Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer treatment, said Chandana Banerjee, M.D., M.P.A., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope.
Fatigue isn’t just physical, Banerjee added. “You also have emotional and cognitive changes taking place that contribute to that sense of exhaustion.”
While fatigue is common, patients don’t always think to discuss it with their doctors. “People often don’t mention it until things get really bad and they’re tired to the point where daily life is really difficult. By then, it’s harder to treat,” Banerjee said.
The good news: Fatigue is not inevitable. If you’re feeling weary, speak up – and then try these five strategies to regain your energy.
1. Get Moving
Research shows that regular physical activity can significantly reduce fatigue in people being treated for cancer. If you’re not already active, start slow with short daily walks or a gentle spin on a stationary bicycle.
2. Eat Right
Don’t underestimate the importance of good nutrition, Banerjee said. During treatment you might not have much appetite, but it’s important to take in nutritious fuel for your body. Talk to a nutritionist for ideas about healthy, palatable meals to keep your energy up.
3. Ease Your Mind
Patients should consider psychosocial treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches people to change negative thought patterns and improve coping strategies. Numerous studies have found this type of therapy is effective at reducing cancer-related fatigue. Banerjee also suggested strategies such as hypnosis, biofeedback and relaxation techniques, which can reduce fatigue and boost emotional well-being.
4. Check Your Sleep Habits
Cancer treatment can keep you up at night, from worry and from physical discomfort. Unsurprisingly, if you sleep poorly at night, you’ll wake up tired the next day. Your health care team can help you establish good habits to maximize nighttime sleep, such as keeping naps short, avoiding bright lights in the evening and limiting caffeine in the afternoon.
5. Consider Medications
Most patients who take the previous steps find they can significantly reduce their fatigue, Banerjee said. But if that’s not enough, your doctor might be able to prescribe a medication to help relieve fatigue. Sometimes, too, adjusting the doses of your existing medications can increase your energy.
So don’t be afraid to ask. “Be open and honest about all the symptoms you are facing, including fatigue,” Banerjee said. “You can’t have quality of life if you’re too tired to participate in normal activities.”