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Mental Fatigue: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment.

Most of us are feeling tired. Whether it’s from work, family, running after kids, or simply insomnia, we all deal with feeling tired in one way or another. For some, this sense of feeling tired can be short-lived and overcome by making simple changes, for others it can turn into long-term exhaustion and mental fatigue. Overcommitting to things, whether it’s social events or projects at work, is bad for your brain. When you have too many tasks at any one given time, you end up being pulled in different directions, which can impact productivity and cause cognitive overload.

Overland IOP| #1 Intensive Outpatient Programs | Los Angeles CA Mental Fatigue: Symptoms, Causes

What are the causes of mental fatigue?

Mental fatigue is usually the result of long-term stress. When you’re continually dealing with things that activate your body’s stress response, your cortisol levels remain high. Eventually, this begins to interfere with normal body functions, such as digestion, sleep, and your immune system.

Professionally speaking, working more than you should – can lead to burnout — a psychological response to chronic stress. Staying late at the office once in a while is OK, but it shouldn’t be a daily habit. Perfectionism and having unrealistically high standards for yourself also contribute to mental fatigue. It puts unnecessary stress on yourself and can cause you to exert more energy than needed when carrying out tasks.

Medical causes of mental fatigue

Medical causes of fatigue may cause unrelenting exhaustion with additional symptoms. There are a number of diseases that trigger fatigue. If you find yourself experiencing long periods of fatigue, talk to the specialist to determine the root cause. The medical causes of fatigue can be classified under broad disease categories. Some of these disease categories are:

  • Metabolic / endocrine: Conditions such as, anemia, diabetes, hormonal imbalances, or liver or kidney disease
  • Infections: Influenza, tuberculosis, or malaria
  • Cardiac (heart) and pulmonary (lungs): Congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), arrhythmias, and asthma
  • Mental health: Depression and anxiety
  • Sleep problems: Sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome
  • Vitamin deficiencies: Vitamin D deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, or iron deficiency
  • Other conditions: Cancers and rheumatic/autoimmune diseases
  • Medications you are taking to treat other health conditions may also cause fatigue. This can include anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, sedative medication, some blood pressure medications, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and steroids.

What are the symptoms of mental fatigue?

Difficulty concentrating, irritability, mental block, loss of interest in certain activities, and change in appetite are all symptoms of mental fatigue. Sleep problems also indicate brain fatigue. Quality sleep is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation: if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to suffer from exhaustion, but when you’re stressed or mentally wiped, your sleep patterns tend to suffer. Your mental health can also be affected. Even though fatigue is a symptom of some underlying condition, it can still cause a combination of mental and physical symptoms, including:

  • Weakness
  • Lack of energy
  • Constant tiredness or exhaustion
  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Difficulty starting and completing tasks

You Feel Detached

A feeling of detachment, apathy, and indifference is a common indication that you may be mentally fatigued. Mental fatigue, or as some people like to call it, ‘burnout’, usually causes people to lose interest in things they normally enjoy doing. It may begin gradually as you begin losing interest in work, slowly progressing until nothing excites you anymore. As a result, you may begin feeling detached from reality leading to frustration and helplessness.

You Feel a Headache Coming

It is commonly believed that mental exhaustion is something that only affects the mind. However, that is not entirely correct. Signs of mental fatigue are not just limited to emotional and mental changes and disturbances. Physical and behavioral symptoms usually accompany emotional changes as well, hence, random body and muscle aches are the most common indication of mental fatigue. If you feel an onset of a headache coming, in addition to other signs of burnout, there is a good chance you may be suffering from mental fatigue.

You Feel Unmotivated

Mental exhaustion is notorious for sucking the motivation out of you, leaving you tired and dispassionate; unable to work, study, or do things that you normally do. For instance, someone who loves to paint may not feel motivated to paint anymore. And, even if they do force themselves to do so, they may find that they’re having a hard time concentrating. Lack of motivation isn’t just feeling detached and unconcerned. It goes beyond feelings of disinterest as your motivation takes a nosedive, leaving you unproductive and hopeless.

