PTSD and Fatigue: Is It Normal to Feel So Tired?
Wednesday, October 3 2012 Michele Rosenthal
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.