Trauma and PTSD Exhaustion, Fatigue and Tiredness

Complex Trauma and PTSD Exhaustion, Fatigue and Tiredness

I reckon this is one of the most common symptoms accompanying PTSD and Complex Trauma; to be utterly exhausted, tired, fatigued, not having the will nor the energy to do anything, and especially so after a triggering activation, when one’s story, accompanying emotions and adrenaline gets going. It saps the very life force and can take days to become fully renewed, only to be wasted yet again, in a heartbeat.

Suffering PTSD is cyclic: Trigger sensitivity or dissociative behavior might increase leading to more withdrawn periods of reclusiveness, making it harder to connect again to one’s self and others. And so it goes on and on cyclically, until attended to.

Tiredness as a Symptom of Complex Trauma and PTSD

It is not uncommon that sufferers of PTSD in time develop ME or fatigue syndrome. In fact it is one of the major symptoms accompanying PTSD, as are; migraines, fibromyalgic pains, irritable bowel syndrome, depressed immune system and inflammation.

Fatigue, tiredness, lethargy and exhaustion can manifest in different forms. It can be from a flat out draining attack related to what you are dealing with and suffering from. Or it can be a lingering, sullen but persistently pervasive, exhausted state.

The first one is pretty obvious. Your flight/fight mechanism has kicked-in through a triggering event, and after it has run its course you will have to pick up the pieces and attempt to build yourself up again as best as you can.

Besides a triggering activation, there’s a lot of energy invested into keeping a traumatic state steadily static, and this is mostly held at an unconsciously level.

Rupture of Boundaries and the Nervous System Responses

Post-Traumatic Stress has a maladaptive pattern in response to an overwhelming experience or period in one’s life. Rather than having been able to adjust and integrate the experience and feelings, it has breached your boundaries, healthy containment and sense of self.

Feelings and sensations generally manifest through the body. When we judge a sensation or feeling as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ it becomes emotionally polarized and tends to become cyclic, unsteady and pathological. This inevitably happens when you go through a traumatic experience or period in life.

Emotion residing in the body creates tension, and in terms of body-tissues it creates ‘knots’ or concentric tension. Emotions affect primarily the nervous and endocrine systems, and organs; from there on the effects travel to the muscular-skeletal system where pain first occurs due to the body’s enervation. These ‘knots’ or ‘cysts’ in the body are holding the emotion, as though frozen, and with deep traumas or early life trauma, it even stores the memory of the original, pervasive event.

The Body as Container and the Price to be Paid

The body-mind keeps these emotional tensions, these energy cysts in place to the best of its abilities at the cost of enormous energy. It might be preferable to choose pain, discomfort or disease instead of coming to close to the sensation of the overwhelming helplessness in the face of the traumatic residue.

The remainder of your available energy has to compensate for keeping a traumatic state, with accompanying body tensions in place, which can result in lethargy, depression, tiredness, fatigue, ME and many other conditions and diseases.

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  1. Frank  January 12, 2016

    Doc at VA has giving me 4 different meds. I asked him if any meds. give you energy he said he would check? Just tired of being tired.

    • Cheryl  January 12, 2016

      B complex may help with energy. Also ask about magnesium supplements. Magnesium helps with anxiety and depression as well as muscle pain/cramps.

      • Vivian  March 26, 2017

        Hence why floatation is so beneficial for trauma

        • Roland  March 26, 2017

          It probably depends on where you are. For many it can be too much to start with and more boundaries and containment first are necessary.

    • Roland  January 12, 2016

      The energy is locked up within the tiredness. The tiredness is the dissociation to not feel overwhelmed. Feeling into that rather than resisting will possibly open the underlying emotions that give rise to the tiredness. Make sure you do this with someone skillfully.

      • Michelle  February 8, 2017

        I have found this to be true. Insightful counsel.

      • Cheryl  February 24, 2017

        What are referring to for “feeling in to it” in this example? Feeling in to the tiredness? In to the overwhelmed? In to the original trauma? These few sentences fit me all too well. I’ve made good counseling progress, but nothing shakes the fatigue I’ve had for 30 years now! I force myself to minimally function through it and live life, but the fatigue itself is traumatic to have to struggle against day in and day out. I also have tried all sorts of nutritional regimens, some of which help a little, but again not enough to give actual relief. My newest technique to try is EMDR, which has promise but is getting dragged out with not much help in fatigue yet.

