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Independent medical expert answers
on psychiatry and psychology

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Abstract: Burnt out and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) tend to indicate that there is no help, but experts nowadays regard this as a temporary and treatable condition.

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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

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Question(s): 
Written by: Eva Akincilar, psychology student at Umeå University.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 09 Aug 2008.

What is meant by "burnout"? What is meant by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)? Tell me about CFS and depression.

Answer:

It is important to be aware that all tiredness is not caused by cronic fatigue. There can also be non-psychological causes of tiredness. More information.

Many researchers are skeptical about the term "burn out" because it suggests that people cannot recover from this condition, which is wrong. Experts prefer calling this disorder exhaustion/fatigue syndrome. More than half of the patients suffering from this disease suffer also from depression. The difference between those who are exhausted and those who also suffer from depression is that the exhausted ones seldom show symptoms such as self-accusation, thoughts about suicide and decreased appetite. People who are exhausted feel frustrated about their situation.

Fatigue/exhaustion depression or "burnout" is caused by protracted stress, both in private and work life, without any possibility of recovering. This leads to a series of physical and mental symptoms. It may start with pains in the back of the neck, shoulders, back, stomach and chest/heart. It continues with other psychological symptoms such as anxiety and low mood, which can become exhaustion and depression, where even thoughts about suicide can occur.

Fatigue/exhaustion depression and burnout influence cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physical functions. The most common symptoms are:

  • emotional fatigue
  • lack of empathy towards other people's needs
  • low operational capability
  • fatigue
  • lack of energy
  • irritability
  • memory lapses, concerning especially short time memory
  • lack of ability to concentrate
  • anxiety
  • low mood
  • deficient sex lust
  • insomnia
  • nerve tension
  • gastric catarrh
  • headache
  • pain


How to treat burnout and exhaustion depression?

Cognitive Therapeutic (CBT) methods have shown the best results in treating burnout and exhaustion depression, but psychodynamic oriented therapy is also used to cure these problems. Therapy based on CBT is based on learning new ways to handle everyday situations, the so-called "coping strategies". This therapy can be conducted successfully in groups. Group therapy has a strong influence on individuals, due to the fact that a group implies social support, which reduces feelings of guilt and shame. The individual does not feel alone with her problems. Individuals may also need to report sick and take antidepressants, depending on how serious the condition is. The time needed to recover varies from a couple of months to several years.

What can you actually do to help yourself?

If you cannot do all the steps below at once, then begin with one activity, then when this works, continue with another activity (one or some days later). More.

  • Find out the causes behind your stress by keeping a diary. If you see connections between the situations causing stress, try to avoid those situations.
  • Think about what is important for you in your life in the long run. Compare your life situation today with how you wish it would be and see if there is something you can change immediately.
  • Try to create a normal life style: eat and sleep at regular times.
  • Try to stimulate your social life (even outside work) and try to be in environments or groups where you feel appreciated.
  • Spend some time on your hobbies.
  • Learn to relax through meditation or yoga.
  • Exercise a couple of days a week. Try to find a sport that suits you.
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