Understanding The Difference Between Mental and Physical Fatigue | Lildonia Lawrence

This week's BYP Blog is a guest article from Lildonia Lawrence, a life coach, educator and yoga instructor. Lildonia produces monthly content for the BYP Network centred on wellbeing, wellness and healthy living.

Exhaustion. A word bandied about often these days. When you ask people how they are, frequently they will respond with “I’m so busy, I’m shattered’. But, what does it really mean to be exhausted? The Cambridge dictionary tells us that exhaustion means ‘the state of being extremely tired’. Collins similarly says that it is ‘the state of being so tired that you have no energy left’.


Our bodies can become physically worn out when we push beyond our limits. This can come in the form of overtraining with limited recovery and through burning the candle at both ends e.g. too many late nights or a lack of nutritious and fulfilling food. Signs of physical exhaustion can manifest bodily in persistent soreness, susceptibility to infections, injuries, gastrointestinal issues, impact on menstrual cycles and insomnia. It can also affect our mindset leading to loss of motivation, low mood, anxiety, and mental strain. The best way to work with this is to rest and regenerate whilst fuelling the body with the food, water and sleep it needs to repair before returning to gentle activity.


It can be difficult to tell the difference between mental and physical exhaustion as the mind and body are so linked but mental exhaustion is usually caused by long term stress. The symptoms can be remarkably similar to those of physical exhaustion but can be accompanied by a host of emotional reactions such as pessimism, mental health difficulties, apathy and difficulty concentrating to name a few.


We have all had those days where we have been choc-a-block at work and as a result, pass on our evening workout but more often than not when we are faced with mental stressors, physical activity is just what we need. However, the type of activity we choose is important. Being under chronic stress means our body is flooded with cortisol and adrenaline (the hormones released during fight or flight response). Whilst this is OK as a rare occurrence or in times of real danger, the overproduction of these hormones in non-life-threatening situations affects our bodies ability to switch them off. This leaves our stress response switched on and fired up. High-intensity forms of exercise such as Boxing or HIIT training also contribute to the release of these hormones and whilst this is normally OK- if we are in a state of stress, workouts such as these can tip us over the edge. Fortunately, our bodies are clever machines and are always working towards healing. Whilst trying to recover from any form of exhaustion it is best to focus on forms of exercise that bring our nervous systems into a state of calm such as walking, Tai Chi, yoga, or Pilates.


If we feel that our stress levels are out of control, it’s always best to seek outside help and support. Talking to friends, family or a professional can be the first step to moving forward. Stress is an inevitable part of life and in itself is not necessarily a negative, it’s how we deal with it is most important.


Lildonia Lawrence is a life coach, yoga instructor and sex educator working in London. She has a background in psychology and mental health and has spent many years working in the health and wellbeing industries. Her week is spent with a mixture of delivering health workshops, teaching group classes and leading coaching sessions. Alongside this, she works as a wellbeing writer for several publications. You can find out more about her work at @lildonia.lawrence

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