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Anxiety following fatigue

Community Member

Hi all. Last week I travelled interstate for work and was really concerned about how it would affect my OCD related anxiety. I was going in to a very high anxiety provoking situation for me and I would remain in that situation for several days. It was scary to contemplate. The good news is the anxiety hardly eventuated and when it did I was able to bypass it and keep going without too much grief. That made me feel relieved and pleasantly calm. I enjoyed myself. It was, however, a full on week and I had trouble winding down and getting to sleep each night, for six nights in a row. I had inadequate sleep each night. By the week's end I was exhausted and on my last day I noticed my OCD related anxiety was coming back. Sitting at the airport waiting for my flight home I just wanted to go to bed. I was so tired that the day after I got home I spent most of the day in bed asleep. 

I suspect the return of my OCD/anxiety symptoms were fatigue related. I know fatigue makes life harder to cope with in general, including anxiety, but does anyone know exactly why this happens? Does, for example, fatigue cause our serotonin levels to drop and hence make us more vulnerable to anxiety?

The fact I coped so well last week in such high anxiety provoking conditions is just that, a fact. Nothing can take that away from me. I feel really disappointed though that it fell in to a heap on my last day and has continued since. This is why I'm trying to find a 'concrete' answer about what is going on in our bodies that make us more vulnerable to anxiety when we are so tired.


8 Replies 8

Community Member

Hi there Rod

I have the same experience when I'm tired. My anxiety shoots through the roof and I get depressed as well. Then I get tired from the anxiety - a vicious cycle.

Ive seen a naturopath about my anxiety and she's explained two things to me which I believe answer your question:

1. When we're anxious we can have adrenal fatigue. I.e your adrenalin is constantly up so eventually you "crash". This state can cause anxiety, ie the cycle I was referring to above

2. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is highest when we first wake up or are tired. 

It's great to be able to understand our bodies as it does give back a bit of control in what otherwise feels like a very powerless mental state. Sounds like you are doing the right thing by resting, and perhaps you could see a naturopath too to get supplements for those moments when you're tired and need something to give you a bit of a "lift"?

Take care

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member

Hi Rod

Welcome to the forums and thankyou for posting

I am white collar corporate with anxiety so I do feel for what you have been through..especially interstate work related activity.

While you were at the airport your mind was letting you know that you had had enough of anticipatory anxiety. I dont like putting 'tags' on anxiety but the anticipation of anxiety happening can drain you of all the 'feel good' natural chemicals that normally help us offset and cope with anxiety.

Serotonin depletion can occur through a 'busy' and especially anxious week of activity..however after 25 years of GAD I am most certain (my opinion through experience Rod) that your mind and body were spent in being in a state of anticipatory anxiety. If I had to do the same now I would probably be the same if not worse than the great effort you made to complete your business trip.

Even as we speak...if you had 1 hour hour of sleep tonight...You would be more prone to any feelings of anxiety tomorrow....maybe a bit jumpy....over alert....lack of concentration etc.

I was in a boardroom Annual General Meeting a few years ago and I was anxious before the AGM and during it as well. I was so mentally exhausted at end of 6 hours (not 6 days!!) I was a write off the next day...I was like a zombie...My concentration was gone....

Fatigue can be brought on by poor quality sleep resulting in you being more susceptible to even mild anxiety the next day (if you are prone to having even slight anxiety) The serotonin levels are relevant but being an exact and unpredictable science it would be a hard call to make. A fast lifestyle, relationship issues....non realistic KPI's, poor top level management techniques and even a poor upbringing can increase a persons susceptibility to have even moderate anticipatory anxiety.

I have to give you congrats though Rod on what you have achieved interstate..Excellent and well done to you.

I do hope you can get back and me know your thoughts or any issues you have....

Kind Thoughts (and well done!)


I'm not sure why it's the case Rod, but fatigue is definatly my biggest trigger for my anxiety and obbsessive thinking. 

