Can Anxiety Cause Fatigue?

Health Conditions

Can Anxiety Cause Fatigue?

Jennifer Hadley
By Jennifer Hadley
Mar 05, 2021
Dr. Amy Kearney
Medically Reviewed ByDr. Amy Kearney
Can Anxiety Cause Fatigue?

Millions of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, which partially includes generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobia-related disorders. Although most anxiety disorder symptoms include feelings of anxiousness, restlessness, tension, worry, irritation, and racing thoughts, anxiety disorders may also contribute to fatigue, according to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH).

If you’re feeling stressed, and simultaneously exhausted you may be wondering: can anxiety contribute to the feelings of fatigue? The answer is yes. Read on to learn more about anxiety-induced fatigue.

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What is Fatigue?

Fatigue is defined by the symptoms it presents. For example, Merriam-Webster defines fatigue as weariness or exhaustion from labor, exertion, or stress. This weariness can refer to being mentally tired, physically tired, or a combination of both.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.

How does anxiety cause fatigue?

People who experience anxiety often report an emotional cycle that begins with feelings of stress, worry, and fear. These feelings can build momentum and sometimes can manifest in physical changes such as a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, muscle tension, and perhaps dizziness, nausea, and/or diarrhea. At some point, the stress goes away, and can leave some individuals with the feeling of fatigue.

What does anxiety do to your body?

During the early stage of anxiety, your sympathetic nervous system is activated due to acute stress. This causes your body to produce an abundance of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Both hormones send messages to your body that something frightening is happening, and you need to run away from it or fight back against it. This reaction is known as the fight-or-flight response.

Stress hormones increase awareness, reflexes, heartbeat, and respiration rate as your body prepares to protect itself from a threat. However, when there is no major threat that you need to flee from or fight off, some individuals are left feeling anxious, jumpy, tense, and overstimulated.

As your body begins to recognize there is no real threat, your body’s parasympathetic nerve system engages and tamps down the stress response. As the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, and the stress subsides, fatigue sets in for some people.

Signs that Anxiety is Causing Fatigue

If you’re dealing with fatigue it’s possible anxiety may be to blame. Signs that anxiety may be causing fatigue include:

  • Feeling tired after a good night’s sleep
  • Feeling suddenly tired before attending a social gathering
  • Feeling constantly exhausted/drained
  • Lack of appetite
  • Stomach problems including diarrhea
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Joint/muscle pain
  • Waking up frequently during the night

It is important to note that fatigue is a symptom of countless medical conditions in addition to anxiety, so it is essential to speak with your health care provider about ongoing fatigue.

Medications that Can Help with Anxiety

Anxiety is often first treated with a form of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT may be used with or without medication. When medication is prescribed it is typically an antidepressant medication.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. Common SSRIs include:

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs are sometimes prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. Common SNRIs include:

Tricyclic Antidepressants

Tricyclic antidepressant medications may also be prescribed for anxiety disorders. Common tricyclic antidepressants include:

Tips for Coping with Anxiety and Fatigue

If you find yourself struggling with anxiety, the following self-help tips may ease your symptoms until you can begin treatment, or in between appointments with a mental health care provider.

  • Acknowledge the feelings and sensations that you’re experiencing
  • Remind yourself that these symptoms are temporary
  • Breathe slowly and deeply
  • Try relaxation techniques (guided imagery, progressive relaxation)
  • Practice being present in the moment
  • Avoid judging yourself for thoughts, emotions, symptoms you’re experiencing
  • Engage in a fun, healthy activity (brisk walk, yoga, call with a friend)
  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine, nicotine, alcohol consumption
  • Focus on eating a healthy diet
  • Reach out for support

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Talk to Your Health Care Provider

If you’re dealing with fatigue, anxiety, or both, it is very important to see a health care provider. Ongoing anxiety and prolonged fatigue are both very hard on your body and can have a negative impact on your overall health and well-being. Both can also be symptoms of other underlying conditions, so it is important to be seen by a health care provider as soon as possible.

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley

Jen Hadley is a freelance writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, who writes extensively about the medical, legal, health care, and consumer products industries. Jen is a regular contributor to RxSaver.

Dr. Amy Kearney

Dr. Amy Kearney

Amy Kearney earned her Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and Doctoral degrees in Psychology from Azusa Pacific University in the Los Angeles area. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and has worked for one of the nation’s largest HMOs since 2002. She currently specializes in pain management and gets great joy from helping individuals maximize their quality of life and functioning while living with chronic conditions.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.