        • Anna  May 15, 2017

          Hi Cheryl, TRE (trauma release exercises) have been incredibly helpful for lifting my fatigue. 30 years is a hell of a long time to be suffering… I really hope it gets better x

          • Mi  November 29, 2017

            Thank you for sharing this… Fatigued all the time after tramatic events, and depression

    • Jennifer  November 5, 2016

      Taking an active form of folic acid helps a little. It won’t give you all your energy back but it helps you have some days you can actually be productive. You can some good tasting chewables on Amazon.

    • Steve  March 3, 2017

      I have been entertaining the thought of low dose testosterone. It may get rid of the lethergy, give your circadian rhythm a reboot as well. I haven’t broached the subject with mmy doctor yet but, after 12+ years, I am ready to try something else.

    • Crystal  May 12, 2017

      Did he ever check and get back to you? Would love to know something that would help this overwhelming tiredness with the chronic depression.

    • Jerry  November 14, 2017

      ‘ Overwhelming helplessness in the face of the traumatic residue ‘ ……..So that is what is happening !!…..soo good to know….I just thought that i was
      no good …..thanx Roland ….this has really helped .

  2. Nodie  January 12, 2016

    I suffer PTSD & I have no energy during the day then I take a nap & I’m full of energy then I have to take my meds to shut me down. Grrrr help please.

    • Melissa  November 6, 2016

      Nodie – me too!!! Exactly!!! Can’t sleep, can’t get my brain to slow down and rest. So I take multiple sleep aids (alternate what I take to try to avoid dependence. Not sure it’s working but..). Then it’s like I’m drugged the next day! Lead in my bone marrow tired! If I’m able to nap, that really helps me to finally become functional. But whether I nap or not, I still can’t sleep at bedtime. :/

    • Anna  May 15, 2017

      Hi Nodie, TRE (trauma release exercises) have been really helpful for me. I was in a bad car crash (luckily not injured, but car was a total write off). That evening I went for a session with a TRE practitioner and happily drove a car the next day, no stress at all. Basically it is the body releasing trauma memory from the muscles, particularly the psoas muscles. Do some research on TRE – it’s amazing. Hope this helps 🙂

  3. Chanda  December 19, 2016

    Diagnosed with Narcolepsy, hmm.

    • Roland  December 21, 2016

      Do you have an idea when it begun and what is related to it, on a personal level?

    • Safaa  August 6, 2017

      Same here! Was prescribed Vyvansse.

  4. Mari  December 21, 2016

    What does “ME” stand for?

    • Roland  December 21, 2016

      Myalgic Encephalopathy or “ME” (a term which The ME Association feels is more appropriate than the original, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis).

  5. BB Graf  February 8, 2017

    As a massage therapist, I understand what this article is saying and the importance of doing soul healing work. Taking supplements is going to help you keep going in life but they will only help a bit and the resolve will not come until you ACTIVELY participate in the healing of the emotional wounds. Participating in Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings and workshops helps, (for people raised in families in any form of dysfunction) but working with a therapist is essential. The meetings are not meant to replace therapy. If you can find a therapist who work in the understanding of people being a triune being, body, soul and spirit you’ll find the best possible therapy because we are whole beings, not segments.

    • Joanne  February 24, 2017

      How to find a therapist that is affordable? At 61 should I even try?

      • Cheryl  February 24, 2017

        Yes it’s worth it! I am 51 and doing therapy with EMDR. The thing I’m discovering is I’m not entirely 51 years old… there are traumatized parts of me stuck at the original age and influencing my life accordingly. As I address the traumas, these parts of me can finally let go and integrate with my current self. I hope to be fully and completely 51 through and through, and to finally heal from my constant fatigue. So I say go for it and seek help for hurting child inside who doesn’t know anything about your age 🙂

  6. Moira  March 5, 2017

    I feel constantly depressed and tired and hidden repressed anger. Had one session of emdr and can feel things loosening up deep inside. I spent thousands on counselling and therapy. Wasted my money. Just could not go deep. All it did was keep the trauma alive I felt. This trauma specialist says it wouldn’t change me as I need to process the memories.

    • Roland  March 5, 2017

      Yes, unfortunately there are few who address the cognitive part and also work on processing the emotional charge related to trauma. Keep going!

