Knackered in The City: How exhaustion became an urban epidemic
How many times have you had this exchange with a friend:
“How are you?”
“Absolutely knackered. You?”
And then you just carry on with your lives, crawling about on your metaphorical haunches.
How did it come to this? How has knackeredness become an epidemic? When did we become a nation of coffee-guzzling zombies, existing only to make it home and struggle to sleep, before endeavouring to scrape through another day. Fret not dear reader, we can help. But first, some stark truths.
“Tiredness has become the norm because unreasonable expectations of the human body have become the norm,” explains Alex Howard, founder and CEO of The Optimum Health Clinic (OHC), one of the world’s leading integrative medicine clinics which specialises in chronic fatigue.
It’s true. Cutbacks across virtually every sector mean many of us are working harder and longer than ever before; the next time a baby boomer calls you a snowflake or trots out the hoary “You don’t know you’re born!” speech, you have our permission to laugh in their face. Even Dolly Parton would have to tweak the lyrics of Nine To Five to Eight To Seven (although it’s not quite as catchy, granted).
As a result, according to a recent survey by One Poll for supplement brand Nature’s Way, 87% of us lack energy, are fatigued and suffer general tiredness; one in five feel unusually tired (according to the NHS) and one in 10 suffers prolonged fatigue. And it gets worse. As a result of being frazzled, we don’t sleep properly: the average UK worker clocks an extra 24 days overtime a year to stay on top of their workload, whilst according to Dreams, three in five (63%) say working outside of hours affects their ability to sleep.
We can’t simple play the victim card though. To wildly misquote Robin Williams’ Sean Maguire 1997 weepie Good Will Hunting, “It might be your fault.” Especially when it comes to smartphones, consoles, tablets and computers.
“With modern technology keeping us connected 24/7, we believe we should be ‘on’ from the minute we wake up to the minute we go to sleep, which itself is often later than it should be,” adds Howard. “The body needs time to rest, time to recharge and it needs us to take care of it. If we are living our life in balance, we should have good energy most of the time. If not, something needs to change. That change can only start with us.”
And that is the brutal truth: only we can make it better, which is easier said than done. If your boss has demanded you stay until 9pm again, you asking for beddy-byes could see you ushered towards the door (or so you think, in your paranoid over-tired state). However, it’s in an employers’ interests to protect its work force, as the UK economy loses a whopping £40 billion a year as a result of sleep deprivation. “Fatigue is the body’s way of telling us it needs rest,” explains Alex. “Yes, you may feel work responsibilities are more important, that our children need us and we need to be there for everyone; but ultimately, just like having to put on our own oxygen mask first when an aeroplane is going down, if we don’t take care of our own health, we can’t be there for others.”
The response for many of us (including this writer) is to guzzle another flat white; small wonder the coffee industry keeps booming (sales in the sector increased by 7.3 per cent to £9.6 billion in 2017 and we are now a nation powered by coffee). However, you’re only papering over the cracks. Alex adds: “Masking the underlying exhaustion will only make it worse. By discovering and acknowledging what is really going on, we can meet it head on.
“When it comes to intervention, a skilled nutritional therapist is crucial, as is someone such as a psychotherapist or life coach who can help us understand how to calm our system, better manage emotions, and address our wider lifestyle if being out of balance is a part of the problem.”
You can also drastically change your diet, as clinical pharmacist Mike Wakeman explains. “Even a marginal iron deficiency can make you feel tired and ‘lacklustre’ and this is particularly common in women. Make sure you’re eating red meat, or fortified foods if you’re vegetarian, plus eggs, pulses, beans, nuts and seeds. Iron is better absorbed if eaten with vitamin C, so a small glass of orange juice with your morning eggs will be extra effective.”
If you’ve tried all of this and more and there’s still an issue, Alex believes you should consult your GP. You could have CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) or ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), of which the UK has around 250,000 sufferers. “It’s normal to go through periods of life where we feel more depleted than others, particularly when life has been especially demanding, but these should pass,” says Alex. “To meet the diagnostic criteria of CFS you need to have shown signs of consistent fatigue for a period of more than six months. However, you should not wait this long to talk to your doctor or a suitable medical professional.”
And, as Alex says: “I’ve never heard of anyone regretting going to the doctor and getting a medical issue resolved. I’ve certainly heard the opposite.”