PTSD and Fatigue: Is It Normal to Feel So Tired?
I received an email from a client last week; he was very upset. Usually, he's the kind of guy who likes to travel on the drop of a dime but since PTSD began to control his life, he’s noticed that traveling takes an enormous toll on him.
After even the smallest trip, he wrote, "I have to sleep all the next day. Is this part of the PTSD profile?"
In a word: Yes.
Why PTSD Causes Fatigue
Let’s start with the mind/body connection. While modern medicine preaches the separation of your mind and body (I can’t tell you how many times my doctors said, "Your trauma that led to PTSD happened years ago, that can’t possibly be affecting you now!"), the truth is that your mind is capable of producing 50% more stress than your body can handle.
Think about that: If your mind is producing so much stress that your body can’t handle it, what will your body do? That’s right! Your body will let you know that your entire being is overly taxed. One way to do that is to feel enormously exhausted.
Then let’s add in depression. According to research, people who are depressed are more than four times as likely to experience inexplicable fatigue. Even without the research, I bet you know that from personal experience. You wake up in the morning feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Or as one client told me yesterday, "The thought of the day is just unbearable." Carrying all of that load is exhausting! PTSD depression is particularly heavy. Often tied to issues that involve the past, present and future, plus topics that have to do with the very core of who you are, depression can weigh you down like cement boots in a swamp of quicksand. It won’t take long before you just feel ready to curl up and take a nap.
Now, let’s get more scientific about it all. Cortisol is the stress hormone you most need to understand. Useful during a trauma, cortisol helps desensitize us so we feel less pain, increases short-term memory function, and acts as a quick energy boost. All good things, right? But here’s the kicker:
When present in higher levels for a prolonged period of time cortisol can be responsible for memory loss, fatigue, and reduced serotonin levels. Typically high during and immediately after trauma, some studies have shown that cortisol levels actually decrease later in the presence of PTSD. (We’re all unique and different so the only way to know how cortisol might be affecting you is through the results of a quick blood test done at any lab as prescribed by your doctor.)
Scientifically speaking a little further: The adrenal system processes stress hormones, including cortisol. When there’s an overload on the adrenal system a survivor might experience a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, exhaustion and an overload of stress. While the medical community does not recognize adrenal fatigue as an accepted medical diagnosis, the symptoms can’t be denied. (Like cortisol, the effects of adrenal overload can be identified through a blood test.)
Whatever is going on with you – be it emotional, mental or physical in origin – the bottom line is that fatigue (and often inexplicable fatigue) very often accompanies symptoms of PSTD. If this is the case for you, be your own best friend.
Give yourself the rest your body calls for. Reduce the amount of running around and other over-stimulation you allow. Also, reach out to your personal and professional support system to help develop a schedule that both honors and respects the fatigue while also trying to reduce and even eliminate it through proper PTSD treatment.
Rosenthal, M. (2012, October 3). PTSD and Fatigue: Is It Normal to Feel So Tired?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2012/10/ptsd-fatigue-is-it-normal-to-feel-so-tired
Author: Michele Rosenthal
Then we add in the bipolar and well I'm just a freaking mess. Somedays I just feel like I can't even function.
Life. I was sexually abused by my grandfather as a child and blocked it out for many years. I survived a major earthquake and started to have panic attacks and then I witnessed my friend losing her brother to suicide. At the time of my friends trauma I went to a counsellor as I started to have panic attacks again that were consuming my life. The counsellor said I had PTSD from the earthquake. Moving forward I had a good pregnancy but I had a panic attack about my ability to get sleep after the baby was born. Following her birth I was diagnosed with pna/pnd but it never felt right. The minute my waters broke -I could NOT sleep. It was like I switched a light on. I had a 40 hr labour that needed assistance (augmentation). I felt nothing when my baby was finally born. Like I was looking at a stranger. I remember begging for a sleeping pill at the hospital three days in. My fight or flight response was so severe I had to go on a smoothie only diet as I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t breastfeed etc - short story was it all went really wrong. I had to give up trying to breastfeed as I Still couldn’t sleep 3 weeks later and the dr put me in 3 zopilcone sleeping tabs and 3 phenergen to relax to ‘try’ to sleep. Even then it was a battle to sleep. I’d get 4-5 hrs on all those pills. They put me on anti anxiety meds but it still didn’t help my sleep. Fast forward 23 months later, I still struggle to sleep. I am constantly fatigued. I fall asleep and maybe have one sleep cycle and then I spend the night in a light state of sleep where I can just open my eyes at any time. I don’t ‘wake up’ anymore. It is exhausting. I don’t understand what is causing my sleep issues. I didn’t suffer flashbacks of the birth but I did block out a lot of the first 3-5 weeks of being a mother and I also got incredibly stressed having a smear test a year later. I cried and the nurse was confused - I tried to explain I had a traumatic birth but she thought I was being silly. I am confused- does it sound like I had PTSD?
