I’ve had an anxiety disorder for my entire life. I believe my anxiety is partially genetic, but additionally, environmental factors have definitely played a role in my mental health. Surprisingly, most people don’t seem to realize that there is a profound overlap between mental and physical health. I could go into a lot more detail on all of these specific correlations, but for this particular topic, I’m just going to touch on the relationship between anxiety and fatigue.
Interestingly, fatigue is listed as one of the top three symptoms of an anxiety disorder. For some people, this may be because people with anxiety tend to lose more sleep because of their condition. When insomnia and anxiety link up, the results can be devastating for your sleep schedule. For me personally, I sleep just fine at night, but panic attacks and anxiety attacks completely deplete me of my energy. There is a phenomenon known as the “anxiety attack hangover,” which more or less describes the feeling of being drained or “jet lagged” after having the attack. This is something I’m all too familiar with, and I have some thoughts on why this probably happens to me.
Going into fight-or-flight mode uses a ton of energy. Anxiety itself uses up a lot of energy! Feeling my adrenaline spike, my blood pressure heighten, and my breathing accelerated always leaves me feeling absolutely destroyed after I recover. The production of adrenaline itself uses up a ton of glucose and energy, which is probably why folks with anxiety disorders (including myself) are always so dang tired afterwards.
However, anxiety itself is not the only thing that can cause me to feel fatigued. As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I have a prescription for Ativan, which belongs to the benzo drug class (Xanax is a more common benzo you may have heard of). Ativan is used as a short-term treatment for people with anxiety and panic disorders, and is also used as a sedative before medical procedures.
In a nutshell, it’s a pretty strong drug. I don’t take Ativan often, probably only about ten times a year, because it’s designed for short-term use only and can become highly addictive if taken too often. When I do take an Ativan, I’ll usually feel extremely calm and a bit out of it, because the drug causes my heart rate to significantly slow down. The last time I took an Ativan, in preparation for a speech in class, I decided to forgo my usual coffee in fear that an “upper” would interfere with a “downer.” This may have been a mistake, because I became SO exhausted and chilled out after my speech that day, I was essentially incoherent. I went to lie down in my room around 3pm, and didn’t wake up until 6:30pm. I was completely disoriented for the rest of the night, because frankly, that’s just what Ativan does to you. I guess the only silver lining is that I did get through my speech without having a complete breakdown.
So, yeah. Fatigue and anxiety is a lose-lose situation, in my case. If I don’t take medication and subsequently have a panic attack, I get fatigued. If I take my medication and avoid an attack, I still get fatigued. As I previously said, I very rarely take Ativan, so most cases end with me having a full-fledged panic and consequently feeling tired for the rest of the day. I really can’t win with my anxiety.
Now that I’ve gotten the depressing things out of the way, let’s talk about what you (and I) can do if you get hit with those post-anxiety sleepies. One thing that makes me feel better is to take a little nap, or even just lay down and do nothing for an hour or two. This is the time your body NEEDS to recharge and re-center, so there’s no reason to have guilt. If you have the resources, practice some form of self-care to get you through the rest of your day. Practice some deep breathing, meditation, or treat yourself to a bubble bath. Put on a video or a funny movie that makes you laugh.
Having an anxiety disorder is not your fault, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. If you’re comfortable with it, make sure your professors and family members are in the loop about how anxiety can affect your mental health. In my personal experience, most people are more than happy to listen and help you in any way they can. I promise you don’t have to go through anxiety alone!