Coping with fatigue

There is no cure for fatigue, but many people improve within six months to a year after treatment. Within that time, however, it can be debilitating, and some people do experience it for longer. We have put together some tips to help you cope with fatigue.

Up to 80% of people think there is nothing that can be done for tumour-related fatigue and don't mention it to their doctors. If fatigue is affecting your quality of life, speak to your health team.

Your health team can help with elements that are treatable, such as pain, anxiety, depression, anaemia, or refer you to other specialists that can help such as counsellors, support groups, complementary therapists.

Top tips for coping with fatigue

Fatigue can form a vicious circle with the side-effects of brain tumours and their treatments. If you can work out what makes you fatigued, you may be able to find a way to break the circle.

Many people have found the 'three P's' helpful, prioritising, planning, pacing.

Prioritising

Write a list of activities that you do regularly

Assign priorities to them, with number one being the most important to you.

If you find this tricky, alternatively split the activities into four categories:

  • I have to do
  • I want to do
  • Someone else can do
  • Don't need doing at all (or not so often)
  • Planning

    Keep a fatigue diary

    Keep a diary of your activities and when you feel fatigued to identify possible triggers and patterns in your energy levels.

    Use this information, with your list of priorities, to plan your day.

    Set yourself realistic goals

    Goals give a sense of purpose, and achieving them makes us feel good, but don't be too ambitious.

    Make an action plan, carry it out, change it (if needed). Reward yourself for your achievements.

    Pacing

    Break down your tasks into smaller, manageable chunks

    Use the categories in the prioritising section to break one large or more difficult task into manageable chunks.

    Take frequent breaks

    Plan short rest breaks throughout the day, but try not to sleep during these rests, as this could affect your sleeping pattern.

    As a guide, rest for 10 minutes in every hour and change activities after an hour.

    Stop if you are getting tired

    Review and amend your plan later.

    Keep 20-30% energy in reserve

    'Spend' and 'save' energy wisely e.g. shop online, or ask others to help you.

    Other ways of coping

    Treat specific causes

    • This can include treating anaemia, depression and pain. You may also be taking medication that is contributing to your feelings of tiredness. Speak to your medical team about swapping to different medications or changes in dosage.

    Stay physically active

    • Exercise, if only for five minutes. Gentle to moderate exercise, e.g. walking, gardening or swimming, can give individuals living with tumours, more energy, reduced pain, better sleep quality and an improved sense of well-being. It can also help to stimulate appetite. Find a type and level of exercise you can manage and would enjoy doing most days of the week. After the exercise, you should feel energised, not wiped out.

    Keep your mind active

    • Puzzles or activities, such as arts and crafts, can help to stimulate your mind and leave you feeling mentally refreshed. (Cognitive fatigue can be part of physical fatigue.)

    Have a regular sleep pattern

    • And avoid sleeping during the day.
    • Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, and have your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
    • Avoid using back-lit devices/screens, (phones, laptops, Kindles, TVs) within 1-2 hours of going to bed. Their light delays the release of melatonin, a hormone which helps you fall asleep.
    • If you are unable to sleep after 30 minutes, get up, go to another room, read or listen to music until you feel sleepy. Then repeat your getting ready for bed routine again.

    Eat like a marathon runner!

    • Your diet is important. Pasta, fruit and whole-grain breads provide long-term energy - little and often will help keep your energy levels stable, particularly if combined with vegetables, dairy and a small amount of protein.
    • Prepare your food sitting down, use frozen vegetables or pre-cut foods, make large amounts to freeze for future meals, ask family/friends for help. Read more about diets.

    Manage stress and anxiety

    • These use a large amount of energy. Learn to recognise your triggers and your body's response to them.
    • Relaxation techniques e.g. mindfulness or breathing exercises, or relaxation aids e.g. colouring books, gentle music DVDs, herbal pillows, can be helpful.
    • Your GP can provide information, and refer you for counselling, if needed.

    Find information and talk about it

    How can I explain my fatigue to others?

    Analogies about conserving energy can be useful when explaining how you feel:

    • A rechargeable battery, which runs down more quickly than before you were ill.
    • An A4-sized envelope. Before you had a brain tumour, you packed all your activities into the envelope and it closed easily. Now you only have an A5-sized envelope, so you cannot fit in all the activities you used to do.
    • A car with a broken petrol gauge. You know there is 'fuel' in there, but don't know how much is left, so you need to be more cautious and think about how you could refill it.

    We have developed a range of employment resources which may help you when explaining the effects of your brain tumour to your employer or when you are looking for work.

    Get help, advice and support

    If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a brain tumour, we offer a range of support, from advice over the phone to events where you can meet and share experiences with others.

    You may also wish to join one of our friendly and supportive Facebook groups.

    Useful apps to help you cope with fatigue

    Although the following apps are not related to 'tumour-related fatigue' specifically, they could be useful to use to help manage your fatigue and find ways to cope with it day to day.

    We do not recommend, and have not vetted, individual external resources.

    • Pace My Day - This app is designed to help people suffering from fatigue or low energy to manage their daily tasks and optimise their energy
    • My Therapy - General health app which allows you to track and monitor symptoms and keep track of medication, appointments etc
    • SitFit - This app provides a seated exercise programme with three different levels, it can help you start gentle exercise
    • Manage My Fatigue - Similar to PaceMyDay, this app helps to manage daily tasks and identifies optimum points throughout the day when individual's energy is at its best
    • ActiveMe - This app is intended to help people with chronic fatigue syndrome track and monitor their daily activities

    Downloadable fact sheets about fatigue

    Page last reviewed: 06/2016
    Next review due: 06/2019

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