Before my trauma i had been taken way from my mother from the CPS at 2 weeks born due to physically trauma and then diagnosed with a seizure disorders around the same time. My seizure come and goes which makes it hard for recovery. But I'm still here and alife fighting a battle that I did not seek for.
Last year being diagnosed with Adrenal, Pancreatic, Liver, Kidney fatigue...it connected the dots for me. I no longer believe treatment for PTSD is simply EMDR, cognitive behavioral, and insight therapies..we must treat our bodies too because PTSD manifests on a real physical level within the nerves, tissue, and organs of our body. ??
We Correctional Officers in California use to have the luxury of living 5 years after retirement; now statistics back in the early 2000's show life expectancy is 3 years. 3 of my supervisors died of heart attacks within one year of retiring...another suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to talk. I was luck: 6 years after medical retirement, my body began to close down. Serious interventions by a team of neurologists, Immunologists, allergist, cardiologist, internal medicine, and functional doctor saved my life. I think also, us First Responders need to become advocates and responders to our immediate personal health ??. It should 't take an emergency medical situation in order to wake us up to this.
High blood pressure
High sugar levels
Low organ functioning
Low blood pressure below normal (me)
I have Complex PSTD and Major Depression. I also struggle with Adrenal Fatigue. I've gone through EMDR therapy and it was the best thing I ever could've done for myself. I'm also on 30mg Cellexa a day.
Regarding the Adrenal Fatigue I didn't just rely on supplements, I changed my diet and eating schedule. Giving up stimulants like caffeine and sugar is a primary step. Seems counter intuitive, I know because it's natural to reach for stimulants when you're exhausted. The way past Adrenal Fatigue is to rest your adrenal glands. Also, you have to give up any exercise or activity that raises your heart rate. Again, because a pounding heart and sweat is always accompanied by a release of adrenaline and that's no good.
A good check for excess adrenaline is to stand in a dark room with a mirror and a flashlight and shine the light into your pupils. If your pupils are unable to stay contracted in the bright light that means the amount of adrenaline coursing through your system is very high. This realization as you also feel incredibly tired tells you that your adrenal system is way out of whack.
It took me 18 months to recover proper adrenal function. I remain vigilant though because I don't want to damage my adrenal system anymore.
I still crash from stress overload occasionally. I've given myself permission to just rest rest as much as I can or need to.
I suffered a very abusive childhood and am still in contact with my mother. Basically, I crash after every family holiday. I'd love to go no contact but my disabled brother lives with her so I do my best to set boundaries, etc... My mom has improved since I was young, but she's still my biggest trigger.
Thanks for letting me share.
The firestorms that killed 173 people in Australia
Only a doctor who has not been in a Traumatic stress over load would call it a post traumatic stress disorder , as if there is a pre traumatic stress order . We has TSOL or a massive cortisol overdose even many and may have damages the control for releasing cortisol in the appropriate amounts or at the appropriate time , basically to much to fast which I believe explains the the fact we cry to easterly , are jumpy , higher alert and get angry at minor issues .
You are a HERO.
I wish you peace, healing, and much personal success.
Thank you to you and your incredibly brave colleagues for keeping the rest of us safe in Victoria in 2009.
We watched the clouds of smoke from the windows of the operating suite at Box Hill Hospital.
"This non amusement park of rollercoaster rides..."
Ha ha ha!
Thanks for the laugh.
Nothing about PTSD has made me laugh until your witty comment.
Actually I have found myself playing an endless game of "where are my keys?".
It's THE most BORING GAME EVER!
So no laughs there either.
Yours is still the winning comment.
I wish you continued healing and peace.
My problems started as i was coming out the other side of the depression 6 weeks later.
I worked in a mental health organization and felt safe. Stupidly i disclosed the causes. I was sacked unceremoniously, during which time i was shaking violently hyperventilating and stuttering. the reason I was given that since disclosing no one wanted to work with me and how did i know if someone else had suffered the same fate...I was told to leave the building and not to return. i was then ostracized by the,team.marginalized and treated as if i was the worst maddest person employed by the organization. My work had been excellent. My boss didn't even have the professionalism to tell anyone of her actions.
