Chronic fatigue & exhaustion

Fatigue is the result of physical or mental efforts and stress. In addition to not sleeping, many organic diseases or mental stress can cause fatigue. Chronic fatigue can easily develop into exhaustion, a condition that has to be taken seriously.

What is exhaustion?

Exhaustion refers to intense or prolonged fatigue that involves weakness. A person suffering from exhaustion cannot recover even if they have the opportunity to rest.

Work-related exhaustion or a burnout can make a person incapable of performing their work, whereas study-related exhaustion can disrupt a person’s studies. In some cases, a person can become fatigued and exhausted because they have too much spare time due to unemployment, for example, and they do not have enough meaningful things to do. In these circumstances, your life may seem meaningless.
Sufficient sleep helps with exhaustion

According to psychoterapist Minna Tuominen from Mehiläinen, prioritising sleep is vital in the prevention of exhaustion. Energetic and well-rested people have more resources to overcome everyday challenges as well as more difficult events in life. Smart devices and social media can easily keep our brains in overdrive until the late hours, however.

“A lot of self-restraint is required nowadays to set a certain time for going to sleep and shutting all devices and relaxing well in advance before going to sleep.

If you feel tired and lethargic week in, week out in spite of sleeping sufficiently, you should see a doctor. Organic diseases that may cause fatigue include anaemia, diabetes and thyroid gland diseases. Physically demanding work, grief, anxiety and depression may cause overwhelming fatigue.”

Prolonged exhaustion: chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) refers to a state of exhaustion that has continued for more than six months in which exposure to even minor physical or mental stress can cause the onset of intense fatigue that can last for several days. In addition, CFS is associated with pain, mild fever, hypersensitive lymph nodes, sleep disorders, memory disorders, anxiety and depression.

The cause of CFS is not certain. The recommended mode of treatment involves light physical exercise under supervision, medication with an antidepressant, if necessary, and psychotherapy.

Study burnout is alarmingly common

Young people are often exposed to pressures related to studying and becoming an adult, which can trigger intense fatigue. Up to 10% of students in Finland suffer the symptoms of study burnout, which include intense fatigue related to studying, cynicism and the feeling of inadequacy.

Psychotherapist Minna Tuominen believes that setting your goals too high and insecurity about the future can make young people anxious.

“Moving out from your parent’s home and becoming more independent involves the need for learning new skills from cooking to paying your bills, which is mentally taxing in its own way. Learning new things always requires energy. In addition, young people must remain active and presentable in social media, which also involves a lot of pressure and evokes emotions such as envy and jealousy.”
All of this can cause fatigue, which is completely normal.

Learn more:

Overcome exhaustion by demanding less of yourself!

Self-compassion is a skill that should be learned, as it can be very useful in managing stress.
“Fatigue, exhaustion and depression are how the body indicates that it is under stress and it is time to take a pause to address your own worries. Many people seek help only when they have used up all their resources. It is a shame, as it is significantly easier to break the vicious cycle at an early stage,” says psychotherapist Minna Tuominen.

On average, however, people are very poor in identifying the phase when the level of stress – mental or physical – becomes excessive. Instead, when the resources are already nearly depleted, people tend to perform even more work.

“A usual scenario involves believing that things will get easier once you’re done with a particular project or after a particularly hard week. After this, you are faced with another project or as busy week as the previous one. Your work or study performance begin to decline and the cycle is complete. It is important to learn how to rest and to accept that things do not have to be perfect in order to be acceptable.”

When should you see a doctor because of exhaustion?

If you experience prolonged fatigue or you are so fatigued that you cannot perform your daily activities normally, you should visit a general practitioner, psychotherapist or an occupational health physician.

Specialists and locations

Jyri Aalto
LL, yleislääkäri
Simo Aarnio
Työterveyshuollon erikoislääkäri
Helena Aatsinki
LL, työterveyshuollon erikoislääkäri