Whether it’s due to inadequate sleep, overworking, responsibility overload, loss of someone or something dear to you, or some other cause, everyone feels fatigued at times. Fatigue is a natural part of being in this realm. But when fatigue reaches the point where it becomes our predominate experience, it can lead us to act unskillfully and create suffering for others or ourselves.
Most of us dislike being fatigued and aren’t fully open to experiencing it. However, when we practice vipassana, we use mindfulness to see the dukkha (suffering) in all of our experiences; therefore, we can treat fatigue as one more experience that can be known.
You can start by becoming mindful of your patterns around fatigue and noticing, “Fatigue feels like this. Fatigue is dukkha. My reaction to the fatigue is dukkha.” When you do this, you are practicing the Buddha’s instructions in the First Noble Truth to fully understand dukkha.
As you continue to explore your relationship to fatigue, begin to notice when fatigue becomes strain. Medical explanations aside, fatigue can result from a repetitive action (such as providing constant care for a child or an elderly parent) or mind state (such as guilt or fear) that exhausts your body/mind system. If the fatigue continues, your body/mind system becomes strained. Hence, you can be quite tired and recover easily, but if you sustain strain for a long period of time, it becomes much more difficult to recover. Similarly, if you are under a lot of pressure either at work or in your personal life, it can evolve into stress. Stress is your reaction to pressure and is even more fatiguing than the pressure itself.
There is a multidimensional, interactive relationship between fatigue, strain, pressure, and stress. Each affects the other. For instance, being really tired and under a lot of pressure is an unwholesome situation that can lead to stress, and that stress can build into strain. If you have strain, either physical or emotional, and are under pressure, that strain will increase the likelihood that the pressure will turn into stress, to such an extent that something in your body/mind system breaks down.
As you develop a more mindful relationship with fatigue and learn to discern between fatigue, strain, pressure, and stress, you naturally increase your capacity to handle fatigue more skillfully. For example, if you see that you’re on the verge of strain, you might decide not to do certain things that would push you over.
Finally, in addition to using mindfulness, it’s essential that you practice compassion for yourself when you’re fatigued. Otherwise you may simply override your fatigue or fall into self-judgment, which will only add to your fatigue.
For your reflection:
- Ask yourself, what is my relationship to fatigue? Am I inflicting suffering on others or myself by collapsing into fatigue?
- Make a list of what causes you to feel fatigued in your life.
- Then ask yourself, what’s true right now: Am I fatigued or am I experiencing strain?
- Describe the pressure you are under. Then ask yourself: Is my reaction to the pressure creating acute stress?
For further study, listen to Phillip’s two-part talk on fatigue: