Tired at Work for No Reason? Your Brain’s Trying to Tell You Something
You might have noticed that you are increasingly feeling tired as your work day progresses. By late afternoon, you feel like you won’t make it to the end of the day.
You can’t seem to concentrate on anything.
Tasks that would ordinarily take about an hour end up taking the whole afternoon.
Woe unto you if you happen to have an afternoon meeting, because you will have trouble keeping your eyelids open.
According to a research carried out during a sleep program, researchers found out that:
– 76 percent of employees felt tired most days of the week
– 40 percent of employees doze off during the day once per month
– 15 percent doze off during the day at least once per week to once per day
Normally, when people find themselves in such a situation where their energy wanes as their workday progresses, most people self-diagnose themselves.
They assume that they are just overworking and assume that all they need to do to deal with the lethargy is get some rest – you know, get some sleep, exercise more, or go on a vacation to relax and charge your batteries.
You have done all that, but you can’t see any improvements. You still find yourself tired at work for no reason.
If this describes you, then your problem might be psychological. It might have everything to do with your state of mind.
If you find yourself in such a situation, your brain might be telling you any of the following:
YOU ARE BORED
Think about the following situation: You are at home on a typical Saturday afternoon. You are just bored and don’t feel like doing anything, or rather you don’t have the energy for anything.
You just want to lie on the couch and probably sleep.
While in this state, a friend calls with the news that he’s just won some tickets to some music event later in the evening, and wants you to meet him at his place so that you have some drinks before heading over to the concert.
Immediately after the call, you realize that you feel totally different from what you were feeling five minutes earlier.
With the prospect of doing something exciting, you are suddenly feeling energized.
In other words, you were feeling tired and lethargic simply because you were bored. When something fun came up, your feelings of lethargy quickly dissipated.
The same thing happens when you are at work. If you constantly feel tired and lacking energy while at work, this could be a signal that you are bored by your work.
According to a study carried out by researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, boredom-induced tiredness can be attributed to the nucleus accumbens in the forebrain.
The is a part of the brain that plays a major role in the brain’s reward system, a system that rewards us by releasing dopamine when we engage in activities that are critical for our survival, such as eating or having sex.
The release of dopamine results in a feeling of pleasure.
However, it turns out that when there is an absence of motivational stimuli, the nucleus accumbens also makes us feel tired and drowsy.
Surprisingly, the nucleus accumbens will make you feel tired and drowsy even if you are getting enough sleep every night.
If you find yourself constantly feeling tired and drowsy at work, even when you are getting a good night’s sleep, take a look at your work.
Are you doing work you no longer enjoy? Do you feel like you are trapped in mindless work that you don’t find stimulating? This could be the reason behind your lack of energy.
In this case, try to find out what brought about the problem.
If you have been assigned new duties that you don’t enjoy, try to talk to your supervisor so that you can work on projects that you find motivating.
If you are still doing the same thing but no longer find it enjoyable, it might be time to try something new. Finding something new and exciting to do with infuse you with energy once again.
You might also feel constantly tired when you don’t see the point of what you are doing on a daily basis.
Perhaps you joined the organization because you believed in the organization’s mission and vision, but you don’t see how your work serves this mission.
This can result in your work feeling like a meaningless grind, leading to boredom and the subsequent lethargy.
If this is the case, try to find if there is a way to position yourself in such a way that you can be entrusted with more meaningful work. If you don’t find a solution, it might be time to start hunting for a new job, or even time to totally change your career.
YOU ARE STRESSED OUT
Being perpetually fatigued could also be a sign that you are under stress.
The stress could be caused by different aspects of your work – a boss that is constantly breathing down your neck, having more tasks on your plate than you can handle single-handedly, annoying clients who keep nagging you with never ending demands, or perhaps the whole organization is undergoing some difficulties that are making you stressed out.
Whenever you are stressed out, your brain triggers something known as the fight or flight response.
This is an automatic response that is meant to prepare you to deal with stressful situations – basically anything that your brain considers to be detrimental to your wellbeing.
Anything that might lead to a negative emotional response is seen as a threat to your wellbeing. When the fight or flight response is activated, it triggers the release of hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline.
These hormones in turn cause some physiological changes that are meant to prepare you to deal with the situation, such as tension in the muscles, increased heart rate, increased respiration rate, and so on. These physiological changes are taxing to your energy resources.
Normally, the changes associated with the fight or flight response are meant to only last a short while, until your wellbeing is no longer in danger.
When something at work is stressing you, however, your brain believes that your wellbeing is under continuous threat, so you end up remaining in the fight or flight response.
When you are constantly in this acute stress response mode, you might not notice the physiological changes in your body, but they are there.
Remember, the fight or flight response is an emergency state that is only meant to be active for short durations.
