If you feel like Dorothy in the poppy field on her way to Oz, you’re not alone.
People who struggle with fatigue experience it in many ways. Some can’t get out of bed in the morning, but once they get going, they’re okay. Others say their energy levels sink as the day goes on, until they’re almost lifeless by dinnertime. Still others feel tired only after they eat a meal. And there are people who are exhausted all day long.
In Western medicine, there are a number of conditions that may be responsible for your fatigue. These include anemia, thyroid issues, low blood sugar, and chronic fatigue syndrome. However, if these conditions have been ruled out, your doctor may have a tough time getting to the bottom of why you’re so tired.
In Chinese medicine, there are many patterns associated with fatigue, but in all cases there is some element of spleen qi depletion. Your Chinese spleen is the system that takes in food, digests it, and converts it into the energy and nutrients that your body needs to function.
Qi, sometimes called energy, plays many vital roles in your body. Among them, qi is transformative and is necessary for such processes as digestion to take place. It is also warming. Your body stays within a fairly narrow temperature range of 98 degrees, give or take a few. The action of qi provides that warmth.
Qi is moving, and it fuels any action within your body, from the peristalsis of digestion to the movement of your muscles and tendons. There is also a protective quality to qi that’s similar to your immune system; it helps you fight off colds, flu, and infections. And finally, qi holds things in. Your organs are held up, your blood is held in its vessels, and food is held in your digestive tract–all thanks to the holding action of qi.
You may be thinking, “So what does this have to do with my fatigue?” The answer is that if you’re constantly tired, your qi is depleted and you’re likely to also be experiencing other symptoms. So in addition to not being able to get off the couch, you may feel cold all the time, have funky digestion, bruise easily, catch every cold that’s going around, or even struggle with sore or weak muscles.
There are a number of reasons for why your qi supply gets depleted. Poor diet, digestive issues, working too hard, stress and strong emotions, and suffering from illness or chronic pain can all drain your stores. The good news is that there are things you can do to help refill your tank:
- Eat good food. Not good as in rich, expensive restaurant food, but good as in healthy. Try to eat foods such as dark-colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans. Get a little protein with each meal and eat a good breakfast.
- Get enough fiber in your diet. Fiber slows the absorption of the sugars you happen to eat and prevents dramatic crashes in your blood sugar level. It’s also key for good digestion.
- Check your digestion. If you’re having symptoms like heartburn, bloating, stomachaches, poor appetite, gas, nausea, or constipation or loose stools, your digestion needs some help. Getting it in order will help you more effectively convert food into energy. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can really help in the digestion department.
- Get enough sleep. This may not seem like rocket science, but most people need a solid seven or eight hours a night. If you’re getting much less, it’s likely your qi is taking a hit. Again, Chinese medicine can help here.
- Check your blood pressure. Fatigue is a hallmark of high blood pressure.
- Get moving. While it may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you’re feeling so tired, a little movement actually gets your energy (in the Chinese sense) flowing. You don’t have to go overboard–just take a walk, or go for a bike ride or play a game of tennis.
- Stretch. It invigorates your muscles and also gets stuff moving.
- Get organized. Clutter is exhausting and stressful. It’s a little like indigestion in your home. Get rid of the junk, and you’ll feel lighter and more energized.
- Just say no to energy-sapping, work-related stress.
- Just say no to trying to be everything to everybody. It’s overwhelming and stressful, and it drains your energy. Learn to say no in the nicest way possible.
- Go outside. It’s invigorating and helps elevate your mood and sense of motivation.