Understanding the Mental Strain of Fatigue

Article specially written for CounselingByTheSeaNJ.com

By: Freya Amber

We live in a fast-paced world where stress and lack of sleep are normalized as inevitable — even valued — parts of work life. However, there comes a point where you have to stop putting self-care on the back burner, otherwise you will end up going down the rabbit hole and facing burn-out. So if you find yourself feeling excessively sluggish, unable to concentrate, and fighting to focus, you may have to step back and assess yourself. The mental and physical taxation that you're going through could already be fatigue. Fatigue is a feeling of a lack of energy and motivation that can be physical, mental, or both. Individuals often describe it as weariness or exhaustion, though it is not to be mistaken for drowsiness, which is only one of its symptoms. But what causes this dangerous disorder, plaguing a whopping 43% of Americans? It's difficult to pinpoint a single culprit behind fatigue because it can occur in healthy individuals as an acute response to physical and mental exertion. However, experts warn that exhaustion or continued work stretching over 48 hours can develop into chronic fatigue. According to an article on Medical News Today, some health conditions associated with fatigue include mental health problems, insomnia, medication, substance use, and various illnesses like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and malnutrition. The most common cause, however, is sleep deprivation. This is why workers whose jobs involve overnight shifts and long, tedious tasks are at the highest risk of fatigue-related accidents and health dangers. For instance, research by the Risk Management and Healthcare Policy looked at the impact of shift work on nurses and found a significant difference in job satisfaction, quality and quantity of sleep, and chronic fatigue between those who work at night and in the day. Night shifts can get in the way of a nurse's circadian rhythm, thereby compromising their capabilities and increasing the chance of errors. Researchers argue that having a fatigued nurse could be just as hazardous as wrongly labeled medication or mistaken records. Fatigue also happens to be the leading cause of road-related accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that at least100,000 annual police-reported crashes involve drowsy driving — 1,550 of which were fatal and occurred between 2am and 6am. Fatigued drivers are more likely to drive across lanes or not remember the number of miles they have driven, which poses a serious threat to everyone on the road. Studies have even shown that drowsy driving can be just as bad as driving while inebriated. With numbers this staggering, fatigue and its effects must not be taken lightly. Employers and workers must work together to end this harmful lifestyle, and fortunately, there are many ways to do so. It should begin with providing a more comfortable environment that is conducive for working, which includes having the right lighting, temperature, and a space where employees can rest and reset when needed. With technology, employee management is made much easier. Software like Circadian Workforce Solutions can help employers track workloads and reallocate when necessary, therefore reducing chances of fatigue, incidents, and errors. For the logistics industry, where extended work hours are common, GPS tracking can help management keep a sharper eye on their drivers and fleets. Verizon Connect’s Todd Ewing explains that this can help avoid improper driver behavior, like excessive speeding and idling. Since time sheets are automated, you can identify which drivers have worked and driven for prolonged miles, and are on the brink of fatigue. Employers must take the initiative to monitor employee health because not all workers are aware of its repercussions. Companies are recommended to hold awareness programs that shed light on work stress management, a topic which was previously discussed here on Counseling by The Sea. In the long run, not only does it encourage overall health, it also promotes a safer, productive workforce that protects both human and capital investments.

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