Community Member

Hi Rod


Along similar lines to what you’ve already had with responses, I think it’s a bit like how we can pick up viruses and such when we are feeling weak.  Kind of how when we’re strong, we’re able to beat off an illness, a cold bug or something like that.  But if we’ve exhausted ourselves in whatever way, our body and its defences are lowered and as a result the nasties can come and pillage while we’re at a low ebb.


As you wrote about how you made it through the whole week of what could have been very provoking conditions for you – I suspect that you were silently (perhaps even invisibly) defending yourself to protect against what could have been really nasty for you.  But then as the week wore on, then combined with your lack of sleep, things all caught up with you and the OCD and anxiety symptoms found a path back to you.


These are just my thoughts on how this went for you.


But I believe the fitter and healthier we are, this has got have massive benefits for us – ie:  good physical health, must surely lend itself to an increase in mental health as well.


Kind regards



Community Member

Hi Rod,

I have personally experienced worsened anxiety due to sleep deprivation, and I know how disconcerting it can be. I've had OCD since I was 13, so for a decade now. When I am tired I am more prone to experiencing high levels of OCD symptoms.  My main issue is a serotonin deficiency, so I take SSRI's (classed as antidepressants) to correct this imbalance, which in turn helps with the OCD. Have you been diagnosed with OCD by your doctor? I'm not sure whether you have generalised anxiety or OCD, as you said 'OCD related anxiety'. Sleep certainly has an affect on both disorders though.

I will now attempt to answer your question about why sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety.

First off, here is some basic information about the hormones involved in sleep (from my first year psych textbook): '...a neurotransmitter substance in the thalamus and in structures deep within the cerebrum increases with each additional hour an animal or human is awake. This neurotransmitter, called adenosine, plays an inhibitory role in the brain, shutting down the systems that normally lead to arousal and hence fostering sleep when one has been awake too long...over time, sleep deprivation can lead to an inability to deal with stress, ill health, irritability, and feeling distracted and unfocused.'

After doing a search on Google Scholar, I found some snippets of information you may find interesting:

'Chronic sleep deprivation has been reported to...increase evening cortisol levels*, as well as elevate insulin and blood glucose.'

This is from the results of a study on the effects of sleep-deprivation:
'On the whole, sleep deprivation was associated with a mild increase in preoccupation with health-related issues and concerns about bodily function. There was also a significant worsening of mood, including anxiety and depression. Subscale analyses suggested that sleep loss was associated with greater reporting of physiological symptoms of anxiety.'

Just in case you didn't know, cortisol is an adrenal hormone often referred to as "the stress hormone".

I think you did very well to redirect your anxiety during the entirety of your interstate trip, especially considering it was a stressful situation involving your work! Even people without diagnosed anxiety often become more irritable, worrisome and less able to cope with situations after sleep-deprivation.

Hopefully something I said has been helpful 🙂

Best wishes,


Community Member
Thanks SM. I do have OCD and with it panic disorder. It's messy. I'm still feeling wrecked and vulnerable to my obsessions.

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member

Dear Rod

it takes strength & courage to reach out so I'm glad you found yourself here where many people can relate to your situation. As an executive I worked on pure adrenalin, which meant I was able to process huge amounts of work in a day that may take others a week. That's not a criticism it just meant that when I got home I couldn't find the off switch & my mind we like a roller coaster, exhausted & fatigued but unable to rest due to being "wired". And as you've found lack of sleep causes anxiety & OCD to flood our brains. Yet you managed to recognise what was happening & hopefully can come up with a plan for nights you get home exhausted. What things could you do to relax? Any ideas?


Paul I've noticed how much wonderful support & compassion & insight you share with others. You write beautifully. Thankyou for all the support you give.

 Thinking of you all

mares X 

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member

Dear Rod

I just thought I'd ask how you were traveling. I hope my post above didnt make your anxiety/OCD seem easy to overcome..I do hope you have some peace on your easter break

MARES....Your heart is precious and thankyou for your heartfelt compliments...x

Kind Thoughts Everyone 🙂