Anxiety can be overwhelming.
Along with racing thoughts, you may experience physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, or difficulty sleeping.
For some people, anxiety can also result in fatigue.
Although the link between fatigue and anxiety is a bit complex, this weariness is usually treatable with lifestyle changes, therapy, and sometimes medication.
In this article, I’ll explain what anxiety is and its effects on the body. I’ll also discuss why anxiety causes fatigue and how to manage fatigue caused by anxiety.
Lastly, I’ll share when to see a mental health professional for anxiety.
What Is Anxiety?
Almost everyone has experienced anxiety, or feelings of worry and nervousness, from time to time.
When anxiety is more intense and persistent—for example, if it happens outside of stressful situations—it may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
To be diagnosed with GAD, you need to experience excessive anxiety most days of the week for at least six months.
Common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Uncontrolled worries
- Feeling restless or on edge
- A feeling of impending doom
- Difficulty concentrating
Anxiety effects on the body
The mind and body are connected in significant ways.
Like many other mental health conditions, long-term anxiety can also result in a wide range of physical symptoms.
Common physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- Muscle tension
- Digestive problems
- Feeling weak
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Trembling or shaking
- Sleep disorders (including insomnia, or difficulty falling or staying asleep)
- Chest pain
Why Does Anxiety Cause Fatigue?
Chronic anxiety is a common cause of fatigue because of the many different effects it has on the body.
Below are some possible reasons anxiety may lead to increased tiredness.
When you experience stress or anxiety, your sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear, causing your heart to race and your breathing rate to increase.
The accompanying surge of stress hormones—including adrenaline—is part of the “fight or flight” response.
It can make you feel energized and on edge during an episode of anxiety, but afterward, you might feel more tired than usual.
Some people call this experience an adrenaline crash.
People with anxiety tend to experience racing thoughts and feel like they’re on high alert all the time.
It also takes a lot of mental energy to avoid the things that trigger anxious feelings.
As a result, you might feel mentally foggy and have difficulty concentrating on tasks.
Mental or emotional exhaustion can also make you irritable and physically tired.
People with anxiety can have a harder time falling or staying asleep, or they might not get enough sleep.
Sleep problems can result in decreased energy levels the next day (and longer if lack of sleep persists).
Anxiety can lead to muscle tension because the fight or flight response triggers your body to be physically ready to respond at any moment.
That constant state of tension can contribute to feelings of physical fatigue.
If anxiety disrupts your sleep, you may nap during the day to catch up on rest.
However, napping can make it harder to sleep at night, perpetuating a vicious cycle of fatigue and possibly leading to further anxiety.
How to Manage Fatigue Caused by Anxiety
Learning to manage stress and anxiety is one of the most important ways to control anxiety-induced fatigue.
Lifestyle changes, self-care, and medication can help:
- Exercise: Evidence shows that routine physical activity can decrease symptoms of anxiety. Exercise dampens sympathetic nervous system reactivity and can serve as a distraction from stress.
- Sleep hygiene: Bedtime habits can interfere with sleep, especially if you are already prone to anxiety. Make an effort to stop screen time a few hours before bed, limit alcohol and coffee consumption, and sleep in a comfortable, dark room. It can also help to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Mindfulness: Many studies have found that mindfulness practices (which teach people how to be in the present moment rather than fixating on worries) can help reduce anxiety. In particular, meditation and deep-breathing exercises may help.
- Healthy diet: A poor diet can contribute to both fatigue and anxiety. If you struggle with either, try to cut down on processed foods and integrate more whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats into your diet. Avoid too much added sugar, which can cause blood sugar to crash and result in anxiety and fatigue.
- Seek emotional support: Though it’s not always easy to discuss struggles, support from loved ones can improve anxiety symptoms. And talking to a trained therapist can help you learn strategies to control worries.
- Mental health medication: A healthcare provider may recommend anxiety medication if other treatments alone aren’t enough to manage your anxiety.
When to See a Mental Health Professional
It’s never too early to see a mental health professional for anxiety.
But if you experience anxiety most days of the week and it interferes with your ability to function, it’s even more important to check in with a licensed psychotherapist or a psychologist.
Your primary care doctor can diagnose anxiety and refer you to a mental health clinician.
Also see your primary care provider if you have severe or persistent fatigue.
They can rule out any underlying medical condition such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety. (2013).
Fatigue, Depressive Symptoms, and Anxiety From Adolescence Up to Young Adulthood: A Longitudinal Study. (2011).
Fatigue Symptoms in Relation to Neuroticism, Anxiety-Depression, and Musculoskeletal Pain. A Longitudinal Twin Study. (2018).
How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. (2018).
The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A Review. (2017).
Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. (2018).