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Take Fatigue Seriously - Says Researcher

eakness in muscles following work, this is often alleviated by rest.

Fatigue, on the other hand, is characterized by difficulty concentrating, anxiety, a gradual decrease in stamina, difficulty sleeping, increased sensitivity to light and the limiting of social activities once viewed as important. Individuals with exhaustion report frank confusion that resembles delirium, emotional numbness, sudden loss of energy, difficulty both in staying awake and in sleeping and complete social withdrawal.

“It is important to recognize the difference between tiredness and fatigue, because fatigue is a marker that the body is not able to keep up,” says Olson. “The onset of the manifestations of fatigue, particularly if these are not normal states for you, should be taken seriously.”

Failing to understand the distinctions between tiredness, fatigue and exhaustion could result in the use of inappropriate interventions that inadvertently promote fatigue and exhaustion. Olson has some evidence that while exercise appears to help those who are tired, it may decrease the ability to adapt in individuals experiencing fatigue and exhaustion. People experiencing fatigue should also avoid long-term use of caffeine and other stimulants and exhaustion, as these substances “fool” the body into thinking it has more energy available than it really does.

“The important thing is to try to prevent or at least delay the progression from tiredness to fatigue and then from fatigue to exhaustion,” said Olson. “We are starting to work on some interventions that we think may be helpful. In the meantime, families and friends can help by recognizing changes consistent with fatigue and exhaustion and look for ways to help minimize stress.”

This work may also have applications to other population, such as students or individuals with chronic illnesses, who have not been studied to date. “Students tend to stay up late at night, studying hard,” said Olson. “So
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