sudden tiredness affecting progress


Hi everybody. I'm struggling to carry on at the moment due to what seems like extreme fatigue and demotivation. I wonder if any of you are feeling the same?Perhaps its the weather/season? All I know is that I am so sleepy all the time and can't keep my concentration and can't become motivated in anything. This is really not like me. I'm usually super organised and quite hard working and enthusiastic. I feel like I need to rest but would feel extremely guilty for taking any days off as I recently took 3 days off to visit home. Also I can't relax properly for some reason. I took this visit as recently I have been going through a really tough situation with my PhD which was completely beyond my control but has interfered immensely with my day to day PhD work, so I took the time to recover a bit but yet the tiredness remains. Although I was making good progress, I now can't seem to move forward and I'm really worried as I'm just starting my 3rd year. I'd like to blame the tiredness on the events that I've just been through, but its over now and I should be relieved, but I feel like I should just pull myself together and get on. Trouble is, I just can't, and I'm so worried that my new supervisor will think I'm slacking. Anyone have any enlightening ideas, please help if you can?


Sounds like it could be a horrible stress-fatigue cycle. Sometimes you feel the stress of an event after its over, and that could be what has happened to you. Stress is fatiguing. I get post-stress migraines, which means after the event is over, I can feel horrible for several days with a visicious headache. Your body and brain might be reacting in a different way, unable to let go of the stress, feeling the need to remain on guard against other stressors that might come along.

Sometimes just wearing yourself out physically helps--a long walk, bike ride, swim, run, anything you can do to make your body as tired as you can, and then have a good sleep. That doesn't cure the problem, but at least you can feel refreshed having had a good sleep.

Can you work part days for awhile, just to get back into the groove of things? Find some easy tasks you like? Work in a different environment, a library in another part of the campus, or even in another town?

You might also be really disllusioned about things from the recent events, and that all by itself can cause a loss of motivation. I think its part of the cycle of ANY PhD to have ups and downs of motivation. Try not to be too hard on yourself ( easier said than done!) about it.

Sometimes just a change of scene works for me, for instance, going to a coffee shop to read or proof read, just to get out of the atmosphere I have been in, that can work wonders. Its not a long term fix, of course, but sometimes even making the smallest bit of progress is enough to get unstuck and start to feel engaged in the work again.

Good luck!


thank you so much Olivia, your advice is really helpful. Things are more in perspective now. Maybe I should just accept that after what has happened I can't go rushing in, firing on all cylinders expecting to be at my best. Think you're right about the exercise to tire me out properly, maybe a change in diet might help too. Thanks again.


Yep a change of scenery is a good idea, and I think diet has a big influence (are you living on a pasta-carb filled diet?!). And I think stressing about it makes you more stressed and tired. Its very hard to accept that not every day in a PhD is going to be 100% productive with major discoveries every twenty minutes!


======= Date Modified 13 Oct 2008 11:24:57 =======
I agree with Olivia, but if it carries on for months and you still think it's impeding your day-to-day work, then maybe you should see your GP, assuming you've got one that's ok. I had a phase a while back of feeling really tired and crap for months, and it just got slowly worse to the point where I started struggling with my PhD work. I thought it was just stress-related and that I should be able to deal with it, though I never mentioned it to my supervisor, who ended up thinking I just wasn't doing the work and didn't care (which I do!). It turned out to be a physiological problem, that was fixed really easily, once it was diagnosed.

In retrospect, I wish I'd mentioned it to both my supervisor and my GP months before I got really ill. It turned out not to be stress and I wasn't a hypochondriac either, which was nice! I do think it's a good idea to keep your supervisor in the picture if it's affecting your work over an extended period of time though. Also, even if your GP's crap, at least it shows you're trying to sort it out. If by any chance you needed an extension/suspension of studies in the future then you'd be in a better position, as all that stuff would be documented.

Having said all that, I find that stress and the whole idea of the final phase of PhD is tiring, plus it's not a very healthy time of year at the moment around my college, so if it's similar for you, maybe it's best not to get unduly worried. Look after yourself though. (up)


I am a big believer in listening to what your body tells you--if you are tired and un-motivated, perhaps your body is begging you for a chance to recover from the stressful event you had. I have had days where I would swear I had mononucleosis--having had it once, I feel that tired. I don't in fact have it, but just become exhausted from the work--somehow this work is exhausting in a way that nothing else I have ever done is.

Someone once told me the analogy of a car that I think is helpful to keep in mind. A car can go what--100 mph or more--but if you got on the motorway with the accelerator to the floor, going that fast, within a few hours the car's engine might burn out. It just was not built to go that fast, all the time. If you are going on all cylinders, you can do that in the short haul but not in the long haul.

I have found that sometimes time away is more productive than time at work--those times when you have so much to do and you don't see how you are going to get it done, but you are so exhausted you cannot get it all done--thats a signal to me to take a day off, an afternoon off, something! Then you can come back refreshed and energized and get a lot done.

Do you take breaks in your workday? That is important. Even a few short breaks during the day can help you feel better throughout the course of the day--an internet surf, a walk down the hall, staring into space--all can help, even for five or ten minutes. Do you drink enough water in the day? Fatigue can be a sign oddly of being thirsty!

Some drinks dehydrate--so don't count those the same as water. I try to keep a bottle of water ( from the tap) on my desk at all times, and drink it during the day, especially when tired.

