By Radha Marcum, Senior Editor
In August, right before my kids went back to school, I began to wonder if I was suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Day after day, week after week, I felt sluggish, achy, headachy . . . totally unmotivated. If anyone asked me how I was, an exasperated “Tired!” was at the tip of my tongue. I may not be 29 anymore, I thought to myself, but what the heck is going on?
I have a known low-thyroid condition, which when untreated made me feel dog-tired by five o’clock, but my thyroid hormone levels had tested fine a couple months before. Thyroid was an unlikely culprit. Possible nutritional deficiencies, food allergies, sleep problems, and other physiological malfunctions danced in my head. This did me no good. I went down the rabbit hole of random online research anyway.
Luckily, I was too busy to act on any of my badly formulated hunches. Lo and behold, when the weather cooled a bit, my kids started school, and our family went back to a regular schedule, my energy levels magically rebounded. And with the clarity of being more awake—and far less frazzled—I could see that my energy depended on a few habits that I’d let fall by the wayside over the summer.
Whether or not you have kids, your day is probably hectic. Maybe you work at a job that is downright draining. Some energy suckers are unavoidable. The trick is to fill the energy bucket faster than any holes leak out the bottom. What fills your bucket? If you’re really tired, you’ll know, because as my twist on the old adage goes: Desperation is the mother of reinvention.
Here are five of my own personal everyday energy boosters. They all take less than fifteen minutes. They may sound simple, but their effects far outlast any cups of coffee.
- Wake and meditate. I do simple meditation on the breath, followed by loving-kindness meditation. Doing this the very first thing in the morning, before I look at e-mail or take care of anyone else, profoundly influences how I go about the rest of my day. I feel lighter. More attuned. I’m less likely to waste lots of energy immediately focusing on a miles-long to-do list and becoming overwhelmed.
You don’t need formal meditation instruction to start, though it can be helpful. Simply sit in a quiet, uplifting area of your home or outside where you can sit comfortably, undisturbed by people or pets. Notice your breath for 5–10 minutes. Even if your mind spins and spins and wants to dive right into your to-dos, come back to the sensation of breathing. If you’d like, follow that by meditating on the sincere wish for the people in your life to be healthy and happy. It’s that simple. The more often you do this first thing in the morning, the more you will notice results throughout the day.
- Drink (and eat!) more water. I have a very poor sense of thirst. You may, too. I like to drink strong tea in the morning and can sometimes forget to drink anything else until well after lunch. Studies show that even mild dehydration impacts energy and our ability to think. One fix that also provides energy-boosting vitamins and minerals? Juicy, high-moisture fruits and vegetables. Some good picks to have on hand: cucumbers, celery, radish, bell pepper, watermelon, grapefruit, peaches, apples, and pears. When I do drink straight water, I’ll often add a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime (bonus: vitamin C!) to make the water more appealing.
- Turn up the AC—or open a window to cool air. Studies show that people are generally most productive and alert between the temperatures of 71 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit. No wonder my mind and body start to whither above 80 degrees! We don’t have AC in our house (where my home office is located), so I pump cool night air into the house with a big fan. Insulation helps keep the house cool during the day. Then it’s off to the air-conditioned library or café when temperatures rise into the upper 70s or 80s. If you work in an overheated building, do what you can to stay cool—and suggest to the management that you’d be far more productive if your workspace were cooler.
- Change the scenery. If you’re stuck in the same old office chair, a change of location can stimulate your senses, wake you up, and help you focus. Can’t leave your desk? Borrow an office plant, change the art on your wall, or find a beautiful new screensaver. If you can, go be in nature for five minutes, even if it’s just to pull weeds in your front lawn. Sun, fresh air, and plants are big pick-me-ups!
- Shake it off. OK, so this one almost always takes more than fifteen minutes, but even a fifteen-minute burst of exercise can do a body good. It’s tempting to give in to the voice that coos, “I’m too tired to exercise.” Nothing could be more counterproductive. Sure, exercise takes energy, but it also builds energy by increasing circulation and metabolism. It pushes stale air out of the lungs and massages lymph fluid around the body, which helps the body process toxins. Some types of exercise energize me more than others. To find your best types, ask yourself: What type of exercise did I love as a kid? Being on a bike? Skating? Swimming? Team sports? Me, I loved to dance. I love moving my whole body through space, with other people, to music. Getting to a dance class even once a week has huge energy perks for me. I also really enjoy “non-exercise” exercise, such as walking the dog or picking my kids up from school by bike.
One more thing: It helps to know your unique biorhythms. Biorhythms are how your energy naturally ebbs and flows throughout the day, as well as from season to season. Day to day, my body loves midmorning exercise and late-morning intellectual work. I never feel great during August’s hot days, when air quality typically isn’t its best and it’s too hot to exercise outside. I thrive in spring and fall.
So . . . know thyself. Do what you can. What are five things under fifteen minutes that you can do every single day to fill your bucket? Don’t worry too much if you’re flagging. (Though it is certainly worth a trip to your physician if you are truly worried.) Know that, like an unstoppable underground river, your energy will eventually spring forth where and when it can.