You Have Trouble Sleeping

Insomnia is among the major signs of mental fatigue. It is a common sleep disorder that affects your ability to go to sleep, stay asleep, or affects the quality of sleep you get each night. Such changes in sleep patterns can result in restlessness throughout the day which can greatly affect productivity and efficiency. Luckily, there are numerous self-care tips and remedies that can help you improve the quality of your sleep.

You Feel Overwhelmed

When you’re tired and aren’t feeling your hundred percent mentally, the littlest of things tend to overwhelm you. When insomnia doesn’t allow you to rest, your body aches, and your interest is lost, it becomes difficult to focus. As a result, you find yourself mentally drained and overcome with exhaustion, as everything seems like an overwhelmingly massive task.

You Are Irritable


As you feel unproductive and lethargic along with body aches and sleepless nights, you’ll want to stay away from people. You might notice that you’re pushing your social life away and you’re turning into an isolated person who doesn’t seem to want to talk to anyone. No matter if you’re at work or in a social setting with family or friends, it’s as if everything and everyone exists solely to irritate you.

Overland IOP| #1 Intensive Outpatient Programs | Los Angeles CA Mental Fatigue

You Feel Stressed and Anxious

Although mental exhaustion is not the same thing as stress, chronic exposure to stress can exhaust the body. Increased stress and anxiety is one of the most common signs of mental fatigue. High levels of anxiety over a long period of time can cause serious issues as well, for example, you’ll be more likely to experience panic attacks and suffer from diarrhea, nausea, jitters, and nervousness.

How can you deal with mental fatigue?

If you’re experiencing symptoms of mental fatigue, it is important to get back to basics and check in with yourself to see if you’re getting enough sleep and eating properly. Quality sleep and a balanced diet may sound obvious, but they’re super important to mental health.

Regular exercise also helps manage stress and reduce anxiety.

Plus, it’s important to understand what drains you and what doesn’t and be aware of how certain things will affect your functioning. Knowing what mentally depletes you will help you prepare coping strategies.

Mental Fatigue Treatment

Fatigue is a common complaint related to health issues. Notably, it is a symptom and not a specific disease or health condition. Many illnesses cause fatigue, and the symptoms can be physical, psychological, or a combination of both. According to the National Security Council, NSC, fatigue impacts most Americans and can lead to disaster all too often. Fatigue presents with a range of symptoms and is often caused by a number of different factors working in combination. That makes finding a diagnosis more difficult. Therefore, treatment centers, like Overland IOP will try to determine what is causing fatigue using a number of tests, including the following.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) 

Fatigue is considered chronic when the feelings of exhaustion or lack of energy have lasted six or more months. Regardless of the cause, chronic fatigue will impact a person’s day-to-day functioning and quality of life. A diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is made if a person has experienced chronic and ongoing fatigue for six months or more with no known cause, that is not improved with sleep or rest and that gets worse with physical or mental activity. Symptoms of CFS can affect different parts of the body and may include unrefreshing sleep, weakness of muscles or joints, problems with memory and concentration, and headaches. Symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe, and may come and go or last for weeks or months at a time. They can come on gradually or suddenly.

You might need professional help if your symptoms:

  • Has come on suddenly and is not the result of normal short-term physical or mental stress
  • Is not relieved with rest, sleep, or removal of stressors
  • Has become severe or chronic
  • Is accompanied by other unexplained symptoms
  • Associated with weakness, fainting, or near fainting
  • Is accompanied with unexplained weight loss, masses or lumps anywhere on the body, fever (greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), abnormal vaginal bleeding, and/or unexplained pain anywhere in the body
Overland IOP| #1 Intensive Outpatient Programs | Los Angeles CA Mental Fatigue: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment.
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Overland IOP : Los Angeles California

At Overland Intensive Outpatient, our philosophy is to help treat mental health by uncovering the underlying causes and addressing the co-occurring disorders which could drive the individual to relapse. We understand that every person who enters our doors comes with unique needs and goals. Our experienced clinicians will work one-on-one with clients to develop a comprehensive treatment plan using evidence-based methods. Overland Intensive Outpatient is ready to provide both in-person and virtual care (telehealth services) to expand access to essential health services and meet the health needs of our patients. If you need FREE help please contact the National Helpline about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention, treatment, and recovery in English and Spanish.

Published: February 08, 2022

Last Updated: January 18, 2022

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