mental and physical fatigue
Wellness Hub

The differences between being mentally tired and physically exhausted

door Floris Biesemans op Feb 21, 2023

Mental and physical fatigue are two different types of fatigue that are common in people. Physical fatigue is caused by physical activity and can occur after an intense workout, a day of hard work or a long walk. On the other hand, mental fatigue can be experienced after a mentally demanding activity, such as prolonged thinking, making a difficult decision, or processing complex information. Although mental fatigue does not cause the same physical exhaustion as physical fatigue, it can still have a significant impact on a person's performance and well-being. Therefore, it is important to understand the difference between mental and physical fatigue so that we can effectively manage our energy reserves and keep our bodies and minds healthy.

Which is most common: mental or physical fatigue?

It is difficult to say which is most common between mental and physical fatigue because it depends on several factors, such as a person's lifestyle, occupation, activities, and mental and physical health. For example, people who perform heavy physical labor, such as construction workers or factory workers, may suffer more from physical fatigue than mental fatigue, while people with sedentary occupations, such as office workers, may suffer more from mental fatigue.
Moreover, physical and mental fatigue are often closely linked. For example, if a person does mentally challenging work for a long time, it may also cause physical fatigue, as the body is held in a tense and loaded position. Conversely, prolonged physical fatigue can also cause mental fatigue because it can affect concentration, mood and cognitive function.

Most common causes of fatigue

The following are three common causes of mental fatigue and three common causes of physical fatigue:

Causes of mental fatigue:
  1. Prolonged cognitive work: Performing prolonged cognitive work, such as studying, writing or thinking, can cause mental fatigue.
  2. Emotional stress: Dealing with emotional stress, such as anxiety, sadness, or anger, can also cause mental fatigue.
  3. Lack of sleep: Insufficient sleep can cause mental fatigue and affect cognitive function and mood.
Physical fatigue

Causes of physical fatigue:

  1. Physical exertion: Performing physically demanding work, such as exercising, lifting or running, can cause physical fatigue.
  2. Illness: Various diseases and conditions, such as the flu, colds or chronic fatigue syndrome, can cause physical fatigue.
  3. Poor diet: Poor nutrition with insufficient nutrients and excessive consumption of sugars and caffeine can also contribute to physical fatigue.

It is important to understand that mental and physical fatigue can affect each other, and lack of rest and recovery in both forms of fatigue can lead to a negative impact on health and well-being.

Influence of age on fatigue

There are several studies that have examined the relationship between age and physical or mental fatigue. In general, however, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific age group that is most affected by physical or mental fatigue because it depends on several factors, including lifestyle, occupation, activities, health and personal circumstances.
For example, physical fatigue may be more common in people who do physically demanding work, such as construction workers, agricultural workers and factory workers, regardless of age. On the other hand, mental fatigue may be more common in people with sedentary occupations, such as office workers, regardless of age.
However, there are some studies that have attempted to examine the relationship between age and fatigue. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, for example, found that older workers are more physically fatigued than younger workers. This may be explained by the decline in physical capacity and recovery ability with aging.
Another study, published in 2018 in the journal BMC Public Health, examined the relationship between age and mental fatigue. The study found that workers between the ages of 30 and 50 are most susceptible to mental fatigue, possibly due to their work and family responsibilities.

When do I get rid of fatigue?

It is difficult to say whether it is easier to get rid of physical or mental fatigue because it depends on the cause of the fatigue and individual circumstances. Both physical and mental fatigue can have a negative impact on quality of life and well-being, and it is important to try to address the causes of fatigue to see improvement.
When it comes to physical fatigue, rest and recovery can help reduce fatigue. It is important to get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods, drink enough water and exercise regularly to improve physical health. If necessary, physical therapy or medical treatments may also be needed to reduce physical fatigue.
With mental fatigue, it may help to make time for relaxation and hobbies that give pleasure. It is important to avoid or reduce stressful situations and to get enough sleep. If necessary, it may be helpful to seek professional help, such as counseling or therapy, to reduce mental fatigue.

Do you still sometimes suffer from fatigue? Then read the blog "Fatigue, what can you do about being tired?".

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