We all feel tired from time to time. Whether it arises from an all-consuming work project or overdoing your exercise regimen, feeling fatigue in the short term is your body’s way of telling you to take it easy and recover. However, when you feel exhausted on a daily basis for months on end, something’s up. Actually, what’s going on is that your energy is depleted to the point that you don’t have enough to get you through the day.
In Chinese medicine, one cornerstone of good health is having enough energy for your body to perform all its functions. From moving your muscles to digesting your food to powering your brain, energy is the driving force. In Chinese medicine, we call that kind of energy Qi (pronounced Chee). When your body is running on an energy deficit (or a Qi depletion), at some point you’ll feel it, and one of the most common symptoms of Qi depletion is fatigue.
So why does your body become low on energy? There are a number of reasons, but here are some of the most common:
- Stress, depression, or emotional upsets. A second cornerstone of good health in Chinese medicine is that your Qi needs to flow smoothly. You can most readily see this in action when you think about your blood flowing in the vessels or the digestive process moving food downward. When flow is blocked, your body lets you know in the form of symptoms, such as pain, indigestion, inflammation, infection, or swelling. When it comes to flow, your emotions need to move smoothly, too. Chronic stress or depression causes your energy to become bound up or blocked, making it unavailable to support your health. Long periods of stress or being depressed can literally be exhausting.
- Your diet. Your body makes new energy by converting the food you eat into nutrients. When you eat good food—whole grains, lots of plant-based foods, and light proteins—your body has the ingredients it needs to make good energy. When you eat a lot of packaged and preserved foods or foods that come from a drive through window, not so much.
- Your digestion. While eating healthy food is important, the ability to digest that food well is equally as important. If you’re suffering from digestive symptoms, such as gas, bloating, nausea, stomachaches, constipation or diarrhea, your body is most likely not converting all that good food you’re eating into energy very efficiently, and over time can cause fatigue.
- Pain. Being in chronic pain can totally wipe you out. That’s because, in a way similar to stress or depression, your energy is blocked and unavailable to adequately fuel the rest of your body. Pain, along with tight muscles, loss of circulation, poor range of motion, and swelling are all symptoms of blocked energy.
- Blood loss is also a common source of fatigue. Whether from a recent childbirth, heavy menstrual cycles, surgery, or trauma, a significant loss of blood translates into a decrease in energizing nutrients circulating throughout your body.
- Overwork. In Chinese medicine, working too hard is considered to be an underlying cause of illness. Too many hours spent at the office, pulling all night study sessions, and even overtraining in your favorite physical activity all qualify as overwork. The balance between work and rest is an important component of good health, as your body recovers and rejuvenates while you’re resting. When that balance tips into the realm of too much work and not enough recovery, you’re using up your energy without replenishing it, which over the course of time will exhaust you.
Many people who struggle with fatigue have no idea what’s making them so tired, and many more simply don’t know what to do about it. This is where acupuncture and Chinese medicine is beneficial. Your practitioner can help you sort out the underlying cause of your fatigue and develop a strategy for regaining your energy, by incorporating acupuncture, diet, herbs, and lifestyle changes into your treatment plan.
Daniel Melton is a California board certified acupuncturist and herbalist. He earned a B.S. in biology, completed his Masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is the founder of Melton Acupuncture in Morgan Hill, CA.