Feeling sluggish and sad makes it extra hard to take care of your mental and physical health.

If you have depression, you’ve probably experienced feeling so sluggish that even tiny tasks like washing your face seem insurmountable. This feeling – commonly known as “depression fatigue” – is more than mere tiredness. “It is not the same feeling you get when you’re sleepy and need to go to bed, but more so a physical sense of having no energy in your body,” explains Michele Goldman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with Columbia Health in New York City and a media advisor for Hope for Depression Research Foundation.

In some people, depression fatigue occurs from time-to-time. In others it’s relentless.

Its symptoms vary, too, showing up as everything from malaise, weakness, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation and muscle aches, to whole-body exhaustion, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

By making day-to-day functioning more difficult, depression fatigue can hinder a person’s ability to work or learn, strain their relationships, and send them to the doctor’s office more frequently, according to an interview with Maurizio Fava, MD, published in the journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience.

What’s more, this type of fatigue worsens a key symptom of depression, making you get even less pleasure from activities you used to love. “The fact that you may not be enjoying the things that previously brought you joy or provided respite, along with struggling to complete daily tasks, can compound and become very debilitating,” says Andrew Davis, MD, a psychiatrist and the assistant chief for behavioural health at Kaiser Permanente in Baltimore.

Why Does Depression Make You Tired and Fatigued?

Exactly what causes depression fatigue is not yet clear, but experts suspect several factors may be at play.

Brain Chemistry

Depression is thought to affect neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that facilitate communication between brain cells, according to Yale Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. In particular, says Dr. Goldman, “depression impacts the neurotransmitters associated with the reward system and the system that regulates alertness.” For example, having a low level of the neurotransmitter dopamine is linked not only to depression, but also to disturbed sleep, low libido, brain fog, lack of motivation, and feelings of hopelessness, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Stress has a more profound impact on people with depression than people without the condition, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. Too much stress can cause your body to feel constantly drained of energy, per MedlinePlus.

Sleep Problems

“Depression can disrupt sleeping patterns at night, causing greater levels of fatigue during the day,” says Dr. Davis. As many as 75 percent of people with depression have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Stress is a common reason that many people with depression have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Worries about money or problems at work, for instance, are more likely to keep someone with depression wide awake at night, causing an additional layer of fatigue during the day, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Depression Medications

Drowsiness and lethargy can be side effects of antidepressant medications, especially during the first few weeks of taking them, according to Mayo Clinic. Antidepressants also sometimes make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep, thus ramping up daytime fatigue.

How to Fight Fatigue if You Have Depression

Fortunately, there are ways to minimise depression fatigue, which in turn can help you feel better over time. ||

1. Exercise Most Days of the Week (Even Just a Little Bit Counts)

Exercise might be the last thing you feel like doing if you’re encumbered by fatigue. But regular exercise actually boosts your energy and helps you feel less exhausted over time, says Goldman. One reason: Getting your heart pumping regularly during the daytime can make it easier for you to fall asleep at night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Exercise helps minimise fatigue, increases sleep drive or desire to sleep, and naturally increases [feel-good] neurotransmitters in the brain including dopamine and serotonin, while also resulting in a natural energy boost,” Goldman adds.

If you’re having a hard time getting started, simply start small and slowly add time to your routine. Most adults can stay healthy by fitting in 150 minutes (or 20 minutes a day) of moderate-intensity exercise (such as brisk walking) each week, according to exercise guidelines. But even 15-minute walks can be energizing, according to the U.K. National Health Service.

2. Stick to the Same Bedtime Routine Every Night

When it comes to lessening fatigue, improving the quality of sleep is essential, and typically done via sleep hygiene, Goldman says. According to the CDC and the Sleep Foundation, good sleep hygiene includes doing the following:

  • Eat dinner earlierHaving a heavy meal late at night kicks your digestive system into high gear, which can delay your ability to fall asleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon and eveningCaffeine is a stimulant that worsens insomnia, and while alcohol may initially make you drowsy, it usually triggers wake-ups in the middle of the night.
  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day, including on weekendsA consistent pattern helps maintain your body’s circadian rhythm, the timing of its internal clock.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet and darkNoise and light can make falling asleep harder and cause frequent awakenings during the night. Donning an eye mask, hanging blackout curtains and using a white noise machine or even a fan help.
  • Keep your bedroom coolThe ideal temperature for sleep is about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but this may vary from person-
  • Shut off electronics 30 minutes to an hour before bed and stash your phone and laptop in another roomBlue light emanating from their screens, scrolling through social media, or checking email can “turn on” your brain, delaying the transition to sleep.

If these strategies don’t help you, reach out to your doctor and tell them you’re having trouble sleeping. They can help you figure out the cause, as well as recommend professional treatments for your sleep issues if needed.

3. Do Your Best to De-stress

Although stress is an everyday fact of most people’s lives, there are ways to lessen its effects and better manage any trying moments that pop up unexpectedly, according to Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Permanente. These include:

  • ExerciseAlong with boosting energy and lessening fatigue, exercise also causes your brain to release good-for-you chemicals that help keep you calm.
  • Eat a nutritious dietNutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains improve both your physical and mental health.
  • Consider yogaYoga’s poses, stretches, and controlled breathing exercises help your whole body relax.
  • MeditateSitting still while you focus your attention on your breathing or visualise a calming space helps shift your mind to a tranquil space and encourages deep relaxation.
  • Lean on loved ones for supportStay connected with close family and friends and reach out to them for support during worrying or frustrating times.
  • Practice in-the-moment relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxationThis involves breathing in as you tense the muscles in each area of your body – from your head to your toes – for 15 seconds and then breathing out as you relax those muscles. Tensing and relaxing relieves anxiety held in the body, which then calms your mind.
  • Take breaksIf a particular task is proving to be stressful, stepping away for a few minutes can lessen whatever tension or worry you’re feeling in that moment.
  • Keep a journalRecording your thoughts in writing or by drawing – on paper, in your cell phone, or on your computer – can release negative feelings before they become bottled up inside you.

4. Tell Your Doctor if You’re Struggling With Fatigue

If exhaustion interferes with your ability to go about your day, reach out to your doctor or therapist. This is especially important if the fatigue is not remitting, if it’s worsening, or if other symptoms of depression start to worsen, Goldman says.

Your doctor can check if a medication or underlying health issue is to blame. If medication is causing your fatigue, your doctor may adjust the dose or, in some cases, suggest taking it at bedtime or switching to a different medication, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Your fatigue could also be related to certain health conditions that are known to cause or contribute to fatigue. These could include:

  • Anaemia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Pregnancy
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Vasculitis

It’s important to note that having fatigue does not necessarily mean you have one of these conditions.