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by Patty Morell Bilhartz, M.D., M.P.H.


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What Fatigue Does to You, and What You Can Do About It


I just may be the poster woman for living through fatigue in all of its glory, off and on throughout my life. You can learn more snazzy details from my book, Love Trumps Fear: 8 Medical Insights to Heal Your Heart and Transform Your Health, but suffice it to say that I have experienced the gamut of fatigue’s fury from a myriad of causes.

My most recent bout with fatigue has been the most challenging yet. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I wore one of its “badges of honor” with gusto: overwhelming, incapacitating fatigue. So much so that I had to temporarily take a leave of absence from my job as a medical doctor.

It takes quite a bit to stop me in my tracks. I’ve had other illnesses in the past that have caused extreme fatigue, but none so debilitating as the fatigue that I have experienced over the last year. In my usual fashion, I asked my Maker how I can use my physical suffering to help others, as we all attempt to fulfill our mission on this earth in our beautiful but sometimes less-than-optimally-functioning physical bodies.

So, from deep within my heart to yours, here are a few things that I have learned and continue to learn from the master teacher of fatigue. I hope that these suggestions will help you to live within and rise above your fatigue that touches your body, mind, and soul.

1) Allow yourself to rest.

That’s a hard one for me! But, for whatever reason, your physical body is telling you something important. You need more rest. You probably have not been getting enough. You likely have been “burning the candle at both ends” for too long to count.

Rest is nature’s best healer. So, try surrendering and give your body the rest it needs, as best as your circumstances allow. If you don’t, your fatigue will probably get worse, and you will readily develop other symptoms that may be even more unpleasant or life-threatening.

Part of the problem with this advice is that often you are extremely fatigued but you can’t seem to rest. You may have insomnia. You either can’t get to sleep or you can’t stay asleep.

Here are some things to try to get more rest:

  • Set aside 7-8 hours for rest, even if you can’t sleep for that full time. Some persons also benefit from a 15-20 minute nap in the afternoon.
  • If you can’t sleep when you have set aside the time to sleep, get up and read, pray, or meditate. Don’t sweat that you can’t sleep. Lie down again when you feel sleepy.
  • Make sure your mattress gives you proper support. Some people are still trying to sleep on a mattress that is 10+ years old, and then wonder why they are so uncomfortable at night! There are a lot of lesser expensive mattresses these days that are as good as the trademark ones and come with a money-back guarantee, so do a little shopping and find one that suits you.
  • Lovingly prepare your bedroom for sleep. This includes covering the windows to keep out excess light, lowering the temperature when sleeping, and saving the bedroom for rest, reading, and sex only. No TV or computer use in the bedroom before bed, unless you want to have trouble going to sleep. Relaxing bedtime rituals such as devotionals, meditations, and a warm shower or bath can be helpful.
  • If you truly want to increase your odds for restful sleep, consider declining caffeine after lunch, engaging in moderate exercise earlier in the day, eating a small meal at an earlier dinner, taking a short walk after dinner (even if you just walk around your living room), treating yourself to an occasional massage or foot rub, and saying “no” to alcohol (although it can make you drowsy, you will not get restful sleep).
  • Take an inventory of the current medications–both pharmaceutical and over-the-counter–that you are taking. Look up their side effects and discuss any concerns you might have with your healthcare provider. Many medications, including cold and allergy preparations and supplements can contribute to insomnia and poor sleep habits.
  • Rather than taking a pharmaceutical or over-the-counter sleeping medication which can have troublesome side effects and contribute to poor quality sleep, there are several medications that can assist you in obtaining better sleep.  These should be taken in consultation with your physician, and include Valerian, Melatonin, Testosterone, and Estrogen and Progesterone (for women).

2) Seek appropriate medical evaluation and treatment as needed.

Don’t let your doctor dismiss your symptoms with “you’re just getting older,” or “you’re under a lot of stress.” Fatigue is a symptom that should be taken seriously.

Ask your physician to check your levels of Vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and folate; hormones (including sex and thyroid hormones); and standard blood panels that could identify anemia, diabetes, heart disease, infections, or other imbalances that could cause or contribute to fatigue. Often, tweaking these levels as indicated can improve or eliminate many of your symptoms.

Some physicians are not versed in testing and adjusting hormonal levels, so if your labs appear normal and your doctor does not see any other medical reason why you are having your current symptoms, consider getting a second opinion from an integrative physician (more about that in another blog), but for starters, look at these recommendations:  http://bit.ly/1I68wVX

Also, don’t neglect to seek help for depression and anxiety that can adversely affect your sleep.

3) Find the method in the madness. 

Ask yourself, what is my fatigue telling me? Do I need to give myself permission to take better care of myself? How can I love myself more, even in the midst of these symptoms?

  • Do I need to make some changes to my daily habits?
  • Could my thoughts be more nourishing?
  • Have I forgotten what is truly important in my life?
  • Am I neglecting to eat properly, move my body enough, and set aside quiet time for meditation and devotionals?
  • How can I allow my suffering to increase my compassion for others?

I challenge you to love yourself so much that you decide to make the changes necessary that can support your fatigued body. No blame or criticism. Just thank your body for the message that it is giving you. Be open to what the message means, and how it can change you for the better.

How can your mission and service to others be heightened by the lessons you can learn from fatigue? We welcome your comments below!

Comments (4)

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    Aimee Mitchell


    My fatigue started five years ago. My doctor concluded it was caused by some asthmatic condition and he put me on “puffers”. when my husband and I moved back to Dallas to help our daughter with her three children, my fatigue only got worse. Then a new baby was born into the family and our daughter had to go back to work. Caring for the new baby and four year old twin boys became traumatic for a 77 yr old woman called Grammy. About a month ago, my doctor heard a loud heart murmur. The cordiologist tested and diagnosed Aortic Stenosis. This Monday, the surgeon will do a valve replacement. Because I am “too healthy” for any short cuts, he will open the top of the chest, put me on a heart lung machine, and do the repair work. Fear? yes! I know what it is. But I believe all will go well because I have a lot more loving to do.


    • Avatar

      Patty Bilhartz


      Our thoughts and prayers are with you this weekend and as you undergo the surgery on Monday. We’ll look forward to a great report!


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    Linda Bannick


    Fatigue made me lie down. It felt a burden or something I needed to “fight” and go on. But after reading your blog, Patty, I know that it was telling me that my body, mind and spirit needed rest…and probably for a long time. It felt “selfish” to rest when I should be helping others. This is an untruth. Now, fatigue was actually a blessing to allow myself permission to rest, meditate and love myself in quietness listening to God. This is not “selfish” but OK and God’s desire. Now, in my work or life, I can share with others that it’s OK to rest. Thank you so much. Linda


    • Avatar

      Patty Bilhartz


      Yes, that is a part of “Loving Ourselves to Wellness”! So glad that the blog helped you.


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