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Recently, someone told me the story of how he had a thorough sleeping study done because he has suffered from sleeplessness for years. Medically, nothing was found, so he went home with the diagnosis “stress“.
Long-term stress leads to overstimulation of some stress hormones in the adrenal glands. Adrenalin and especially cortisol are secreted and with chronic overstimulation, both the adrenal glands and the brain become exhausted.
Why? Stress is a naturally healthy reaction which mobilizes one for a short period of time to survive a life-threatening situation. The role of healthy stress is to focus the normal energy you use during the day on a short period of a few minutes. This is why you can react really quickly and survive, for example, in the case of being attacked by a tiger. Afterwards you need to recover so the depleted energy can be restocked again.
If you regularly and long-term put yourself under pressure, these stocks of energy remain exhausted because they are not restocked. You feel tired and often do not understand the mechanism behind it.
A possible cause is that you bite off more than you can chew. You do too much without taking breaks and enjoying life. A second cause is that you worry too much. Worrying is very tiring and exhausting, it is really a more intensive job than working hard. In case you combine both causes long-term, you risk fatigue and exhaustion.
Yes, sometimes you can be so tired that you cannot fall asleep. The healthy feeling of tiredness is replaced by an unpleasant feeling of exhaustion, or sometimes even agitation. The unhealthy fatigue also makes it easier to start worrying. And worrying becomes an unhealthy vicious cycle over time. Especially if you start worrying about how you “must” sleep now, or you will be tired the next day. This paradox activates your stress hormones and keeps you even wider awake.
If your period of fatigue and sleeplessness is short-term, several simple exercises combined with a solution focused and choice based approach can help, as taught in our online self-help program. The majority of the people solve their fatigue and sleeplessness within a few weeks with this.
If your fatigue is chronic and has been there for over half a year, then the online self-help program starts out with teaching simple basic techniques, in a second phase helping you to think of how much you do and which priorities you choose in life. By thinking about your choices, you will slowly find insights which help you organize your life in such a way that your body and mind can relax again.
We developed a simple online stress test for you with 21 short questions, to measure if your stress levels are above average.
Paul Koeck, MD