Good luck with everything---sometimes recovering from stress is the uphill battle!


======= Date Modified 13 Oct 2008 11:45:02 =======
Thanks guys, really good comments. Its really nice to have it confirmed that I'm not alone or simply being lazy. Coastman, I think I have slumped into a carb phase so I think I will try and alter that! Olivia, I also think you made a good point about little breaks in the day. I find I'm really well organised most of the time and so try and get everything done in the least amount of time and end up filling in gaps with stuff I find to be productive (with the hope of being able to go home earlier), however the result of this is absolutely no breaks, except for lunch where I take 15 mins. Perhaps I could think about extending my day with a few more water breaks (I really don't drink enough). This way the tasks seem more 'bite size'. Also Ruby, thanks for the stuff about maybe involving my supervisor/gp. Worth thinking about especially if I get to the point where I need extension etc and need to show there really was a problem. I am really conscious of the fact my supervisor may just think I'm lazy as I have just been made to change to her and she doesn't know what I'm like yet!


I've been a bit like this lately; just for a week or so. I also had the trots and a bit of a temperature; so I wonder if something is going round. But it was really hard to get anything useful done. I think also it had to do with something that was worrying/annoying me; this takes energy out of you. As soon as I got the nerve to talk to my supervisor I felt better. So if anything is bothering you, talk about it. It didn't come easily to me but I fell much better for doing it.


If you've been going through a difficult situation, then e 3 day break is hardly anything. You need some proper time to recuperate.

Might be worth going to your GP, particularly if it persistss for more than a couple of weeks. You never know - you might be anaemic or something. But any medical thoughts should come from a doctors, so make that your port of call pretty soon.


I have also been feeling extra tired and with very little motivation for the past couple of days; an aching body plus a wonky sense of taste. the other day i literally went to bed at 8:30 pm only to wake up the next day feeling a wee bit refreshed though that feeling didn't last for long. Am still not sure what's wrong with me. the whole of last week i was just neither here nor there - told myself this week come rain -come thunder i have  to pull myself together because i am working on monthly deadlines. Today I got up early, cleared my desk and sat down... managed to read a couple of policy docs and jot down some notes. The tiredness is still very present, been eating well as usual though I've been having mild stomach upsets. Am thinking maybe its the change in weather or there is something inherently wrong with me. will see how i fair this weekend before i make an appointment to see the GP. scienceihard how are your iron levels? I know lack of iron does cause extreme tiredness and i since yesterday i have been popping some iron sups as am just thinking that I might just be having a shortfall.


Tsipat, what you describe sounds exactly what I had for a couple of weeks. Seems to have passed with me; if it doesn't settle just go and have a quick check up.


Tsipat sorry that you seem to be experiencing a similar thing. So very draining isn't it? I hadn't really thought about my iron levels. I go through periods of being a bit anaemic and I also don't eat a lot of red meat. Not too long ago for a short time, my hair started to fall out (not massive amounts) and I was recommended to take iron supplements as my iron levels were probably low. It might not be a bad idea to see if it works, so thanks for that. I really do think now though that it was stress related. I'm started to feel more myself again but still quite tired. I really do have to throw myself back into it and force myself to work harder though, like you I also have monthly deadline so it was leaving me quite worried. I'm hoping that as I work harder I will build up the momentum that I had before the whole thing started. Trying to stay optimistic.:-)


I hope that everyone who is feeling off gets sorted and feels better! In my own case, I am tired because of stress and not sleeping as well as I might ( which MIGHT have something to do with ingesting massive caffeine amounts during the day because I am tired.........hmm!) the past few nights--but I think the not sleeping well is due to stress as well. There is an ever present under current of stress, that is just there and does not go away.

I think it helps to know your own stress patterns...I realise what is going on with me, and its not a big deal, I am sure that tonight I will sleep some massive amount and be back to normal Friday--just in time for the weekend! I need to make sure to get more fresh air and relaxing exercise, and some fresh fruit and veggies, which means making time to get to the shops! ( ships I typed first....Freudian slip? where do I want to go??! ) I keep having really weird vivid dreams, when normally I do not remember my dreams, and again, I think its just stress, my brain never seems to turn off processing all of this PhD stuff, even while I sleep!


Thanks Scienceihard. Hope the iron sups help. You are right, the monthly deadlines make me worry all the time. i guess its the fear of not being able to deliver plus the pressure of  trying to produce the work and you do worry more when you are not able to work as much. Terrible business. I went jogging this eve, feeling a bit better! I just have to shift this. Thanx Juno. its rather comforting to know someone was feeling the same and got past it. Perhaps we need to understand a bit more about how our bodies work, the phases and processes they go through as we get on with the business of balancing competing claims. I suppose Olivia you have a point - understanding one's body is important.


Hi everyone, just checking to see how everyone is feeling? I'm feeling much better now. I took myself to one side and had words with myself. I decided a change of attitude was in order. Seems to be working so far (until I get stressed again), I have more energy and don't feel as sleepy and run down. Also, I'm viewing xmas as sanctuary so I'm getting as much as I can done before then, so I'm hoping my concentration won't falter. I don't know if this has anything to do with it, but my house was a bit of a mess and cluttered and now I've tidied and cleaned it top to bottom, I find it much easier to relax. I've also joined my local comedy club! So I'm all smiles now, just wanted to say thank you to everyone for the encouraging words!