Living with fatigue

If you have fatigue, planning ahead can help. Try to plan your day so you have energy to do the things you want to do most.

There are ways to help you manage your everyday activities. If you are working, there are also things you can do to make managing fatigue at work easier. If you need help with things at home then you may be able to ask family, friends and neighbours.

It might help to try the following suggestions:

  • spread housekeeping tasks over the week and ask for help if you can
  • do grocery shopping online or ask someone to help you
  • try simple or ready-made meals when you are most tired
  • if you can, have a bath or sit in the shower to use less energy
  • if you have children, explain that you are feeling tired and plan activities where you can sit down if possible
  • ask family or friends to drive or, if you must drive, take regular breaks.

Family, friends, neighbours, social workers and occupational therapists may also be able to help you manage your tasks.

Planning ahead

If you have fatigue, planning ahead can help. You could try planning your day so that you have energy to do the things you want to do most. It may help to think about whether there are any activities you are prepared to stop for a while, until you can do them again.

Writing down your energy levels will help you see the days and times when you have more energy. But you may not be able to do everything you used to do.

You can use a fatigue diary to keep a record of your fatigue. Write down the times when you feel your best and when you feel most tired. This may help you to plan your activities.

Try to plan bigger tasks to fit in with the time of day when you feel least tired. Pace yourself, and plan enough rest and sleep periods. Plan a rest after activities. Some people also find that they need to rest after meals.

Short naps and rests can help, but try to balance them with some activity or exercise. Too much inactivity may lead to your muscles becoming weaker, which can make your fatigue worse. It is important that any rest during the day does not stop you from sleeping at night.

It is also important to plan around your treatment. Try to avoid anything energetic or stressful for 24 hours before and after your treatments. If you feel less well one day, it is okay to be less active and to rest more.

I wrote a diary and saw the improvement. I may be a long way off where I was before cancer, but I am a long way towards a new normal.

Elizabeth


Managing everyday activities

If you need help with things at home then you may be able to ask family, friends and neighbours. Building up a support network can make a big difference. If you always look like you are coping well with everything, your family and friends may not realise how much you need help. Or they may be waiting for you to ask for help.

You may find that some of the following suggestions help you deal with everyday tasks.


Housekeeping

  • Spread tasks out over the week. Try to do a little bit of housework each day rather than lots at one time.
  • If possible, ask other people to do heavy work, such as gardening or taking the rubbish out.
  • Sit down to do some tasks, if you can.
  • If possible, employ a cleaner to help. This may be expensive. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to get home help from social services.
  • Use long-handled dusters, mops and dustpans where possible to avoid stretching and bending.

I have learnt to slow down and to focus on certain positive realistic goals for the day or week.

Carol


Shopping

  • If possible, go grocery shopping with a friend or family member for extra help.
  • Use a delivery service. Most large supermarkets offer online shopping which can be delivered to your home.
  • Make a list before you start, so you do not waste energy or time.
  • Use a shopping trolley so you do not need to carry a heavy basket. A wheeled shopping bag may also be helpful when shopping and getting things home.
  • Shop at less busy times.
  • Ask shop staff for help packing and carrying groceries to the car.


Preparing meals

  • Try having ready-made meals or pre-cooked food when you are most tired.
  • If you can, sit down while preparing meals.
  • Prepare extra meals or double portions when you are feeling less tired and freeze them for when you need them.
  • Try not to lift heavy pans when serving. Instead, take your plate to the cooker and put your food on it there.
  • If you need to take things to the table, ask for help moving heavy items if you can. Or consider buying a wheeled trolley or tray.


Washing and dressing

  • Sit down in the bath rather than standing in a shower if you can, as this may help to use less energy.
  • Sit down in the shower if you can, to avoid standing for too long. An occupational therapist may be able to get you a shower seat.
  • Wear clothes that are easy to put on and take off. Sometimes wearing pyjamas is easier if you are not going out.
  • Sit down when you are getting dressed.
  • Consider wearing a towelling dressing gown after a shower or bath. This takes less energy than drying yourself with a towel.


Occupational therapists

Occupational therapists look at practical ways of making a home safe, comfortable and easy to live in. They help people who have difficulty moving around or doing everyday tasks such as dressing, washing and cooking. They may be able to visit you at home to help you find ways to do things more easily.

Your cancer doctor, specialist nurse or GP can refer you to an occupational therapist.


Childcare

If you have a family, you might find it difficult to look after them while coping with fatigue. This can be especially upsetting when you are unable to do your usual family activities. To make things a bit easier you could do the following:

  • Explain to your children that you feel tired often and will not be able to do as much with them as before. You may be surprised at how well they respond.
  • Plan activities with your children that you can do sitting down. For example, you could read, play board games or do a puzzle.
  • Try to plan activities where there are places for you to sit down while the children play.
  • Try to avoid carrying small children. Use a pram or pushchair instead.
  • Try to involve your children in some household tasks.
  • Ask for and accept help from family and friends. For example, someone may be able to take your children to and from school.
  • If you can, get a babysitter for your children sometimes and do the things you need or want to do.


Driving

Driving can be difficult and dangerous if you feel very tired. You may be less alert than normal, and less able to concentrate. Your reaction time will also be reduced. You might find the following tips helpful:

  • Do not drive if you feel very tired.
  • If possible, ask a family member or friend to drive you.
  • If you need to get to hospital appointments, ask your nurse or doctor if there is any hospital transport available so that you do not have to drive.
  • If you have to drive, plan your trip for when you know you usually feel more alert. It may also help to avoid driving at times when the roads are busiest.
  • If you need to make a long journey, plan to break it up with regular stops or an overnight stay.
  • If you feel yourself falling asleep while driving, stop in a safe place and take a break.


Coping with fatigue at work

You may find fatigue effects your ability to work in the way that you used to. Talking to your employer about reasonable adjustments could help you return to work at a pace that suits you. Reasonable adjustments are things you can do for yourself to manage tiredness at work, but also ways that your employer can help.

You could talk to your employer about:

  • changing your hours, or working less
  • changing your start and finish time so you can travel to and from work at less busy times
  • sharing some of your work with other colleagues
  • having a comfortable room that you can go to for regular short breaks
  • having a parking place near to where you work
  • allowing you to work from home sometimes, or regularly
  • doing lighter work if your job involves physical exertion or heavy lifting.

Explaining the effects of fatigue to your colleagues might also help you manage your fatigue at work. It can help them to understand what you are coping with. It may be difficult for some people to know how tired you are, especially if you look well.

Doing regular physical activity when you are at work can help too. Even taking a short walk on your lunch break could give you more energy. It can also help to reduce stress.

If you are self-employed, it can help to talk to the Department for Work and Pensions about benefits that you may be entitled to claim.

We have more information about work and cancer and self-employment and cancer.

I had a list of things, like more flexible hours, being able to go and take breaks and having a quiet room where I can go and lie down.

Ruth

Back to Tiredness (fatigue)

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is feeling very tired most, or all, of the time. It can sometimes be caused by cancer or cancer treatment.

What causes fatigue?

There are many causes of fatigue. Knowing about them may help you to cope with your fatigue a bit better.