Remaining in this state for extended periods of time saps your energy and leaves you feeling exhausted. In extreme cases, it can even lead to medical conditions.
Therefore, the constant exhaustion you are experiencing at work could be a sign that something is stressing you out. In order to regain your energy, you need a way of dealing with the stressors.
In the short term, you can regain your energy by finding a way of calming yourself down, such as engaging in breathing exercises, performing a quick meditation routine, or engaging in something that will distract your mind from whatever is stressing you out.
In the long term, however, you need to find a way of permanently dealing with the source of your stress. If the source of your stress is an annoying client, it might be a wise move to drop that particular client.
If your boss is the source of stress, try to have a conversation with him and find a way for the two of you to work together without being on each other’s case.
If you have too many tasks to handle, consider delegating some to a subordinate or finding someone to help you.
YOU ARE A PERFECTIONIST
Being a perfectionist is a good thing, right? If you can do everything to perfection, your performance will be excellent, and you can rise up the corporate ladder much faster, right?
Wrong on both counts. Lots of people view perfectionism as a virtue, especially at the workplace, yet it could be the very reason you are constantly feeling tired at work.
The problem with perfectionism is that it is impossible to achieve.
Nothing you do will ever be perfect. Trying to achieve perfectionism will only have you expending more time and effort in projects and tasks than is necessary.
Perfectionism also pushes you to set unrealistic goals that are unachievable.
Regardless of how much you achieve, there will be no sense of self-satisfaction because you won’t have achieved your unrealistic goals. All these factors can sap your energy and leave you feeling exhausted.
The link between perfectionism and fatigue is something that has been scientifically proven.
According to a research carried out by Thomas Curan and Andrew P. Hill from the University of Bath, people who strive for perfection are more likely to experience burnout at work.
Similarly, this other research found out that people who aim for perfection as a way of being accepted by others are more likely to suffer from fatigue.
If your exhaustion is a result of perfectionism, you need to take some steps to overcome the perfectionism.
These include re-evaluating your standards, limiting the time you spend working on projects so you don’t waste too much time doing things that don’t even improve your work, avoiding the all-or-nothing mindset, aiming for good enough instead of perfect, accepting that it’s okay to make mistakes, and avoiding comparing yourself to your colleagues.
YOU HAVE NO AGENCY
Agency can be defined as the capacity to act independently and make your own choices.
Sometimes, the feelings of tiredness might be caused a sense of lack of control over what is happening in your professional life.
In other words, it feels like there are external factors that are controlling your life, which means that you have no agency.
Consider a situation where you work in a job where you do not have power to make the smallest choices.
You have to run everything by your boss or supervisor before acting.
Each of your actions has to be ordered by them. With time, you start feeling demoralized and stressed.
This demoralization can present itself in the form of perpetual physical exhaustion.
If you find that your constant fatigue is caused by your lack of agency, your brain is simply encouraging you to find something that you can exert some form of control over.
A good way to remedy this situation is to have a chat with your boss or supervisor and ask them to start entrusting you with some responsibilities.
Predictably, it might be a difficult thing for them to do initially, but if you prove that you can actually get things done on your own, they shouldn’t have a problem entrusting more tasks and responsibilities to you, thus giving you some control over your work.
YOU ARE DEMOTIVATED
Sometimes, feeling tired at work for no reason could be a sign that you have no motivation to do your work.
The lack of motivation could be caused by several factors, including micromanagement by your boss, lack of career progression, job insecurity, low remuneration, unpleasant co-workers, poor communication from your superiors, boredom, feeling undervalued, the list is endless.
When you have no motivation for whatever you are required to do, there is no interest in the task.
You find it hard to focus on the task, and other more interesting things (such as scrolling through your Twitter feed or watching funny videos on YouTube) start tagging at your attention.
This tension between the tasks you have no motivation for and the interesting things your brain wants you to do can lead to perpetual fatigue.
A 2018 study conducted by researchers in the UK and published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine sought to establish the link between motivation and fatigue.
In the study, 100 nurses were tracked over two 12 hours shifts.
During the period of study, the nurses reported their levels of fatigue and how demanding they felt the job to be after every 90 minutes.
The nurses were also fitted with devices that monitored the amount of physical activity the nurses were involved in over the course of the two shifts.
Predictably, the researchers found that as the shifts progressed, the nurses reported feeling more exhausted. However, on analyzing the data from the study, the researchers uncovered some interesting but surprising patterns.
The researchers expected that the harder they worked (the more physical activity they were involved in), the more fatigued the nurses would feel.
However, data from the study showed that there no correlation between the amount of physical activity the nurses were involved in and their levels of fatigue.
The nurses’ subjective sense of how demanding they felt the job was did not have any correlation with their levels of fatigue either.
