Perhaps more alarming is that some women don't even realize they've accepted exhaustion--or that they're exhausted at all. With serious fatigue comes a continuous rush of the stress hormone cortisol, which can act as a mental and physical stimulant. And just as your brain rewards you for an awesome physical experience--an orgasm, for instance--it releases feel-good chemicals after a big score in your career or personal life. Because of this, says Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress, "highly charged women often don't sense that they're burning out. They get addicted to the high of accomplishment."
That high can override fatigue, allowing women to function while essentially flying at half-mast, says Lombardo. "You may not even realize how tired you are," she says. "You may think, Oh, this is just how I am" The problem is, no high lasts forever, and oftentimes when women come crashing down, they feel the need to build themselves up by augmenting their to-do lists, perpetuating the cycle.
"Women can get so used to feeling lousy that they don't remember what it's like to feel good," says sleep medicine specialist Dr. Katherine Sharkey of Rhode Island Hospital. "And studies show people aren't good at gauging how impaired they are by exhaustion." Therein lies a big issue: Being chronically fried leads to a laundry list of physical and psychological woes.
Ragged to Rejuvenated
As with most health conditions, the first step to reversing relentless fatigue is recognizing it--and recognizing that it's bad for you. "Getting too little rest is like ingesting a toxin," explains Dr. Robert J. Hedaya, founder of The National Center for Whole Psychiatry in Chevy Chase, Maryland. "There isn't a single bodily function that isn't affected. Your nervous system becomes disregulated. You can lose muscle mass. You lose sex drive."
"Chronic tiredness also affects your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds," adds Lombardo. "When you're sleep deprived, you're more likely to gain weight. And research has found that driving while exhausted can be as hazardous as driving drunk. Think about it: Sleep deprivation is used to torture prisoners in captivity, and yet we do it to ourselves on a regular basis."
Still not convinced it's time to own up to your exhaustion acceptance? "Many exhaustion features are also symptoms of depression," says Olson. "A cardinal sign for both is the inability to experience feeling. I worry that some women are being diagnosed with depression when really they're just worn out."
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