Stress as a Cause of Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the primary symptoms that can result from chronic stress and a dysfunctional stress-response system.

Stressed out, tired man.

Chronic stress is a common cause of fatigue.

Photo: © grinvalds | iStock/Getty Images

Chronic or severe stress is a very common cause of fatigue. Stress is a real or interpreted threat that results in physical and behavioral responses that are designed to help the body adapt. Situations that are new, unpredictable, or that appear threatening or uncontrollable activate the body’s stress response systems, which are controlled by the brain, the nervous system, and the ad-renal glands. The purpose of these responses is to mobilize the energy necessary for your body to adapt to the demands of a stressful situation.

In the short term, stress can be positive, because it can help you to grow, to learn, and to adapt. In the long term, however, when stress becomes chronic, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and difficult to cope with, it begins to take a toll on your health.

Stressors may be physical, chemical, and emotional. They may be real or exist only in your mind. Sources of acute stress are usually fairly obvious, but it is vital for you to identify and address your unique sources of chronic stress to overcome your fatigue. There are many forms of chronic stress. Mental and emotional stress are the most obvious, but sleep disorders, blood sugar dysregulation, oxidative stress, and chronic inflammation are all forms of chronic stress.

Your overall stress load is made up of multiple factors, including your genetic predispositions; recent and distant history (especially trauma, abuse, or major life events); coping behaviors; habits and lifestyle; and exposure to environmental toxins.

When your body is bombarded by repeated stress triggers and prolonged stress, your overall well-being pays the price. Your stress response systems can become sluggish, ineffective, or prolonged, or they may not start or stop correctly. This, in turn, taxes your body’s nervous, hormonal, immune, metabolic, and cardiovascular systems, causing fatigue among a variety of other physical and psychological problems.

Fatigue is one of the primary symptoms that can result from chronic stress and a dysfunctional stress-response system. If you perceive yourself to be highly stressed, studies show that you are much more likely to suffer from not only greater fatigue, but from daytime sleepiness, poor sleep quality, and decreased sleep duration. You are also at higher risk for sleep apnea. Which of these apply to you?

  • Work-related stress
  • Stress caused by over-commitment
  • Lack of social support
  • High demands
  • Lack of control
  • Lack of rewards

All of these have been shown in studies to drain energy resources and cause fatigue.

For more information about the link between stress and fatigue, purchase Fatigue: Causes & Relief at

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Jami Cooley, RN, CNWC

Jami Cooley is a Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant as well as a Registered Nurse, but her interest in integrative medicine grew out of her experience in conventional medicine. Cooley … Read More

View all posts by Jami Cooley, RN, CNWC

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