How to Handle Fatigue

exhausted man rubs his forehead as he sits on the side of his bed

“Fatigue” is feeling more than tired – physically, mentally, and emotionally. It means having less energy to do the things you normally do or want to do. Fatigue can last a long time and can affect your daily routine and relationships.

What to look for:

  • Feeling like you have no energy
  • Sleeping more than normal
  • Not wanting to or not being able to do normal activities
  • Paying less attention to how you look
  • Feeling tired even after sleeping
  • Trouble thinking or concentrating
  • Trouble finding words and speaking

Whether brought on by work, family, social demands, illness such as cancer, or even a simple head cold, fatigue can make even small things seem overwhelming. To conserve your energy, decide which things are most important to do and focus on them. Let the other stuff go.

Feeling tired may be linked to feeling depressed and anxious. Talk to your doctor or nurse about it. Let them know how bad it is so you can get the help you need to deal with it. You may also try activities that help you relax, such as walking on a beach, meditating, or gardening. Or it may help to find something that distracts you. Listen to music, read a book, or hang out with friends or family.

And even if you’re feeling tired, try to get some exercise. Aerobic and strength-training programs –with your doctor's OK – can give you an energy boost, improve your health, and make you feel better about yourself. Exercise can also help you sleep more soundly, which in turn increases your energy level. Even a short walk can make a big difference.

Here are some things to try:

  • Balance rest and activity. Too much time in bed can make you weak.
  • Talk to your doctor about physical exercise and what’s best for you.
  • List your activities in order of how important they are to you, so you can do the more important ones when you have the most energy.
  • Ask for help and have other people do things for you when possible.
  • Unless you’re given other instructions, eat a balanced diet that includes protein (meat, milk, eggs, and beans) and drink about 8 to 10 glasses of water a day.
  • Learn ways to deal with your stress. Try to reduce it using things like deep breathing, imagery, meditation, prayer, talking with others, reading, listening to music, painting, or any other things you like to do.
  • Tell your health care provider about your fatigue. Keep a record of how you feel each day. Take it with you when you see your doctor.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatments. Get more tips for managing fatigue and other physical and emotional side effects when you have cancer.


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