  7. Denise  March 20, 2017

    I am looking some sort of a healing retreat to go to. A retreat that possibly specializes in trauma and ptsd recovery. Is there one you recommend?

    • Roland  March 21, 2017

      Perhaps have a look at Bessel van der Kolk in Boston. They have an in-patient program.

      • Hele  November 14, 2017

        I just finished reading “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk. Wow, amazing information!

  8. Sara  May 1, 2017

    This makes total sense, thank you.

  9. Jordan  May 2, 2017

    Thank you for describing this in so much detail. My next question is: what do I do about it?

    Is there someone out there who can understand a traumatized body and knows how to help it?

    Thank you

    • Roland  May 2, 2017

      Hello Jordan. Understanding helps to create a framework. If you want to work deeper on a somatic/emotional level please get in touch by private message fro setting up an online counseling session. Regards

  10. Dotsy Maher  July 23, 2017

    OMG…This article was VERY concisly helpful..BUT thank you to all commenters…
    WOW..intellectually I KNEW I was not alone…but it has been a bad week..
    AND..I reverted to physical pain and extreme..crippling fatigue..THANK YOU ALL for reminding my “shutting down self”…IT’S OK…IT’S JUST A LITTLE SET BACK ❤

  11. Lewa  August 7, 2017

    It’s nice to see this put into words. I hope to start EMDR soon and am really hopeful. Thus far I have found a way to manage my fatigue, but I am so tired of being tired. I have changed my surroundings to reduce stressors and I have finally cut ties with my family, which was very helpful as they were a major trigger, but there is more, I want more healing beyond just finding a way to manage from one day to the next. It’s also very isolating to have so much fatigue because I feel like I let others down when I opt out or when I have to rest up. I think reading this article helps me feel less guilty because it is in fact real and not just in my head.

  12. Albie  August 7, 2017

    The last six months trauma of the same keeps repeating. In the moment of repeat I feel calm and in control. Then about 2 day after that… I get a setback… crying, sleeping the whole day, it feels if I lost a day or three… at day 5 about I feel in control again and can go on like normal. What worries me is. For a day or 2 it feels like I have a total blank, cannot remember what I did or say. I’m getting worried about it. I dont feel depressed after a episode. Just angry…
    I dont take any medecine. Just Vitamines and folic acid.
    The Trauma is from some familymenber. My son went threw a bad teenage fase, family member keeps interfering. Like a Narsist! She infuance my husband. She interfierd in my marrage since I met my husban 29 years ago. Now she start with my children… She is stealing not just my life but also my husbands an now starting with my Children…it feels if she is busy killing me slowly…

  13. Tracee  August 8, 2017

    I have trouble sleeping and get jolted easily and startled from surprise touches

  14. karen  August 29, 2017

    The NHS does have trauma specialists, my NHS Trust has added this specialism – do try to campaign for greater awareness among GP’s and Mental Health Trusts of your somatic & PTSD symptoms. My belief is that this is under diagnosed & wrongly treated. As Roland said without containment & skilled psychological understanding, clients are left to flounder. I would also recommend a highly experienced massage body worker, to deal with long standing intense pain. Namaste.

  15. Odette  October 30, 2017

    From early childhood right up until now, ive had endless trauma, emotional stress and sometimes severe depression. From an early age in adulthood i developed severe health issues. Complicated by raising children and living in an unhealthy unfufilled marriage ihave see various therapists over time whit not much success. My life has become so unbearable that i continuously pray that i can just sleep and not wake up.i have always had a strong spiritual belief system without which i don’t think i would have reached this age in my life.

  16. Tricia  March 21, 2018

    I have been noticing for some time that I have cysts on my arms and could on my legs. I have chronic PTSD and I did associate when under tremendous stress at some point I as I call it go on auto pilot. Sometimes also I get extremely tired n can sleep for one day up to 5 days n not wake up. I really thought I was going crazy until I seemed therapy n started reading your articles. When I go on auto pilot I won’t remember anything about the incident until someone tells me how weird I was acting n people think I’m on drugs which I’m not cause I don’t use street drugs. This has been going on for a lot of years. I call them episodes and the can last up to four to five days. They can be very scary for me n my family. I don’t know a single person that this happens to which makes it hard for me to go out with friends cause I never know when an episode may accure.


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