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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

  • Anxiety Coping Mechanisms That Work When You’re Stressed to the Max
  • Manage Your Anxiety With These 12 Useful Tips
  • The 20-Minute Morning Routine That Relieves Anxiety


NCBI: The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect, and Stress in Healthy Adults
ResearchGate: Anxiety and Poor Glycemic Control: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Literature
NCBI: Pattern of Stress-Induced Hyperglycemia according to Type of Diabetes: A Predator Stress Model
Mayo Clinic: Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk
Healthline: A Short Walk After Meals Is All It Takes to Lower Blood Sugar
Alzheimer’s Association: Repetitive Negative Thinking is Associated with Amyloid, Tau, and Cognitive Decline
NCBI: Psychobiotics: Mechanisms of Action, Evaluation Methods, and Effectiveness in Applications with Food Products
PubMed: Bacterial Neuroactive Compounds Produced by Psychobiotics
NCBI: Serotonin and the Regulation of Mammalian Energy Balance
PubMed: Tyrosine, Phenylalanine, and Catecholamine Synthesis and Function in the Brain
ATS Journals: Dyspnea– Mechanisms, Assessment, and Management: A Consensus Statement
NCBI: The Physiological Effects of Slow Breathing in the Healthy Human

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It’s a classic chicken or egg question, does depression make you tired, or does being tired cause depression? The simple answer to this question is yes and yes. Taking it a step further, I employ the “both/and” strategy, which is to say that they are both true and not mutually exclusive of each other. But that’s the simple part. The real question is how and why.

We all know that one of the most common symptoms of depression is fatigue. There are a few key reasons for that which include increased stress, sleep disturbances, and poor diet, among others. And when you are tired, you lack the energy to do the very things you need to do to kick the depression out of your life.

One of the ways I describe depression is a “low mood” that refers not only to your emotional state but also your overall energy levels, which is depleted and lacking the “get up and go” attitude needed to deal with depression. And so begins the vicious cycle between decreasing energy and increasing depression. How you interrupt this cycle will be the focus of this article. I will explain how depression makes you tired, and give you a few tips to help correct this problem.

The Relationship Between Sleep and Depression

One of the telltale signs of depression is poor sleep. It might be due to chronic insomnia or because life demands and choices have you putting sleep on the backburner, which translates into sleep deprivation. The mere fact that you are sleep deprived places you at greater risk of having depression either presently or in the future.

Research has found that three-quarters of those who suffer from depression also have some form of sleep disturbance, meaning the links are undeniable. Additionally, the research has shown that those who are not depressed and suffer from insomnia have an increased risk of depression later in life.[1] Suffice it to say that poor sleep means a decreased quality of life and increased likelihood of experiencing depression.

I have heard it said too many times, “I will sleep when I am dead”, but the truth of it is that if you don’t have good sleep hygiene, then that eventuality of death might come that much sooner. Insufficient sleep over an extended period will cost you dearly. It might come in the form of depression or increased risk for accidents and chronic illness, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.[2]

Naturally, the busy, hectic pace of life forces you to cut out the things you think of as being dispensable or won’t cost you much at the moment. What if you saw sleep as “non-negotiable” as you see many other commitments in life? This is not meant to be harsh criticism, but it is meant to get you thinking about your life choices.

We have all been there. We’ve sacrificed sleep to accomplish a goal or task, but if you find yourself doing that too often, it might be time to re-evaluate your time management. Life is, after all, a series of choices, and the choices we make are driven by our priorities.

Easy Strategies to Improve Sleep

Here are a few simple ways you can develop healthy sleep hygiene:

  1. Figure out how many hours of sleep you need to feel and be your best. You can do this by tracking some data. A simple note with the hours of sleep you get and how you feel the next day for a week or two can be very revealing.
  2. The next step is to count backward from the time that you need to wake up and figure out the time you need to go to sleep to get X number of hours per night. Make it your non-negotiable, fixed bedtime.
  3. If there is noise in your home environment, use a white noise machine or earplugs to help you get the hours of sound sleep you need. An eye mask can also be helpful if there are lights that could wake you up.

