Like passing out at the sight of blood, an uptick in fatigue is supposed to protect you.
We all have days where we feel more anxious or down in the dumps. But if your schedule really hasn’t changed and you’re finding yourself making even more trips to the coffee pot than usual, you might be more stressed or unhappy than you’ve been admitting to yourself, according to science.
What’s really happening that makes you tired
Doctors have listed fatigue as a symptom of both depression and anxiety for years, but they now have a much better understanding of what’s actually happening in your body that makes you need your pillow. It all starts with the fight-or-flight response. Stressful events–even positive ones like planning a wedding–activate this response and cause the release of hormones like adrenaline. Those hormones cause measurable physiological changes like elevated heart rate so you physically can get away from or defend yourself from the perceived threat. As cortisol levels go up, levels of serotonin and dopamine go down. Scientists also have seen a correlation between stress and a lack of neurogenesis in the hippocampus, which leads to depressive symptoms.
With all this going on, the theory goes that fatigue is simply a compensatory mechanism. Stress hormones can trip a neurological “circuit breaker” and cause receptors in the both the hippocampus and amygdala to block glucose intake. This protects these areas of the brain from too much excitement, but it also makes it harder to stay happy or have enough energy to tackle everything on your agenda.
3 keys to remember if energy is in the pits
An uptick in fatigue can mean that your team needs more time to decompress, rest, and have fun. That might mean offering more resources, more flexible or slowed scheduling, office get-togethers, nap pods, or just being more available to serve as a sounding board for ideas and concerns. People might assume that they’re tired for other reasons, such as not exercising enough. Alternatively, they might stay mum about their exhaustion due to the stigmas associated with mental health and the desire to look strong and capable. You should be willing to observe well and be their advocate, communicating openly about the issue if you see differences in biological signs and employee satisfaction responses.
Secondly, remember that fatigue has a negative influence on productivity levels and decision making. The worst thing you can do if performance sags and choices become more questionable is to get overly critical and harshly point fingers. This isn’t to say you should stop holding people accountable. Rather, it’s to say that getting angry or pointing out faults in unkind ways can stress the team out even more and compound the fatigue problem. Don’t assume that the employees don’t want to succeed. Give them a chance to make up for mistakes as you try to eliminate whatever operational or cultural stressors you might be responsible for the workplace.
Lastly, understand that people are individual. What’s stressful for one person isn’t necessarily a problem for another, and vice versa. So while it’s fine to set general goals or standards, make sure you’re getting to know each your team members so you understand how best to keep them happy and energized. Don’t just make small-talk jokes about caffeine intake as everybody waits for a meeting to start. Really work hard to create a relationship of trust so that when an employee does have a stressful situation on her hands, she’ll feel comfortable enough to level with you about it. Friendship, after all, is one of the best stress busters there is.