Now 3 yrs on i ha e moved and trying to start again. I am once again off sick with ptsd. Just walking into an office is destroying me.
After studying a lot I came to a conclusion that I had created a serious adrenal problem
I have concluded that Dp/DR. Kundalini awakenings, PTSD and im sure a lot of other Conditions share these similar symptoms
Weird body sensations
Left eye going bad
Left hip pain
Upper back pain in my spine
Zero motivation to do anything
Mo memory with numbers or sentence recall
There are more!!!
I feel like the answers are right in front of our face. It seems like the entire medical community doesn't want us to know or they didn't go over this in class. Either way. Here's how I fixed it. Yes I think this could maybe work or help with the conditions I said earlier
Dhea. Start 5 to 10 mgs in morning. With or without food. Might upset stomach for first few days
Pregnenolone. 10 mgs. 3 to 4 hours after taking the dhea
L-tyrosine. 500 to 1000 mgs in the morning. This will help u make l dopa. Dopamine norepinephrine and epinephrine. This has to be taken on an empty stomach due to the competing nature of the amino acids in the body. These are the transmitters that will give you back your motivation and many other things!! It really is powerful and safe compared to a lot of other things
Sam-e. this will give you some serotonin back and will helpmyournbady pain
400 mgs on empty stomach. Maybe early afternoon.
Lots of vit c. 2000 to 3000 mgs
All this is really inexpensive. You could get all 7 things for under 50 dollars.
Doctors don't know much about this I'm afraid. Doesn't seem like it to me.
I'm not a doctor. I sometimes am above average at making connections and I pulled out of this with my own grit and I know you guys can too. Hope this helps. Try it for two weeks at least. You might be amazed!!!! I truly was. This was my own research so I don't have a book or guide to tell about for more study.
Please at least ask your doctors about the hormones if you feel better in the two weeks. Hormones can mess you up if you don't need them. 4 months is supposed to be a good reference point
And the amino acids need to be looked at if you are already on antidepressant medicines.
Good luck. Really hope this helps
Sadly it's like asking will your broke leg ever go away , the short answer is no , it will repair over time but you can never have a unbroken bone again , sometime it's stronger after it repairs and the mussels can be built up to make the leg stronger ,it is like this in your mind , you with get over this injury but need to work on strenghing the areas of your mind like you would mussels . also you need to learn the possible risks of a second injury and work out ways to minimize the risk . do may end up with a limp but at least you can walk , and may work so hard on strengthening the mussels you win gold in the Olympics for weight lifting its really up to us to get ourself back to as close to the old self as we can . sure we can also ways use a hand from anyone will to help us . hope that helps .
Thank you so much for your information in this blog. I came across it on a google search and even though I'm Canadian and our system up here is a bit different I found your blog ever so helpful and your writing style is phenomenally engaging! It is so wonderful to know that I am not alone in my fatigue, that I'm not being lazy, and that there is a logical explanation for why I'm so tired. I was diagnosed with C-PTSD after a series of work place violent incidents, an abusive relationship with my former husband, and childhood physical abuse. I am a single mother of two wonderful girls and I have been struggling with my expectations for myself and the reality of what my body is allowing me to do. It has been a year since I was first diagnosed, along with bipolar disorder. I have healed a lot since then through the help of counselling, medical care and CBT and medication. Since I have returned to work part-time, I have been immensely tired, for days afterward. I feel like I shouldn't be this tired. As I struggle with hypervigilance, I'm wondering if that would be a factor as well? I also seem to lose my keys, etc. often on workdays. Your blog was so compassionately written that i feel i can allow myself to heal physically without being angry or frustrated with myself for being so tired. It also gives me hope that as I heal my seemingly endlesss fatigue will improve. Thanks again for your awesome blog! It is wonderful to find this information.
You have enormous healing potential; the goal is learning to access it. Onward toward freedom!
Thanks so much for your article! I recently went through quite a rough patch with my father being very ill, his wife not letting me know anything about his condition etc. Then my friend's son hanged himself. Two days after that I was mugged by two men with a knife.
This was about a month and a half ago. I am suffering from extreme nightmares and am constantly exhausted. It doesn't matter how much I sleep I am always tired.
The thing about the mugging is that it brought up a lot of past abuse I've been through and I want to know if "past PTSD" can affect "current PTSD" or does it have a "memory" that is stored somewhere in the brain?
