important to note that fatigue is a symptom and not a condition, and should not be confused with sleepiness or drowsiness.

Fatigue can be classified into categories such as:

  • Recent Fatigue - usually lasts 1 month or less

  • Prolonged Fatigue - usually lasts between 1 - 6 months

  • Chronic Fatigue - usually lasts longer than 6 months

6 Different Types of Fatigue

Listed below are the 6 types of fatigue and the differences between each.

  • 1. Emotional Fatigue can be described as feeling worn-out or exhausted as a result of stress, whether from personal or work situations; sometimes it could even be a combination of both. Some of the symptoms include feelings of nervousness, anxiety, depression, apathy, feeling trapped or hopeless, lack of motivation, frequent absences from work, loss of appetite, headaches and sore or tense muscles.

  • 2. Mental Fatigue or mental exhaustion can manifest when your brain is overstimulated, or has to sustain an intense amount of activity with minimal to no rest. To put it simply, it’s when your brain’s energy levels have depleted. Mental fatigue can be caused by heightened stress levels, poor work-life balance, social isolation or processing emotions from loss of a loved one. Mental fatigue can lead to lethargy, decreased productivity, poor concentration and decision fatigue to name a few.

  • 3. Social Fatigue also known as social exhaustion can be described as the feeling of being unable to connect with people, constantly focusing on problems, feeling drained by social interactions, running out of energy to spend on others or even yourself. It can also be referred to as “introvert hangover” or “introvert burnout”.

  • 4. Physical Fatigue also known as muscle fatigue is when the muscles are physically unable to perform their functions optimally. This is usually temporary and the onset can be gradual depending on factors such as a person’s level of fitness when performing physical activities like exercise. Physical fatigue can be caused by a lack of energy in the muscle, sleep deprivation, a person’s general state of health, or in some cases neuromuscular disease.

  • 5. Pain Fatigue is described as the emotional and physical energy that a person uses when trying to deal with pain that can cause the person to feel fatigued as a result. For example: dealing with pain in the body can cause you to lose sleep or prevent you from having a good night’s sleep, which can lead to fatigue. Fibromyalgia is a good example of pain fatigue.

  • 6. Chronic Fatigue one of its causes being Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known by two other terms: (a) systemic exertion intolerance and (b) myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) - a long-term condition with a vast range of symptoms. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can affect anyone, including children. It can start developing between the mid-20s - mid-40s, and is more commonly seen in women. Some of the symptoms include extreme tiredness all the time even after resting or sleeping, problems with memory, thinking and concentration, prolonged periods of recovery after physical activities and disturbed sleep patterns to list a few.

11 Early Warning Signs of Fatigue

  1. Chronic tiredness

  2. Drowsiness, sleepiness or constant yawning

  3. Headaches

  4. Dizziness

  5. Poor concentration

  6. Slow reactions

  7. Boredom

  8. Lack of energy

  9. Feeling irritable

  10. Tired or sore eyes

  11. Sore or aching muscles (flu-like body ache)

Some of the Red Flags of Fatigue might include:

  • Fatigue symptoms that worsen with physical activity and reduce or subside after a period of rest, which could point to a physiological disorder.

  • Fatigue symptoms are constant and don’t get better after a period of rest, especially when accompanied by occasional bursts of energy, which could point to a psychological disorder.

The above early warning signs of fatigue are not exhaustive and only act as a guideline. It’s important that you monitor your symptoms, recognise the red flags of fatigue and seek appropriate medical attention if your symptoms continue to persist for a prolonged period or affect your day-to-day normal functions.

If your symptoms are intermittent and don't fall into the chronic category, then an aromatherapy treatment like a relaxing massage or a bespoke aromatherapeutic blend that you can use at home or on-the-go are beneficial ways to help combat symptoms of fatigue and promote your overall health and wellbeing.

About the Author:

Juliana Rego, MFHT is the founder of HOLISTICA and a registered member of the Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT). She is a qualified Aromatherapist and Body Massage Therapist running her holistic therapy practice from locations in Brockley, South East London and Islington, North London.

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