Why Anxiety Is Exhausting and 1 Simple Tip to Regain Energy
Anxiety is absolutely exhausting. The many negative effects of anxiety plus the nature of anxiety itself (the worries, the fears, the what-ifs, the worst-case scenarios, and the heightened stress) take a toll on us mentally and physically. It depletes the body and overfills the mind with clutter. As a result, it makes sense to feel drained and exhausted. Fatigue is a common effect of anxiety, and for a good reason. Here's the thing, though. You don't have to remain at the mercy of anxiety. Here's one incredibly simple tip to regain your energy and even reduce your anxiety in the process.
3 Reasons Why Anxiety Is Exhausting
Anxiety makes you tired. When you live with anxiety, you feel exhausted for many legitimate reasons. (No, you aren't faking being tired, nor are you weak.) Three big factors that contribute to the often overwhelming fatigue that accompanies anxiety include:
- Anxiety keeps the fight-or-flight system chronically activated.1 Fight-or-flight is the body's natural and automatic response to all types of stressors, including anxious thoughts and worries. It's the brain's emotion center, the amygdala, that pokes the rest of the system into action. The hypothalamus sends alarms to the pituitary gland, which, in turn, alerts the adrenal glands to produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This trio, known as the HPA axis, freaks out and revs up our whole being. The heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, blood flow increases to the extremities, the immune system kicks in, and the brain consumes more oxygen to keep this going. With anxiety, the amygdala interprets many things as a threat, and the fight-or-flight system remains chronically activated. This takes energy to maintain and exhausts the body's resources, and you feel constantly tired as a result.
- Anxious thoughts hog our oxygen supply. The human brain makes up only two percent of our total body weight, yet under optimal conditions, it uses a whopping 20 percent of our oxygen supply.2 Its oxygen consumption increases when the fight-or-flight system is activated, which with anxiety is quite often. On top of that, anxiety makes us spend a lot of time ruminating, thinking bothersome thoughts over and over and over again. The anxious brain rarely gets a break, and its constant activation wears us out.
- Anxiety disrupts sleep. A more obvious cause of anxiety-induced fatigue is the fact that anxiety often interferes with our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It also robs us of deep, restful sleep when we do drift off. Lack of sleep, of course, contributes to the exhaustion that accompanies anxiety.
Anything you do to manage and reduce your anxiety will help you overcome anxiety fatigue. Here is just one ridiculously simple tip that you can do anywhere and any time to start reclaiming your energy.
1 Simple Tip to Regain Energy: Engage in Mindful Breathing
First, here's a caveat. Mindful breathing (breathing slowly and deeply and paying attention to doing it) isn't equivalent to a shot of caffeine. It won't give you an instant "zing." It's much better than that because it's healthy and natural, something your body needs, won't lead to a crash, and steadily increases energy over time. You might not feel an immediate end to your tiredness, but when you engage in mindful breathing consistently, you can experience more energy and feel less fatigued.
Mindful breathing works to calm anxiety and reclaim energy for several reasons:
- Through breathing, you have the ability to switch off your fight-or-flight system. Deep breathing turns off the sympathetic nervous system responsible for fight-or-flight and instead activates its counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system (dubbed rest-and-digest).3 You can directly influence your body's nervous system activity just by breathing slowly, deeply, and mindfully. You help every system and cell in your body calm down and become balanced, requiring less energy and helping you feel less tired.
- Mindful breathing helps the mind focus on something other than anxious thoughts. Mindful breathing means pausing to breathe slowly and deeply and to pay attention to the act of breathing. When your mind wanders away from the act of breathing and back into worry land, simply notice that it happened and return your attention to your breathing again (and again and yet again). Breathing slowly and deeply bathes your brain in oxygen, so it doesn't have to frantically siphon it from the rest of your cells. The mindfulness component gives your mind a break from spinning anxiously. Both increase your energy over time.
- Mindful breathing can improve sleep. Mindful breathing before bed, as part of a healthy sleep hygiene regimen, has been shown to help improve sleep quality and quantity.4 Sleep is crucial for optimal brain and body functioning, and it is vital for the mind. Proper sleep can help you feel more energized and deal with stress and anxiety more effectively, so you become less tired from constantly fighting them.
Develop a healthy habit of pausing throughout your day and before bed to breathe slowly and deeply. Done consistently, it will help your brain and body function so you can experience more energy and less fatigue.
- American Institute of Stress, "Mismatched: Your Brain Under Stress." Accessed May 1, 2021.
- Raichle, M.E. and Gusnard, D.A., "Appraising the Brain's Energy Budget." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, August 2002.
- Jerath, R. et al., "Physiology of Long Pranayamic Breathing: Neural Respiratory Elements May Provide a Mechanism That Explains how Slow Deep Breathing Shifts the Autonomic Nervous System." Medical Hypothesis, April 2006.
- Jerath, R., Beveridge, C., and Barnes, V.A., "Self-Regulation of Breathing as an Adjunctive Treatment of Insomnia." Frontiers in Psychiatry, January 2019.
Peterson, T. (2021, June 10). Why Anxiety Is Exhausting and 1 Simple Tip to Regain Energy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2021/6/why-anxiety-is-exhausting-and-1-simple-tip-to-regain-energy
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS
I've suffered from chronic depression and an anxiety disorder for 30+ years, the exhaustion brought on by anxiety is debilitating. I made the anxiety medication decision years ago and it has made all the difference. I'm not anxiety-free, but the medicine helps to take the edge off considerably. Breathing is a key factor in helping me to manage my anxiety as well, it's a distraction. I cannot concentrate on breathing and entertain my anxious thoughts simultaneously, I don't have the bandwidth.
I must disagree with your assertion that breathing is a simple way to regain energy. I will go one step further and assert that breathing while anxious is not simple, easy to do, or refreshing. Re-focusing the anxious mind to concentrate on breathing takes practice, (sometimes years of practice) patience and energy. Learning to breathe through anxiety is fraught with the frustration brought on by the number of failed attempts. Like many people who suffer from an anxiety disorder, I assure you that words like "simple" and "easy" or phrases such as "you can easily accomplish this by..." are perceived as offensive. Those words indicate a lack of effort on the sufferer's part, and appear to take aim at one's intelligence. Words matter in a world of stigma on people with mental illness. Thank you for this informative post.