Once again, many thanks for a very informative article.
What you're describing is very common and the short answer is, yes. Past traumas and how they have or have not been resolved definitely affect current trauma and their effects. Long-term memory is stored both in the body and the mind so it makes perfect sense that, faced with a similarly experienced enormous feeling of fear or situation or sensation those earlier neural pathways holding past trauma could be activated in your present situation.
The good news is there are many ways to reduce the effects of all trauma and find your way to healing. If you're interested, take a look here for ideas about recovery: http://www.healmyptsd.com/treatment.
Look into condition called, "complex PTSD". It is still a bit of a controversy, but I am getting treatment through a psychiatrist and psychologist who practices "EMDR". I know complex PTSD was the right diagnosis for me, specifically because of early, chronic trauma, then an incident of near death as an adult.
My dad, too is sick --- with bone marrow cancer. My dad and mom divorced when I was only a toddler, and when he remarried his new wife didn't want anyone to know he'd been married before, and so they never told their children, my own half-siblings, that I existed. After not seeing my dad for over 30 years I had begun to visit them once a year ---- but never got really close ---- when my dad got sick my stepmother and half sister tried to prevent me from seeing him. And when I went to see him anyway my half sister never spoke to me again. Later, when I was posting on FB about how my PTSD stemmed from three childhood traumas: losing my dad, being molested (by a pediatrician) and developing a form of OCD, half brother's wife thought I was accusing my dad of molesting me and forbade him from seeing her children. They patched things up but guess who they blame? Me. Now he won't talk to me at all.
Talk about the recurring pain of trauma. Through all of this I was finishing my PhD. It was the hardest time I'd ever gotten through.
Now I am done trying to get a sense of family or belonging from my dad or any of his second family. It is so terribly sad, but I know I will feel better in the long run to not to chase after a sense of connection with them. Doubly sad because my mom is totally narcissistic and her idea of love is controlling people, including me, and if you don't let her control you, she just gets mad.
So somehow we have to survive, face the trauma & its associated emotions, and mourn the loss. We can get through it all. We need to honor ourselves and give ourselves plenty of time to heal and let the inner light that is the true you to shine through.
and am now dealing with mold issues. It has been very overwhelming.
All things considered, I was functioning almost remarkably well-considering the magnitude of the trauma. both DURING and after the hurricane.for about a month or more. Suddenly , I was seized by such overwhelming exhaustion that I have been unable to even go to the supermarket to buy food. for a week or more at a time. As I also had respiratory symptoms,I thought I was ill, but I was too exhausted to go even go see a Dr. until today. when my Dr. suggested that my exhaustioni is "probably due to what you have been through."
How do I know if I am physically ill or if the trauma has caused the exhaustion.
I am very glad to have found your article. The exhaustion is so crushing that I a nearly completely debilitated.Any advice as to how to proceed would be greatly appreciated. What kind of Dr. can I see to make sure that there is not a separte physical cause for my exhaustion?
1 - the mind is capable of producing 50% more stress than the body can handle; when the body overloads it does create physical symptoms (I experienced this to such a degree in my own PTSD journey that I was (erroneously) diagnosed with Celiac Disease, mercury poisoning and possible liver cancer, among other things.)
2 - now would be a good time to have a full physical exam with your primary care physician. Make sure to include a full blood panel test so that you can rule out any physical causes.
3 - in lieu of diagnosed physical ailments (and even with them, for example, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, etc.) now would be the best time to design your own individual trauma resolution program. There are many treatments for trauma and PTSD that are enormously effective. Take a look at the options here (by no means fully conclusive but some of my favorites) and get a sense of what's available to you: http://www.healmyptsd.com/treatment
4 - I just did a terrific interview on my radio show with a practitioner that is on Long Island. Take a listen and if it feels right I highly recommend reaching out to him: http://yourlifeaftertrauma.com/a-new-trauma-treatment-model/
Please feel free to ask more questions, Deborah. The more you know and educate yourself the more quickly you will find relief. I'm here for you. :)
I did some energy work that really helped me, but I am still hypervigilant, and so get overwhelmed and exhausted quite often.
Until then, you can also try the Release Technique taught through The Sedona Method. You can read about it in a blog post I wrote: http://yourlifeaftertrauma.com/how-to-better-regulate-your-emotions/
There are lots of ways to heal. Do reach out to get the help you need. You're worth it.