Mental fatigue vs physical fatigue

by Jacinta Koelewyn on Wednesday 08 June 2022

5 min read

Whether you’ve had a rough sleep, a big workout session, or have been pushing yourself too hard lately, physical fatigue can make you feel low in energy. With time and rest, usually physical fatigue goes away on its own.

On the other hand, mental fatigue is exhaustion you may experience if you’re stressed, overworked, dealing with physical exhaustion or injuries, or mental health conditions.

Read on to discover the difference between mental and physical fatigue – and how you can take care of your wellbeing.

What’s physical fatigue?

Physical fatigue is tiredness, a lack of energy and soreness caused from physical exertion, habits and routine. For example, you may feel physical fatigue due to:

  • Excessive physical activity
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • A lack of physical activity
  • Jet lag
  • Medications
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiencies
  • Health conditions, such as fibromyalgia

Physical fatigue is usually directly linked to a recent event and can make your body feel weaker and struggle with strength or endurance.

With physical fatigue, it may be connected or unconnected to mental fatigue triggers, such as stress. If you’re only experiencing physical fatigue, your brain may feel razor sharp while your body feels spent. Another sign you’re experiencing physical fatigue and not mental fatigue is that with a good night’s sleep and a bit of time, you’re back to feeling energised and yourself.

What’s mental fatigue?

When your brain is overstimulated or goes through long periods of stress, it can lead to mental fatigue. Also known as mental exhaustion, it can affect your ability to think, regulate emotions, solve problems and can even lead to challenges in your day-to-day life and relationships.

A few tell-tale signs of mental fatigue are feeling tired, detached or unmotivated from tasks you’d otherwise cope well with, even after good sleep or physical rest. Other signs include:

  • Difficulty getting work done
  • You’re not sleeping well
  • You find yourself zoning out
  • You’re tempted to do more impulsive or unhealthy things
  • You worry or feel panicked a lot
  • Exercise and other physical activity feel harder
  • You make more mistakes

If this sounds like you, your mental wellbeing may be in need for some R’n’R (rest and relaxation)!

The connection between mental and physical fatigue

The mind and the body work together in harmony. Studies show that physical activities can increase mental fatigue, and vice versa – mental fatigue can make you feel physically fatigued! For instance, mentally-fatigued athletes may perceive physical activity to be more difficult, leading to impaired physical performance.

Similarly, emotions such as stress or anxiety can have physical manifestations. They can lead you to making poor choices that lead you feel worse, such as unhealthy eating or a bad sleep schedule.

Ways you can deal with physical and mental fatigue

To avoid physical and mental fatigue, it’s important to care for both your physical health and your mental wellbeing. This can include:

  • Listening to your body – and know when to be active, when to rest and when to opt for more nourishing physical activity like walking or yoga classes.
  • Practicing mindfulness in stressful situations.
  • Taking regular breaks during bigger stretches of mental work.
  • Finding productive ways to improve your energy (including tactics to beat the dreaded afternoon slump!)

Nourish, unwind and beat the fatigue

Virgin Active has the perfect blend of group classes for feel-good movement. For the ultimate refresh for your mind and body, why not check out our Yoga Calm class? Designed to aid mobility, de-stress and restore – it’s perfect for your physical and mental wellbeing.

Related articles


4 min read

How to encourage our loved ones to move more


4 min read

How to truly ‘live in the moment’


4 min read

Home remedies for headache relief

Enjoying our blog?

Sign up to our newsletter to get updates on training, healthy living, news and events.