Great fatigue crisis

On the radio this week  I heard a fascinating discussion on the ABC Life Matters program. The guest being interviewed was Thea O'Connor, who is a health journalist,  and the discussion was on whether we're headed to our next GFC. Except, instead of it being a Global Financial Crisis, it will be a Great Fatigue Crisis.

Chronic tiredness has been normalised in our society. It's rare to find someone who feels full of energy. Experiencing chronic tiredness can actually put your body into a state of chronic fight or flight. The effects of of the flight or fight response is something I discuss often with patients in clinic. It's a physiological response that was designed in an evolutionary sense to be used in acute situations (such as running from the saber tooth tiger). It's not designed to be switched 'on' all the time, like it is so often in our day to day lives. Having elevated stress hormones from being in this state can undermine our wellbeing.

Contributing to the development of the GFC is the growth of coffee culture which has intensified over the last decade and is masking the extent of the problem. Caffeine and sugar do nothing to build our inherent vitality reserves and they mask how tired we really are. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good cup of coffee. Problems arise, however, when we are reliant on the coffee to get through the day and feel that we need several cups.


There can be many reasons for this fatigue. However, first some things need to be ruled out - Is there an underlying medical condition? Is there a nutritional deficiency such as a lack of iron? Or is it as profound as living an uninspired life that is making us fatigued?

The discussion on the radio program became even more interesting when our limited human energy reserves were compared to the earth's limited resources and current energy challenge. There are many parallels between the two, and much we can learn from the earth's challenge. Such as:

  • The tendency to ignore the early warning signs.
  • An over reliance on non-renewable supplies of energy such as oil and coffee. In both instances we're borrowing from the future.
  • A blatant disregard for our limitations. As humans in our western culture we are encouraged to be constantly busy and striving for more. In a planetary sense, our economic model demands constant production at the expense of our limited reserves.

There are so many similarities and parallels between our earth's energy reserves and our human ones, and once it's been pointed out you start to notice and think about it.

The program went on to discuss 3 simple personal strategies to counteract the GFC:

  1. Get good at listening to your body's early warning signs of fatigue. Develop an increased body intelligence, whereby you have the capacity to notice the state of your body and respond.
  2. Increase reliance on renewable sources of energy for your body such as good nutrition, sleep and physical activity. All of these increase our vitality.
  3. Respect the fact that we're not machines. As humans we need rhythm and cycles in our lives. We can't just expect our bodies to be 'on' all the time. We need periods of rest.

One of the greatest of all renewable sources is the power nap. If done correctly, having a regular power nap for 20 minutes is a practice that increases energy and vitality. Why is it acceptable in our work culture to leave the office to get a coffee, but it's not acceptable to have a rejuvenating power nap?

Thea O'Connor is a self proclaimed 'naptivist' and her website is

The interview and discussion can be listened to here.


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