Energy: SOS!

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Several years ago, I gave each patient who came into my office a survey that asked them to rate, by frequency and priority, which of an assortment of common health challenges they faced.

I was surprised at the results: Lack of energy landed at #1, outranking even weight issues on my patients’ health radar!That survey is well in the past now, but energy—or, more accurately, lack thereof—is still very much a concern among my patients and virtual coaching clients. As we approach the end of the calendar year, with all its deadlines and hurry-ups—not to mention that long list of holiday vacations, get-togethers, and preparation tasks—having the reserves to power through it all is an especially important goal.

Patients tell me a lack of energy leads to long days that leave them drained and exhausted. Less than optimal memory and focus early in a day may spiral into mental and emotional weariness and disappointment later (“It’s noon and I haven’t gotten anything done!”). As the day wears on, and blood sugar tends to drop, physical fatigue joins in, followed by a sense of guilt and even gloom that the sequence will repeat again tomorrow.

Sound all too familiar? I know you’re not pleased with this cycle, so today let’s dig in and discover what’s happening—with an eye to replenishing your depleted reserves!

As a holistic health practitioner, I begin assessing a patient’s lack of vigor with a fundamental question in mind: What is pulling down this person’s energy? The answer, in most cases, is rather simple: unhealthy habits that quietly creep into our routines—and, without our realizing it, become regular patterns in daily life.

That’s actually great news, isn’t it? Habits are behaviors that YOU have the power to identify, reshape, and ultimately replace with better routines. Which ones are behind your energy crisis? Here’s my year-end gift to you, a checklist of common sneaky energy thieves, plus the sensible, effective best practices that can help you reverse the damage these bandits have done to your vigor.

Energy Thief #1: Late-night work

Do you stay late at the office—or worse, take those projects, tasks, and the stress that comes with them home with you every night?

It’s great to love your work, but your wellness is at stake. Chances are, you’ve grown accustomed to overriding your body’s cues for rest and repair. That can rob you of sleep and disrupt your body’s natural daytime rhythms, too, setting the stage for a round of energy depletion.

Your Recovery Tactic: Give yourself a time limit.

Starting tonight, stick to your work time limit even if you have to set an alarm to remind yourself. If you become tired before that time is up, stop early. It’s okay. Refuse to give in to the “just one more thing” syndrome. (It’s a trap—I understand that personally from past experience.)

Energy Thief #2: Relying on caffeine

Does the entire Starbucks’ staff know your order? This is not a good sign.

A morning cup of coffee is common, even traditional. But the habit of continuous caffeine streaming for hours (or, for some, even all day) is sure to backfire. Whether that fix comes from coffee or another source, the effects are the same. Caffeine raises your cortisol, which creates tension. The crash as caffeine wears off may leave you craving sweets as well. And of course, you know that as a stimulant, caffeine also may keep you from sound sleep later on (…and back to #1 above).

Your Recovery Tactic: One cup of coffee, then switch to green tea.

Your best beverage bet of all is herbal tea or water—but let’s be real. Many people are totally addicted and can’t give up caffeine without headaches or other withdrawal symptoms. Green tea is a nice middle ground. It has far less caffeine than coffee but also offers antioxidants. Or, wean yourself slowly by opting for a half-decaf blend for a while. To avoid the crash as caffeine wears off, be careful about what else you’re taking in. Sugar and carbs can intensify withdrawal discomfort, but whole nutrition won’t.

The process may be hard, but I promise once you get out of the caffeine habit for a day or two, resisting your fix will get easier. The benefits of kicking the habit—more mental and emotional balance and stability, and far less tension—are well worth the effort.

Energy Thief #3: Poor eating habits

Did the last vegetable you ate come in “chip” form, or out of a break-room vending machine? Is “grab and go” your standard meal plan? Or do you rush so much that you sometimes skip meals altogether? If so, it’s no wonder your fuel isn’t translating to optimal energy.

Your Recovery Tactic: Adopt mindful eating.

Slow down. Leave room for both physical and mental restoration when you eat. Start by planning your next meal ahead of time. What flavors and textures please you the most? Food choices like crisp, fresh fruits and vegetables, plus comforting, filling, healthful fats—and energizing, restorative protein don’t just nourish your body, they delight and refresh the senses, too. Make a point of taking a real break (not a snack sneaked in while hunched over a keyboard or driving). Enjoy that meal, unrushed, so you can truly savor every bite—and get more octane from your fuel.

 Energy Thief #4: All-or-nothing expectations

Are you a list maker? This is useful to a point, but lists that are unrealistically long are a recipe for disappointment. Or perhaps you skip the list altogether in favor of “winging it,” putting in frantic activity, and coming up short in the end.

One way or another, both these approaches can leave you sleepless at night, worrying about the unfinished details.

Your Recovery Tactic: Plan for a reasonable, productive pace.

Take a good, hard look at what you truly need and want to accomplish. Start your task list with necessities—things like your job, parenting, errands like food shopping, and getting some exercise daily. Include in that list some me-time, too.

That’s your honest baseline. Add to it only the extras you can realistically achieve. Have to reschedule something to another day? Fine! That’s what tomorrow is for.

And don’t forget to check off each list item as you complete it. This simple step is affirming, reminding you that you are still in charge, and you CAN succeed. And on that note…

Energy Thief #5: Weak boundaries

About those things that didn’t fit on your list—did you really want them to, or were they actually someone else’s expectations? Do you tend to be a “people-pleaser” who takes on more than a fair share of responsibility? (Women, I’m looking at you.)

Your Recovery Tactic: Harness the power of “No.”

By making that sensible list above, you’ve defined your own human, healthy limit. It’s up to you to defend that line. If someone suggests you take on a task you suspect would leave you unsatisfied, exhausted, or resentful, decline. Once you’ve said “No,” move on—no apologies, no excuses, no lengthy explanations needed.

The low-energy cycle has negative effects on every part of you, from immunity to the aging process, from memory to pain perception, from mood to general self-esteem. That’s all in addition to a reduction in focus and your ability to handle the tasks before you. But identifying what’s at the root of your fatigue is a powerful first step when followed up with positive action. Need a hand navigating away from your personal energy drains? Contact me. I’m here to help you kick depleting habits and claim once again the clarity, focus, and vibrant living you deserve!

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