Instead, the researchers found out that the nurses who felt that they were in control of their work and those that felt that they were being rewarded well for their work reported the least amounts of fatigue.
Having control over their work and feeling that they were well rewarded for the work boosted the nurses motivation, which in turn made them feel more energized, even when they were doing more physically demanding work.
The findings from this study have been reinforced by those from other similar studies, such as one conducted by Michael Inzlicht and Marina Milyavskaya, another conducted by Samuel Marcora, or this other one conducted by researchers from the University of Albany.
If you find that your fatigue is caused by lack of motivation, the first thing you need to find out is why you are feeling demotivated.
Once you identify the cause of demotivation, you can then work on rectifying the situation.
For instance, if your demotivation is caused by lack of career progression, you can have a chat with your boss about your career path and progression, or you can seek another job where there is greater possibility of career progression.
Similarly, if your demotivation is as a result of low remuneration, you can have a conversation with your boss and negotiate for a pay rise.
YOU HAVE A MESSY OFFICE
Constantly feeling tired at work for no reason could also be caused by a messy workspace.
Funny enough, most people do not even know that clutter is capable of affecting their state of mind and energy levels.
When you work in a cluttered office, the lack of desk space is not your biggest problem. The biggest problem is that the clutter also saps your energy and leaves you feeling exhausted and unable to reach your peak levels of performance.
According to a study conducted by researchers from Princeton University found that being in a cluttered environment lowers your brain’s reaction time and makes it harder for you to mentally focus on anything. This is what causes the feelings of fatigue.
The clutter provides lots of visual cues that your brain has to filter through before concentrating on any one thing. Filtering through all this information takes a lot of cognitive effort, leaving you feeling drained.
It’s good to note that workplace clutter is not limited to the paper files, folders and office stationary. Your exhaustion could also be caused by digital clutter.
Digital clutter includes disorganized files on your computer, notifications from your social media accounts, a cluttered email inbox, and so on.
When your brain has to sort between thousands of emails to find something, constantly respond to notifications, look for files all over your hard drive, and so on, this demands a lot of brain power.
Your brain has to constantly filter the unnecessary information, rapidly switch between different tasks, and keep a strong working memory. All this can have the same effect on your energy levels as physical clutter.
So, if you are feeling tired at work but can’t pinpoint the reason behind your exhaustion, take a look around your office and your virtual workspace and check whether it is cluttered.
If your exhaustion is as a result of clutter, all you need to do is to reorganize your workspace to reduce the clutter.
If there is anything on your desk you don’t need right away, keep it in a drawer or cabinet. If you haven’t used something in the last one month, you probably don’t need it at the office, so toss it or find somewhere to keep it out of the way.
Before the end of each work day, take a few minutes to organize your desk and put away things you don’t need, so that you can start the next day on a high note, with lots of energy.
If the source of your exhaustion is digital clutter, find ways of getting rid of it too. If you have lots of disorganized files on your computer, sort related files and arrange them into folders.
If you have a cluttered inbox, set aside some time and go through your emails, checking the important emails and marking the rest as read. If possible, try to achieve inbox zero, though this might be a bit of a challenge.
If you have too many notifications clamoring for your attention, mute them, or even delete some of the apps if they are not really important.
Reducing both the physical and digital clutter will boost your energy levels, and the feeling of constant exhaustion at work will slowly dissipate.
YOU TEND TO MAKE MOUNTAINS OUT OF MOLEHILLS
Do you constantly think about the worst that could happen in every situation? When your boss calls you to her office, you automatically assume that you did something wrong and are about to get fired.
When a client calls you, you automatically assume that you bungled something and are about to lose the client.
When you have a presentation to make, you start thinking of all the ways your presentation could go wrong. If this sounds anything like you, it could be making your mentally exhausted.
This habit is referred to as catastrophizing, which is a situation where someone always thinks about the worst-case scenario in every situation and expect that it is going to happen.
The person constantly exaggerates the difficulties that they face.
The worst part about catastrophizing is that most people who do it might not even realize they are doing it.
A 2012 review of studies found that there is a correlation between catastrophizing and fatigue.
According to the review, catastrophizing makes people feel more fatigued.
If you find yourself having such negative thoughts, they might be contributing to your exhaustion. Fortunately, there are ways to counter such thoughts.
When you start thinking about the worst-case scenario in a situation, remind yourself of similar situations where everything went just fine.
You could also talk to a trusted friend to help you gain a more realistic view of events. Meditation can also help counter the tendency to catastrophize.
Occasionally feeling tired at work is normal, and there could be numerous reasons behind this.
However, if you are perpetually tired and can’t figure out why, this could be your brain’s way of notifying you that you have a psychological issue that needs to be resolved.
Go through the above things that your brain could be trying to tell you, identify what could be causing your constant fatigue, and then find a way to deal with it.