Having low energy can make getting through the day a struggle. From waking up until we finally go to bed, we do our best, but every task seems to require more energy than we have available. When one day turns into a week or more of consistent low energy, our bodies might be trying to tell us something.
Recently, my low energy lasted for over a week. I couldn’t attribute it to a menstrual cycle, and although the weather had changed, it wasn’t significant enough to explain my lethargy, irritability, or difficulty focusing. Instead of hitting WebMD or the DSM to try to diagnose myself with a physical or mental health disorder, I began to look at natural ways to boost energy. Before long, I had identified my problem — and found another of other factors that could be exacerbating the energy drain I was experiencing.
When our energy flags, here are 11 life hacks to help restore it:
Aim for balanced nutrition.
When our energy is low, the first place we might want to look is our diet. I know I did. I found that I wasn’t eating enough calories in a day based on my level of activity. Drinking coffee instead of eating breakfast and often skipping meals put my calorie consumption well under an accepted range, leading to weight gain and fatigue. It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? But eating too little or too much can contribute to weight gain and fatigue.
I downloaded a nutrition app and began keeping a food diary— not just to track how much I was eating but to get a better measure of the quality. The next time I went grocery shopping I kept what I had learned in mind and made choices aimed at balancing my diet while meeting the caloric intake I need based on my activity level. I love food — so I made sure that healthy choices were also delicious ones and began to plan meals (and snacks) aimed at boosting my energy.
Within a single day of eating balanced meals, I noticed that my focus and mood had improved, and my energy level increased. By the end of the second day, the increase was even more dramatic. I felt better, and I found that by being more intentional about my choices, I was actually able to eat more, not less, and saw an immediate drop in my weight. It’s not a trick or a fad diet — it’s as simple as balancing our nutrition.
Get enough sleep.
It may be a no-brainer, but I find it’s one most of us largely ignore. As tired as I felt most of those days, I still found myself staying up to midnight reading or watching television rather than choosing an earlier bed time — or taking a nap when the opportunity presented itself. If our energy is low, we need to honor the need for more sleep — with an emphasis on quality sleep.
Getting enough sleep often involves other life hacks like regulating light. It’s difficult to wake up when it’s dark or go to sleep when it’s bright, so we can find other ways of working around it. For instance, we can use room darkening shades to shut out the natural light when we need to sleep, and we can use other lights to help us wake up. Some alarm clocks come with lights that gradually get brighter, and I have a grow light for my indoor plants that works by timer that I can have come on when it’s time for me to wake up. Doing this can help regulate our sleep.
Eating too much, eating too little, or just not getting enough nutrients from the foods we choose can lead to fatigue. Aim for incorporating fruit, vegetables, and protein to balance the diet.
Low energy is one sign that we’re not drinking enough water. Dry skin and chapped lips are also indicative of low water intake. One of the easiest things we can do when our energy flags is drink more water. Staying more hydrated can give us more energy.
Getting fresh air and natural sunlight can be an instant mood booster and being in nature can be invigorating. As colder weather approaches, the last thing we may want to do is go outside, but even short amounts of time spent outdoors can contribute to feeling more energy.
When the weather is simply too inclement, we may want to consider bringing the outdoors in — with the addition of indoor plants. Growing something as simple as an herb garden or putting succulents around the home can help give some of the outside benefits when going outside just isn’t the best option.
Stretching is one of those things we can pretty much do whenever and wherever we want to. When we’re experiencing low levels of energy, stretching can help. It’s why yoga is such a wonderful form of exercise — particularly to address stress and fatigue. Stretching has surprising health benefits and can easily be worked into the day — even if we just start the day with a quick stretch.
On my lowest energy days, meditation seems like a bad idea. Whether I do a silent one or a guided one, I’m pretty sure I’ll fall fast asleep. In fact, guided sleep meditations are another sleep life hack I use when I’m struggling to fall (or stay) asleep. But while it seems like a risk that could have us snoozing away on our desks when we’re supposed to be working, taking a little time to calm our minds and center ourselves through meditation can actually help us have more energy.
Get your heart rate up.
I don’t know when exercise got to be an ugly word, but staying active and participating in fitness activities is supposed to be fun. Getting our heart rate up doesn’t have to be something we do with a grudging activity we hate. It can be whatever we want it to be, but for best energy results, we may want to make sure we change it up. Cross-training with different forms of exercise can help the body work different areas while still providing a natural energy boost.
Taking a break from our TVs and phones could actually help contribute to higher energy levels. Staying up late refreshing our Twitter feed or falling asleep by the light of our phones might not be the best use of our time when we’re already exhausted. Learning to turn off outside distractions can help us be more mindful of the way we’re spending our time and help increase our energy.
Make time for play.
Play isn’t just for children, but we can get so busy that we forget that life is supposed to be fun — not just work. Recently, I adopted a puppy, and he reminded me and my children the importance of play. He can make playing tug of war seem like an exciting activity. We spend more time laughing and playing with him, and it gives our energy a boost.
But I said “play” not “puppy”, so it’s possible to work in fun without going out and adopting a puppy. Whatever made us happy as a child — we should do that. Make a blanket fort and watch movies while eating popcorn. Color a picture. Jump rope. Ride a bike. If we don’t feel like you have the energy to do much of anything, we can choose an activity that makes us happy and give it a chance.
Get a health check.
Chronic exhaustion could be indicative of a health condition. We can see our primary care physician for a health check. Thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, and other illnesses could be at the root of the problem, and a health check can let us know what we need to do to address it.
Make mental health a priority.
We could be depressed. Or grieving. Or struggling with any number of mental health issues this year. If we really want to get our energy back, we need to address our mental health — not just our physical. Seeing a counselor, reading self-help books, or even working on changing our self-talk could help us feel more energy — or help us understand why we don’t.
As we move into the winter months, many of us will see our energy decrease. With these 11 tips, we might be able to give that energy a boost and transform our days from struggle into joy.
Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned author. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elephant Journal, Elite Daily, and The Good Men Project. She’s also the author of Left on Main, the first book in the Heart of Madison series. When she’s not writing for Medium and working on her next book, you can find Crystal traveling, paddle boarding, running, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, doing yoga, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with her two wild and wonderful children.
Image courtesy of Allef Vinicius.