Chronic Fatigue and Depression

Chronic fatigue and depression share many similarities. You lack energy and feel tired all the time. You do not participate in the activities you used to enjoy. You sleep a lot, or you perhaps you have insomnia or other sleep disturbances. You are eating more … or less. You may be gaining or losing weight. You feel anxious and maybe sad and bluesy. It seems like a textbook case of depression – but maybe it isn't that simple.

What are the differences

There are significant differences between chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and depression:

People who are depressed usually improve after exercise. People with CFS will usually feel worse after exercise or other physical exertion.

People with depression have lost interest in activities that they previously enjoyed. People with CFS still want to be able to participate in their favorite activities, but they just don't have the energy to do so.

People with CFS have a variety of other physical symptoms that can not be explained away by depression.

Chronic fatigue and depression

However, a person can, and often does have both chronic fatigue syndrome and depression at the same time. People who have been diagnosed with a chronic illness often go through the stages of grief associated with a great loss . Depression is just one of many emotions that someone with CFS may experience.

Depression isn't always a bad thing. It is a defense mechanism that in its mild and moderate forms can force a healthy reassessment of personal circumstances. You need time to process the changes in your life that CFS brings. You may also need a break once in awhile from the efforts of staying positive.

When you experience bouts of depression, be gentle with yourself. Accept your feelings without guilt or judgment. Clear your calendar of unnecessary activities, and throw away your “To Do” list. Let yourself take a day or two off from the demands of life.

Help tips

There are some things you can do to help yourself move through depression. Begin with just one small step, and keep adding more until you are feeling back to yourself again.

  • Cultivate supportive relationships. Turn to trusted friends and family. Try to participate in at least some social activities, even if you don't feel like it. Consider joining a support group, either for CFS or depression.
  • Take care of yourself. Do a few things that you enjoy, or at least that you used to. Create a list of things you can do for a quick mood boost: Spend time in nature, read a book, watch a funny movie, listen to music, take a bath, play with a pet. Tailor it to your own tastes.
  • Adopt healthy lifestyle habits . Get the best sleep you can . Get some sunshine every day. Manage stress . Exercise gently , if your body tolerates it. Eat a healthy diet .
  • Challenge negative thinking. Become aware of your thoughts, and ask yourself some of these questions: What evidence do I have that this is true? What would I tell a friend if he or she had the same thought? Is my judgment based on how I feel, rather than facts? Am I confusing possibility with certainty? It may be possible, but is it likely?
  • Know when to get additional help. If your depression continues to worsen, seek professional help. Asking for help does not mean that you are weak – it means that you are smart enough to recognize your limitations. It is an important skill to have with CFS. A qualified professional can help you identify the underlying reasons for your depression, and they can treat you accordingly.
  • Source:, “Dealing with Depression: Self-Help and Coping Tips.”

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