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Beating Depression-Related Fatigue by Kristi Pahr

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Clinical depression manifests differently for everyone. Despite several common factors, not everyone with depression experiences the same symptoms, and symptoms can even vary from episode to episode in the same person. One of the most prevalent symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) is fatigue, which is experienced by a large number of those who live with the disorder.

Roughly 20% to 30% of patients whose symptoms of depression respond to treatment report lingering fatigue after other symptoms have abated. These feelings of fatigue can cause symptoms of depression to return, leading to a vicious cycle of depression and fatigue. “Although depression is primarily psychologically caused, it has physiological symptoms,” says psychologist and teacher, Shae Vian.  “Depression lowers your mood to such a point that it leads to chronically low arousal or motivation.”

Besides low motivation, other symptoms of low mood include lethargy, lack of energy, and drive. This, then, generally leads to poor sleeping habits, insomnia, poor diet, lack of exercise — all which further compounds the issue of fatigue.

Furthermore, studies suggest residual fatigue, or fatigue that has not resolved with treatment, increases the risk of a relapse of depression symptoms. It can also affect other aspects of overall well-being, including social, cognitive, emotional, and physical health. And to make matters a little more tricky, some medications used to treat MDD may actually result in fatigue.

How To Deal With Depression-Related Fatigue

Traditional treatments like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and antidepressants are useful in dealing with depression, but they may not always be successful in alleviating the fatigue associated with depression. Likewise, lifestyle changes that help lift fatigue, like exercise routines, may be difficult for a person living with depression to maintain or even begin. The lack of motivation and difficulty completing even simple tasks commonly faced by people with depression can make the added burden of lifestyle changes seem almost insurmountable. How do you overcome these obstacles?

For starters, the importance of exercise and an active lifestyle, despite the difficulty, cannot be understated. There are mountains of data correlating exercise with the improvement of depression symptoms and fatigue. A meta-analysis published in 2016 concluded that exercise is, in fact, an evidence-based treatment for depressive disorders, including MDD. Although you might not feel energetic enough to lace up your running shoes and head outside, less demanding activities like yoga and Pilates can help ease residual depression symptoms, including fatigue.  

Additionally, stimulants like caffeine are frequently utilized to help provide a boost in energy. There is significant evidence that caffeine consumption can decrease the risk of depression, but many of the studies don’t take into account those who already have a depression diagnosis. Caffeine intake can have the unintended effect of actually worsening fatigue due to interrupted sleep patterns and insomnia. If you’re struggling with depression on any level, considering nixing caffeine for your best chance at a restful night’s sleep and improving your energy levels.

Magnesium To The Rescue

Supplementing with magnesium can be beneficial in improving sleep patterns, and when taken regularly, it may improve fatigue and other symptoms associated with depression. One study showed adding magnesium supplementation in a small population of people with depression resulted in a significant decrease in symptoms associated with clinical depression.

The most important nutrient for fatigue is magnesium,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of The Magnesium Miracle, “Six of the 8 steps required to make ATP energy (in the mitochondria) for the whole body, require magnesium. If you take magnesium your body is less tense, you sleep better, your energy improves as does your mood.”  

Stress, says Dr. Dean, depletes magnesium, making the production of ATP difficult. Magnesium deficiencies are common in modern society, with up to 75% of Americans not meeting the recommended daily allowance. In addition to fatigue, magnesium deficiency can result in an increased risk of depression. She adds, “Not all forms of magnesium are easily absorbed by the body. One of the most bioabsorbable is magnesium citrate in a powder form which can be mixed in hot or cold water and sipped throughout the day.”

Stress is such an overworked word, but we all suffer physical, emotional, and mental stress every day, and every bit of it drains magnesium which will unexpectedly cause depression and fatigue.” – Carolyn Dean

While the vicious cycle of depression and fatigue and fatigue and depression may seem difficult to overcome, with a few tweaks like increasing magnesium supplementation and exercising if possible, fatigue should be improved, energy levels boosted, and depression symptoms lessened.

Kristi Pahr is a freelance health and wellness writer and mother of two who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction. Her work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, Men’s Health, and many others.



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