Anxiety itself is the activation of excess energy in your body. But not all of the symptoms of anxiety are energy related. Some people experience the opposite - severe fatigue and lethargy that keeps them from doing much in their day to day life.
Lethargy is a prevalent anxiety symptom, and unfortunately, it's an example of a type of symptom that can often lead to the development of more anxiety.
Lethargy = Anxiety?
Severe fatigue and an unwillingness to perform life's activities can be a serious problem that may be related to severe anxiety. Learn more by taking my free 7-minute anxiety test now, which will score your anxiety symptoms and help you learn more about anxiety.
What is Lethargy?
Lethargy is often a sign that your anxiety has developed further, to a severe anxiety disorder and possibly even depression. Find out how severe your anxiety is with my free anxiety test.
When someone feels lethargic, they feel low on energy, possibly fatigued, and otherwise unexcited about participating in activities that they might otherwise enjoy. Lethargy can be physical, where your body feels sapped of energy, or it can be mental, where you simply don’t find the idea of engaging in activities to be exciting.
Causes of Anxiety Lethargy
When we discuss lethargy, we are talking about a complete unwillingness to do anything, often with a feeling of wanting to sleep or severe fatigue. Many of those with lethargy rarely leave the bed or couch or feel as though they are in desperate need of sleep and running on empty throughout the day. Some people may go about their day normally, but their attitude makes them feel lethargic.
Lethargy is often an anxiety symptom, especially with more severe anxiety. But the causes of lethargy from anxiety are complex, and in reality there is rarely one specific cause that leads to lethargy in those with anxiety disorders and stress. If you feel like you’re more lethargic than you used to be because of anxiety, it's likely that your lethargy is caused by some combination of:
- Out of Adrenaline The symptoms of anxiety are caused by a release of adrenaline, which is a hormone inside of the body that is triggered when a person needs energy. The more anxiety you have, the more your body starts to run out of adrenaline before it can make more. Without adrenaline your body becomes lower energy and lethargy can take place.
- Sleepiness Yes, the most basic cause of lethargy is simply being sleepy. Anxiety and stress can lead to poor sleeping habits and less restful sleep, so the longer you suffer from anxiety, the more likely you are to be low energy. Even if you think you're getting a full night's sleep, anxiety can be so draining that you often need a bit more sleep and are not getting it.
- Evolution Anxiety is the activation of the fight or flight response (fear response) when no danger is present. These physical and mental reactions are designed to keep you safe from harm. There is likely an evolutionary advantage to feeling lethargic when you’re in danger. Perhaps it keeps you focused on staying safe, or it gives your body some much needed rest from the stress of danger.
- Neurotransmitter Changes Anxiety plays a role in the levels of neurotransmitters that you have in your brain. Neurotransmitters affect how you think and feel, and the pleasure and joy you get from events. So when you have anxiety, much of the joy and happiness is essentially sucked out of your life. It becomes much harder to find yourself wanting to get up and out of bed when it doesn't feel like happiness will follow.
- General Bad Days Similarly, some of the lethargy is simply as a result of reality. Having anxiety makes your day worse, and so there are many people that find they would rather sit in bed than deal with the anxieties of the day. Too many anxiety-filled days in a row and you're going to find yourself unexcited about the days ahead.
- Drained Body Anxiety is also extremely physically and mentally draining. It actually shuts down some parts of your body and brain in an effort to save energy for other parts of your brain, and it excites your muscles so much that over time your muscles become completely drained of energy, ultimately causing you to experience considerable fatigue.
These are just some of the potential issues that can cause feelings of fatigue and lethargy in those with severe anxiety. Over time, this can also lead to bad habits that may continue to contribute to lethargy.
Lethargy Creating Anxiety
It's also important to note that while fatigue can be caused by anxiety, anxiety can also be caused by fatigue and lethargy. You have to remain mentally and physically active all throughout the day to help with your anxiety.
- Mental activity is crucial because it takes your mind off of your anxiety. Activities that use your brain are even better because these can sometimes create positive memories that will also help you reduce your anxiety. Your mind is your enemy when you have anxiety, and if you're not mentally active - even if it feels like you're coping - you may be making your anxiety worse.
- Physical activity is also valuable. In fact, studies have shown that exercise may be as powerful as some anxiety medications, and a lack of exercise and general inactivity are also believed to drastically increase anxiety - possibly even creating it.
That's why lethargy is genuinely the type of symptom that you need to decrease and fight. If you allow your fatigue to take hold of you, you're going to increase the risk that your anxiety gets worse.
Ways to Combat Lethargy
Lethargy is a tough issue to beat because by its very nature it takes away from your natural willingness to take action. It's something that kills motivation and makes it very hard for you to start making the necessary changes to your life that you need to make to reduce anxiety and reduce lethargy.
But you can try the following:
- Start Exercising This is crucial. Even though exercise naturally creates fatigue after the workout is over, it also increases natural energy and has natural anxiety fighting abilities. It's really important that you start exercising right away. Talk to your doctor about a healthy exercise program.
- Stay Hydrated Hydration can also lead to severe problems with fatigue and energy. It can also increase anxiety, and there is some evidence that anxiety takes water out of the body (through sweating, etc.) that makes dehydration more plausible.
- Never Delay Anything Lethargy can also become a habit and a mindset. So you need to make sure that your mind isn't contributing to that anxiety by recognizing that you have a lethargy problem and never delaying anything that you do. When you have something you need to do, do it immediately. Get out of bed as soon as your alarm goes off in the morning, stay out and about throughout the day, and always take immediate action when something needs to be done.
These will at least break you out of some of the lethargy. But it won't cure it completely because anxiety will continue to create that lethargy in the future if you keep experiencing it.
I've helped thousands of those with severe anxiety overcome their lethargy and other symptoms using my free 7-minute anxiety test. Make sure you take my test now to get a better idea of how to cure your anxiety symptoms.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Dec 04, 2017.