Managing day-to-day life with fatigue

It’s important to plan ahead if you have fatigue. Be realistic about what you can do and plan to do things when you usually feel less tired.

You may find some of these suggestions help you deal with everyday tasks:

  • Spread housekeeping tasks over the week and ask for help if you can.
  • Try shopping online so it is delivered to your home – or ask a relative or friend to do your shopping for you.
  • Cook simple meals and eat small meals and snacks throughout the day.
  • Have a bath instead of a shower and try to wear clothes that are easy to take off.
  • Listen to the radio or an audiobook instead of watching television.
  • If you have children, explain that you’re feeling tired. Plan activities where you can sit down while spending time with them.
  • Avoid driving when you feel tired. Family or friends may be able to drive you instead.

You may want to ask for help if you need it. Family, friends, neighbours, social workers and occupational therapists may be able to help you manage your tasks.

Planning your life around fatigue

If you have fatigue, planning ahead is important. Plan your day so that you have time to do the things you want to do most. It’s important to be realistic about what you can do.

You can use the fatigue diary to write down the times when you feel your best and when you feel most tired. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader software to view PDF files like this fatigue diary. You can download the software free from the Adobe website. This may help you to plan your activities.

Keeping a note of your energy levels will help you identify the days and times when you have more energy. However, you may not be able to do everything you used to do.

It may help to decide early on which activities you are prepared to give up, at least until you feel more able to do them again.

Some people may find it helpful to think of their energy stores as an energy ‘bank’. With rests as ‘deposits’ and jobs and activities as ‘withdrawals’ made during the day. This helps to ensure a balance of conserving and restoring energy against using it.

While some people feel less tired in the mornings, others cope better in the afternoon. 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. It makes sense to plan a period of rest after a period of activity. Some people also find that they need to rest after meals.

Short naps and rest periods can help, however, you need to balance them with some activity or exercise. Too much rest isn’t always a good thing as your muscles can weaken, which can make your fatigue worse. It’s important that any daytime rest doesn’t stop you from sleeping at night.

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

Doing things for yourself can be very important, however it is also okay to ask other people to help. Often friends and relatives want to help and are pleased to be asked.

You may also find it helpful to see an occupational therapist from the hospital or from social services. They can help you find ways of saving your energy and may be able to visit you at home.

'It has helped me to keep a fatigue diary. Most days I write down what I’ve done and I think I’m doing a few more bits and pieces around the house than before.'


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Managing day-to-day activities

You may find that some of the following suggestions help you deal with everyday tasks. Remember that family, friends, neighbours and social workers can all help you with your everyday activities. Often they will be glad to help with practical chores.

Tips to help you manage housekeeping tasks when you have fatigue

  • Spread tasks out over the week.
  • Do a little bit each day rather than a lot in one go.
  • Ask other people to do heavy work where possible.
  • Sit down to do chores whenever you can.
  • If you can afford it, employ a cleaner. If not, you can ask for home help from social services. Depending on your circumstances, you may need to pay for this.
  • To avoid stretching and bending, use long-handled dusters, mops and dustpans where possible.
  • Ask someone to take your rubbish bags out for you.
  • Ask someone to cut your grass and tidy the garden for you.

Tips to help you manage shopping when you have fatigue

  • Do your shopping online and have it delivered at a time that suits you.
  • Ask others to do your shopping for you. If you don’t have anyone who can do it for you, or you would rather shop yourself, these suggestions may help:
  • Make a list before you start.
  • Write the shopping list following the layout of the store, so you don’t walk around more than necessary.
  • Use a shopping trolley for support.
  • Use a wheeled shopping bag to carry supplies and shopping.
  • Shop at less busy times.
  • Ask for help in the shop/supermarket with packing and carrying groceries to the car, or ask them to deliver them to your home.
  • Shop with a friend for extra help.

Tips to help you prepare meals when you have fatigue

  • Try cooking simpler meals to reduce the amount of time you spend in the kitchen.
  • Eat convenience/precooked meals.
  • Try eating little and often. Eat small meals and snacks throughout the day.
  • If you can, sit while preparing meals.
  • Prepare extra dishes or double portions when you’re feeling less tired and freeze them for when you need them.
  • Use oven dishes you can serve from to save on washing up.
  • Don’t lift heavy pans. Where possible, dish food out near the stove.
  • Ask others to move heavy items to the table.
  • Avoid bending and stretching when preparing food.
  • Let dishes soak rather than scrubbing them, and leave them to dry on a draining board.
  • Use a dishwasher if you have one.
  • Use place mats instead of tablecloths – they’re easier to put on the table and to clean.

Tips to help with washing and dressing when you have fatigue

  • Have a bath rather than a shower, or sit down in the shower.
  • Wear clothes that are easy to put on and take off. Sometimes wearing pyjamas is easier if you’re not going out.
  • Sit down when getting dressed.
  • Consider wearing a towelling dressing gown after a shower or bath. This uses up less energy than drying yourself with a towel.

Tips to help with leisure activities when you have fatigue

  • Listen to audiobooks if you feel too tired to read.
  • Listen to the radio or podcasts rather than watching TV.
  • Explain to family and friends that there may be times when you can’t see them, or that short phone calls and visits may be better.

Tips to help with laundry when you have fatigue

  • Where possible, use a trolley to move your washing to and from the washing machine.
  • Get help to hang up washing.
  • Use a foldaway drying rack for smaller items.
  • Use a lightweight iron and sit down to iron if you can.
  • Wear clothes that don’t need to be ironed.
  • Slide the iron on to a heatproof pad to avoid lifting it.

Tips to help with childcare when you have fatigue

For some people it can be difficult looking after a family while coping with fatigue. This can be especially upsetting when you have children and you’re unable to do your usual family activities. However, there are things that you can do to make things a bit easier:

  • Start by explaining to your child(ren) that you’re feeling tired and won’t 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 can be done while sitting down. For example, reading a book or watching a movie.
  • Try planning activities where there are places for you to sit while the children enjoy themselves.
  • Try to avoid lifting smaller children. Use a pram or pushchair if you have to transport them from place to place.
  • Try to involve your children in some household chores.
  • Accept offers of help from people you trust. This may include someone else taking your children to and from school or looking after them occasionally.
  • Ask people to babysit from time to time so you can do some of the things you enjoy doing or need to do.

Tips to help with driving when you have fatigue

  • 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:
  • If you feel very tired it may be better to avoid driving.
  • If possible, ask a family member or friend to drive you.
  • If you have to get to hospital appointments, ask your nurse or doctor if there is any help available so that you don’t have to drive.
  • If you have to drive, plan any trips for when you know you usually feel more alert. It may also help to avoid driving at times when the roads are busier than usual.
  • If you have to make a long journey, plan to break it up with regular stops or an overnight stay somewhere.
  • If you feel yourself falling asleep while driving, stop in a safe place and take a break.

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.

Tips for better rest

Tiredness can affect your sleeping patterns. There are ways to manage this so you get the most out of your rest.