The Stress Factor

Of course, sleep and stress are related as well. When the body is stressed, there is an increased amount of cortisol flowing through your body, which means that you will not be able to sleep well as if you are stressed. The stress hormone, cortisol, is meant to give you the energy to survive. It puts you into the “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction. This stimulates your brain and many of the emergency response systems in your body that naturally prevents a restful state, as it is just the opposite of what is needed to survive.[3]

When living in chronically stressful situations, such as situations of abuse, financial strain, or with environmental factors, such as high crime rates and violence, the constant flow of cortisol will impact not just your overall functioning but brain function as well. We see this with students and the challenges in school when coming from unstable home and community environments.

Tips on How to Reduce Stress in Your Life

You won’t be able to avoid stress altogether in your life, but one thing you can do is to ensure that the coping skills are there to counter the stress, which boils down to a good self-care routine. Some simple examples are:

  1. Make sure you get sufficient social and emotional support.
  2. Stay active. This doesn’t have to mean going to the gym regularly. Just a brisk walk can be enough to get some endorphins flowing, which will give you that natural good vibe feeling.
  3. Get enough outdoor time to help with increasing vitamin D in your body.
  4. Take a break throughout your day, i.e. taking your lunch.
  5. Treat yourself to something that you enjoy—a good massage, an evening with your faith community, or putting on a favorite movie.

Nutrition Is Key

Truer words were never said, “you are what you eat”. If you make healthy choices for your diet, you will have a better chance of feeling better physically, which will impact how you feel emotionally and therefore more energetic.

Additionally, foods that are higher in omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to support mental health. It is thought that it is in part due to it being an anti-inflammatory as well as the fatty acids, DHA, and EPA, which are found to be much lower in those who are depressed when compared to those who are not depressed. Omega-3s will not necessarily cure your depression, but they could be helpful, and they are known to be components of a healthy diet.

Following the rules of a good general diet will also benefit your energy levels, which will help you combat depression. Carbohydrates, sugars, trans fats, and saturated fats—yes, all the good stuff—will often leave you feeling lethargic, bloated, and generally blah Try your best to choose fresh fruits and veggies with the framework of a Mediterranean diet in mind, and see how you feel after a few days.

Tips on Eating a Healthy, Well-Rounded Diet

  • Make sure that the bulk of your food choices are raw, natural, or whole foods—foods that your grandmother would recognize and even prepare.
  • Plan your meals. If you don’t plan ahead, chances are you will resort to the convenient option, which often means less healthy, and if you do find a healthy option, it can be quite expensive. In a pinch, if you are grabbing a meal on the fly, try to go to a supermarket where you can grab some fruits or veggies to hold you over or opt for a whole-grain salad.

Summing It Up

If you want to kick the depression out of your life, and increases your energy, you can start by addressing sleep issues, reducing stress, and eating a diet rich in omega-3s. When all of these get better, depression is bound to follow.[4]

Simply put, sleep well, eat well, and move your body, even when you don’t want to. Because believe it or not, even small changes can have a huge impact on your quality of life. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, getting enough sleep, and taking care of yourself to decrease stress are all part of the regime that will help you to address the depression in your life.[5]

Sometimes, restoring energy is the opposite of what we might initially think, which is to rest—and yes, we do need rest—but getting out there and moving your body can be one of the best ways to find the energy you are lacking, which will address all three areas of your life: sleep, stress, and nutrition (when we are more active, we tend to eat better). So, you could say that to find energy, you need to spend it.

Next time you are feeling down and low energy, take a look at these areas of your life and see what tweaks you can make. It might just mean a more energetic and healthy feeling about your life.

  • 15 Simple (And Practical) Ways to Overcome Depression


NCBI: Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression
Harvard Medical School, Sleep Medicine: Sleep and Disease Risk
JAMANetwork: Major Depressive Disorder and Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Activity
American Psychological Society: More sleep would make us happier, healthier, and safer
NCBI: Human longevity is associated with regular sleep patterns, maintenance of slow-wave sleep, and a favorable lipid profile

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