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What's the connection between fatigue and depression?

What is the connection between exhaustion and depression?

Absolute exhaustion – clinically referred to as chronic fatigue syndrome – has been linked to depression, and no wonder. The two conditions, which often coexist, can mirror each other because the feelings of fatigue are so similar to feelings of depression.

However, there is a difference.

Chronic fatigue syndrome causes an individual to constantly feel exhausted and tired, and there seems to be no underlying cause. Depression is when a person is persistently sad, hopeless and anxious for at least two weeks or more. Because so many depressed people also have sleep issues, it makes sense for them to be tired – the hallmark symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Let’s break down the two separate conditions and see if you recognize your symptoms in or from either.

First, depression.

When one is depressed, they may feel the following:

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Emptiness
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Disinterest
  • Muscle pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Appetite changes (either eating too much or too little)
  • Sleeplessness (or the opposite, oversleeping)
  • Suicidal ideation

It’s tiring to feel depressed, and when sleep becomes an issue, the depressed person is now even more vulnerable to exhaustion, because then there’s no rest or reprieve from all those taxing emotions that just don’t seem to want to go away.

Next, chronic fatigue syndrome.

For seemingly no reason, people with chronic fatigue syndrome might feel muscle aches too, as well as joint pain, tender lymph nodes, and even a sore throat. They’re always very tired, no matter how much sleep they get or how regular.

A major difference between the two is, in a very simplified and general way, is will: people with depression are tired and disinterested in participating in any activities, even ones they once loved before they became depressed. Those with chronic fatigue syndrome, however, absolutely do want to get out there and take part in activities, especially the ones they love. They’re just too tired to do so.

So what’s the connection?

Experts think that people with chronic fatigue syndrome become depressed because they feel so incapable of doing what they want to do, physically. Depression, on the other hand, doesn’t cause chronic fatigue syndrome, but it can and does cause exhaustion as a symptom by itself. And that can be mistaken for the syndrome.

Those with chronic fatigue syndrome, like those with depression, often report having sleep issues too. Being unable to sleep, certainly, makes the fatigue even worse, so as much as they want to do cardio the next day or head out on a trip, their body drags them down, screaming “No way!” at the mere thought of engaging in a draining activity. Imagine your mind and body at odds over what to do – that would certainly put anyone at risk for developing a mental ailment such as depression.

How is this diagnosed, then?

Typically, your doctor will search your medical history and guide you through an evaluation that determines whether you have one or the other, or both. In some cases, other diagnoses are made, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – now that you’ve been diagnosed, now you can be on the road to treatment and recovery.

There are many treatments for both depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. There are therapies, medications and other alternative treatments, like yoga or meditation or other forms of exercise. Your physician or primary care provider may even guide you toward better sleeping habits so you can rest, refuel and re-engage.

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