By Laine Bergeson
In the best of times, we’re encouraged to be productive, to always do more, more, more. Right now, these messages seem to be amplified. Use this time to tackle a big house project! Write a book! Organize all your file cabinets!
Simply taking in those messages can leave us feeling drained, nevermind how zapped of energy we feel when we actually try to do them all.
Cultural pressure to stay busy isn’t the only reason many of us feel tired all the time. Modern life offers up a perfect storm of energy drains, from round the clock pressures at work (and the stress of being connected to work 24/7 via our devices) to environmental factors that make it difficult to get all the essential micronutrients we need for optimal energy through our food.
And having zero energy is a vicious cycle: the less energy you have, the less energized you are to take steps to address it!
During this time of crisis, it is natural to have less energy. So if you feel your energy dip is situational, don’t force yourself to try to be productive. For now, prioritize rest and self-care. The day to focus on boosting energy will come again.
Meanwhile, there are small steps you can take to naturally boost your energy. Here are 10 of them:
Improve sleep quality.
A lot of sleep advice focuses on quantity. Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night! But the number of sleep hours you get doesn’t matter when the quality of your sleep is poor. If you wake up feeling as tired as you did when you went to bed, it is a good sign that your sleep is not restorative. Start by taking lifestyle steps to improve sleep: lower the temperature in your bedroom, block out excess light, buffer ambient loud noises, and keep electronic devices out of the bedroom. If you don’t notice an improvement in your energy levels, consider getting tested for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea, a top reason people get poor quality sleep, is prevalent — and underdiagnosed.
Make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins.
Feeling tired all the time can be a symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal products and is added to some plant-based products. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, B12 deficiency might be more common than if you eat animal products, though there are a number of reasons a person can become deficient. If you suspect vitamin B deficiency, speak with your health care provider to discuss getting your levels tested and, if deficient, taking a high-quality supplement. (Vitamin B12 stands out for its ability to help boost the body’s energy production. But, in fact, the whole B vitamin family helps support healthy energy levels, so if you opt for a supplement, consider taking a high-quality B complex with multiple forms of vitamin B.)
Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D.
Flagging energy can be a symptom of vitamin D deficiency, too. (Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with getting sick more often than usual and low mood/depression, so it may be especially important to have sufficient levels of vitamin D right now.) If you suspect vitamin D deficiency, get your levels checked. The best natural source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, which is best done earlier in the day (early daytime exposure helps trigger melatonin production at the right time in the evening to promote sufficient high-quality sleep — a win-win!) and for short amounts of time (to limit sun damage to skin). But in most places around the world, it is difficult if not impossible to get enough vitamin D from the sun for optimal health. Consider taking a high-quality vitamin D supplement.
Sidestep sugar in your diet.
It’s true: a quick hit of sugar, say in the form of a cookie or a candy bar, sends your blood sugar and energy soaring. But what goes up must come back down… in this case somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes later. Your blood sugar crashes, leaving you with low energy and jonesing for more sugar. Not only does this lead to eating more simple sugars and refined carbs, which isn’t ideal for overall health, it causes a blood sugar roller coaster, where your energy shoots up and down all day long — hardly a desirable or sustainable strategy for being productive. In lieu of sugary snacks and beverages, stick to meals and snacks that have complex carbs, plenty of healthy fats, and healthy protein. For snacks, reach for things like nuts, seeds, and low-glycemic fruit like blueberries.
Our Best Healthy Snack Ideas: 5 (Energy-Boosting) Snacks Featuring Complex Carbs
Like sugar, caffeine gives you a quick jolt of energy. But also like sugar, caffeine’s energy-giving effects aren’t constant. You’ll ride a high until you don’t, and then you will crash — leading to cravings for more caffeine and the problems associated with it, like trouble sleeping or increased anxiety. Caffeine tolerance is individual, some people can handle more than others. Find out how much your system can handle before you feel the crash and burn (or the impact on sleep) and stick to that amount, no matter how tempting another cup (or two or three) might be.
The pesticides and herbicides that travel into the body on food can add to total body burden, or the total amount of chemicals in a person’s body, and a symptom of toxin overload is fatigue. (Every few years the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measure the levels of various environmental chemicals in the human body and data suggests links between accumulated chemicals and persistent symptoms.) Limit exposure to these environmental chemicals when choosing organic food and beverages when possible. You can take other easy lifestyle steps to limit chemical exposure, like choosing green cleaning products for your home and eschewing pesticides and herbicides on your lawn.
Read more: The 8 Best Clean Eating Diets
Move your body.
This might feel like the last thing you want to do, but a bit of intentional movement — even short bursts of exercise — can boost energy levels overall. Do whatever works for you, whether that’s a quick walk around the block or a short high-intensity training session. Just a little bit of movement will go a long way toward giving you a boost.
Read more: How to Move Now That Gyms Are Closed
Get your thyroid tested.
Feeling exhausted all the time especially in a way that feels drastic in comparison to normal fatigue, can be a sign of an underfunctioning thyroid. If you’ve tried some other lifestyle strategies for easing fatigue and you don’t notice a difference, consider getting your thyroid checked. It’s a simple blood test and, if you find your thyroid could use some extra support, working with a trusted healthcare practitioner to get your thyroid functioning optimally can make a world of difference in your energy levels.
We run out of energy quickly when we have trouble saying no and setting boundaries. When something is being asked of you, pause to ask yourself if the activity or event will help you feel restored and energized — or zapped and depleted. If the answer is the latter, politely say no. For people pleasers, this is easier said than done. Start by saying no to small, low stakes requests and build up to saying no to bigger requests. Every time you say no to a small thing, it will get easier to say no to bigger things — and to reserve your yeses for the activities and events that truly energize you.
Use supplements to support your stress response system.
The world is stressful, especially right now, and constant stress is draining and depleting. Part of the process of coping with stress is to carve out non-sleep time to rest and restore. Set aside dedicated time for rest and relaxation. Also consider taking an adaptogenic herb, like ashwagandha, which helps support and soothe the stress response system and help you replenish your energy reserves.
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