Managing symptoms - tiredness and lack of energy

Most people with a life-limiting conditions experience feelings of extreme tiredness, weakness or lack of energy at some point. It can be very frustrating and make it difficult to do everyday things, but there are ways of managing it.

What are the signs of fatigue?

Tiredness and lack of energy is often described as ‘fatigue’. It can be very draining and make it hard to cope with everyday life. With this type of tiredness, the cause isn’t necessarily related to how much you have been doing or how much rest you get.

Some of the symptoms people experience are:

  • problems sleeping
  • finding it hard to get up in the morning and to do simple things such as washing and dressing
  • feeling that your arms and limbs are ‘heavy’
  • problems with your short-term memory
  • feeling you can’t be bothered to do things, even things you enjoy, and not enjoying the things you usually do
  • finding it hard to concentrate, even on simple things that you would normally enjoy such as chatting to a friend or watching television
  • feeling drained and as if you have no energy
  • difficulty making decisions
  • feeling anxious, depressed or negative
  • feeling irritable

Why am I experiencing tiredness and fatigue?

Most people with a life-limiting conditions experience these symptoms at some point. Often people worry that because they feel so tired all the time it is a sign that their illness is progressing, but this is not necessarily the case. It could also be a side effect of treatment, or part of the illness, and not actually a sign that it is getting worse.

If you have lost your appetite or are losing weight, you may not be eating as much as your body needs. This may mean you start to feel tired or weak. If you are feeling anxious or depressed, those are very draining emotions, and may make you feel tired and uninterested in things. If you are not sleeping well at night, it can add to a general sense of tiredness. The good news is that there are some approaches you can take to managing it.

What can I do to cope with tiredness and fatigue?

People often assume that nothing can be done about feeling tired, and don’t bother to tell their health professional. However, it may be that it is caused by something like anaemia, which can be treated. Your health professional can also help you to identify some approaches that can help you to manage it.

  • Eat regular meals and healthy snacks every three to four hours to keep your energy up throughout the day.
  • Keep active. It may feel like the last thing you want to do, but there is lots of evidence that gentle exercise, can actually give you more energy. This can be as little as just walking round your garden.
  • Drink the right things – drinking water will mean you are well hydrated, but alcohol and caffeine drinks such as coffee, tea and cola can actually make you feel more tired.
  • It sounds obvious but sleeping well at night will really help. If you are having trouble sleeping it can help if you:
    • go to bed and get up at the same time each day
    • ‘wind down’ before going to bed by doing things like listening to relaxing music or having a warm bath
    • sleep in a calm, quiet room
    • make sure the room is a comfortable temperature
  • Plan ways of doing things that will help you save energy, for example:
    • sit down to do things like getting dressed and undressed
    • wear clothes that are loose fitting with few buttons so they are easy to get on and off
    • put chairs around the house, so that you can stop and rest if you need to
    • speak to your healthcare team about adaptations to your home that could help, such as having handrails fitted
    • allow yourself plenty of time for whatever you need to do, so you don’t have to rush
    • do whatever you can sitting down, such as preparing food or ironing (or don’t wear clothes that need ironing!)
    • restrict your visitors to times when it suits you and don’t feel guilty about turning people away if you are feeling tired – they will understand