Living with major depression can be challenging when you’re also dealing with fatigue, a common depression symptom. Not only can fatigue disrupt your daily routine, it can also make it harder to take the steps needed to get depression under control.
“Major depression causes a total lack of energy that doctors call ‘anergia,’” says Stephen Geisler, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Hofstra North Shore–LIJ School of Medicine in Long Island, N.Y. “This lack of energy can lead to mental, emotional, and physical fatigue that’s difficult to treat.”
Left untreated, fatigue can contribute to longer and more severe depression, according to a research review published in 2014 in the journal Depression and Anxiety. It’s also one of the main causes of disability in depression, says Dr. Geisler. For these reasons, taking steps to conquer fatigue is an important aspect of depression treatment.
How Is Depression Fatigue Treated?
Depression fatigue may be linked to poor sleep, lack of activity, or commonly used antidepressant medications called SSRIs and SNRIs. Even after other depression symptoms have responded to treatment, fatigue is likely to linger.
The first step to finding an effective way to fight depression fatigue is talking with your doctor. Your doctor will want to make sure your fatigue is not caused by another medical condition or the medication used to treat it.
“If fatigue is caused by your antidepressant, your doctor may switch you to an antidepressant that is less likely to cause fatigue and more likely to treat it,” Geisler says. “There are also some stimulant-type drugs that may be added to your treatment plan to help reduce fatigue.”
In addition to consulting your doctor, talk with your therapist about strategies you could make to reduce fatigue. These may include staying active, participating in fun activities with friends and loved ones, pacing yourself and setting realistic goals for the day.
Helpful Lifestyle Changes Can Fight Depression Fatigue
You can also make healthy lifestyle choices that may help reduce fatigue:
Get moving. “Getting exercise can help reduce fatigue by promoting better sleep,” Geisler says. Exercise may also directly increase energy. Just one 30-minute session of aerobic exercise can stimulate feelings of increased energy, according to a review of research on exercise and fatigue published in Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior.
Eat well. Retooling your diet may also help recharge you. A diet higher in fat has been found to increase daytime sleepiness, whereas a diet higher in carbohydrates can boost alertness, according to a small study that involved healthy adults who were normal sleepers. In addition, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, the type of carbohydrates you choose makes a difference when you are trying to get more daytime energy. Go for whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which are more slowly digested than carbs like white bread, pasta, candies, pastries, and sodas.
Practice good sleep habits. Sleep hygiene is another important part of managing fatigue when you have depression, Geisler says. Sleep hygiene refers to sleep habits that promote a healthy amount of sleep, including:
- Avoiding stimulants like alcohol and caffeine for about six hours before bed
- Not eating heavy meals before bed
- Avoiding daytime naps
- Establishing a regular sleep schedule
- Getting regular exercise, but not right before bedtime
- Keeping your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable
- Using your bedroom only for sleep and sex (no smartphones and other gadgets)
If you’re struggling with depression fatigue, talk with your healthcare providers about medications or lifestyle changes that may help. Fatigue can make depression worse and may even increase your risk for a depression relapse, so enlist your entire team to help you fight it off.