how to have more energy – 10 ideas to boost energy
My number one main goal for this year is to have more energy (a vague goal I know, but my action plan is very specific). I would like to be able to get up in the morning and be ready to face the day. Some days I would just like to get up in the morning. I don’t want to crash and burn every day at 2pm. I would also like to have more fun, but I figure that will be more likely if I’m not bone tired!
While being pregnant is naturally tiring in itself, I’ve suffered from complete lack of energy for a few years now. I’ve had tests in the past; my doctor diagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome and left it at that. I don’t believe I suffer from this condition, by the way, I think it was just another way of saying ‘I can’t find anything wrong with you.’ So I’ve taken matters into my own hands.
Much of my personal strategy comes from this book: The Power to Have Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. The authors in this book argue that our faith in time management is misplaced: how we use time (which is dependent on how much energy we have and how much focus we can give to a task) is more important for getting things done. However, the authors aren’t suggesting that we wring maximum productivity out of every moment of the day. Instead they argue that regular rest breaks and renewal are essential and will actually make us more productive and efficient.
Looking at my own life, I know I have plenty of time to do the things that I want to do, just little energy to get them done. Below are just some of the strategies I’m implementing little by little throughout the year to increase my energy, fitness and endurance.
While these are personal strategies tailored to my own situation, they are also universal energy boosting strategies that can be adjusted to suit your lifestyle and needs. There are basics that I have already attended to, but if you’re also suffering from lack of energy, you should look to covering the basics first. They include seeing your GP and getting a full check up and addressing any issues, cleaning up your diet, eating less junk food and getting more exercise (your GP or other healthcare professional should be able to help you with these too).
Here are the strategies I am implementing for greater energy:
1. Get more sleep (and more regular sleep)
People generally need around 7 – 9 hours of sleep each night. My focus is to stick to a regular bedtime and wakeup time not only to ensure I get adequate sleep, but to work with my natural body clock and establish healthy rhythms.
While it’s best to set a regular bedtime for when you naturally feel tired (and your body clock should naturally wake you up around the same time feeling refreshed), that’s not always realistic. I don’t know how shift workers do it! The little fella wakes around 5am at the moment, so I aim to be in bed by 9 – 9:30pm to get 8 hours sleep and my unwinding ritual starts around 8:30pm.
A great night sleep doesn’t always happen: the little fella might wake in the night or wake earlier in the morning; DH talks (and walks and snores and fights dragons) in his sleep (I got permission to share that); we have neighbours who regularly have ‘issues’ at 1am in the morning and sometimes I’m fast asleep before 7:30pm. And of course, once the baby is born sleep deprivation will be our reality.
But establishing and sticking to a rhythm as much as possible has definitely helped for the time being. About half the time in the last few weeks I’m awake and up at 5am with cup of tea in hand and ready to face the day before the little fella has stirred.
2. Eat regular snacks
I’ve never been much of a snack person, but at the moment I need to eat every two hours otherwise I get faint, nauseous and weak. Some studies show regular snacking between (smaller) meals increases energy (even if you’re not up the duff) because the snacks keep your blood sugar level even rather than you experiencing the dips and highs associated with large, infrequent meals.
To be fair though, other studies refute this claim and argue that there is no discernable energy difference between snacking and infrequent meals. The best thing is to experiment and do what works best for you, despite what studies may or may not claim.
There are two caveats to snacking: the first is that snacks need to be made up of complex carbs and protein for fuel and endurance not refined carbs like sweet biscuits nor be high in fat. Hence the homemade hummus on whole wheat crackers I mentioned the other week. The second caveat is that regular snacking is on top of your regular but smaller meals – you’re not going to get the same benefit if you skip breakfast or eat three servings at dinner, for instance.
3. Get adequate vitamins and minerals
My first trimester blood tests showed a deficiency in Vitamin B12 (which can cause fatigue). I’m a little surprised as B12 is found in meat, eggs and dairy and we eat all of these products on a daily basis. So I’ve started taking a pregnancy supplement and again, I’ve seen noticeable results. One small deficiency can make quite a difference. I recently read this article where the writer discusses similar symptoms of exhaustion, only to find out she had a Vitamin D deficiency.
My point is that getting adequate nutrients is vital for energy. A healthy, balanced diet is the place to start, but sometimes this isn’t enough. A good nutritional supplement can make all the difference (talk to your healthcare professional first – it’s more efficient to get tested properly than self diagnose and guess wrong).
4. Stay hydrated
This one is pretty easy for me, especially in the summer, because I already have a habit of drinking water. Dehydration = fatigue, so drinking at least 2 litres of filtered, unsweetened water a day is a great way to help stay energetic.
5. Cut out the sugar and the caffeine
So far I haven’t mentioned cutting out the junk food because we don’t tend to eat a lot of it. We don’t buy junky snack foods and we generally eat foods cooked from scratch at meals. We do eat takeaway on occasion and that’s a habit I’m working on reducing although the only reason we eat takeaway is because I’m tired. I’m guessing that by working on the fatigue the takeaway habit should mostly take care of itself.
Now to the sweet stuff:
Simple sugars = blood sugar spikes and dips = fatigue.
And in my case I’m also allergic to cane sugar, so double whammy. Again, we don’t eat a lot of sugar, it’s the little things I need to consider. I went a whole week without any sugar whatsoever and I haven’t felt that good in years. Then we baked choc-chip bickies and I was practically catatonic for two days afterwards. I was like Jekyll and Hyde except Mr Hyde was too tired to get up and do anything.
What a wake up call. I now avoid sugar as much as possible, it’s been worth it.
Caffeine is another stimulant that gives you a quick boost but leaves you feeling flat or worse soon after. I’m sticking with my morning cup of tea (there has to be some pleasure in life) but apart from that I’m reducing my caffeine intake to the (very) occasional cuppa. Cola and energy drinks are similar short term stimulants.
6. The dreaded ‘e’ word – exercise
Life is all about balance. Too much physical exertion is exhausting but not enough leads to atrophy and ultimately fatigue also. So regular exercise and building fitness, strength and endurance plays an important role in increasing energy.
Apart from incidental exercise (DH takes the car so I walk everywhere already, which is a good start), I’m also going to start going for a walk early in the morning twice a week. When that becomes a habit, I’m going to do some very light weight lifting (pregnancy approved). Once the baby is born and sleeping through the night (so in 2013) I’m thinking of going back to Yoga. I miss my yoga class.
I want to walk early in the morning for a couple of reasons: firstly DH is there to look after the little fella for half an hour; secondly I’m a morning person so the later I leave exercise the less likely it will get done; and finally I almost never leave the house alone anymore, so I though it would do me good to spend that time alone in the freshness of the early morning (I’m talking 5am here), being able to think and relax before I start the day. I should probably think about doing a bit of light exercise around 2pm when I have an energy slump, but that might come in the future.
The book I mentioned above is very much into interval training – regularly going just beyond your current comfort zone with intermittent periods of rest. Once I have regular exercise habits established and the bub is born, settled in and sleeping, I’ll look further at increasing the pace with interval training.
7. Regular rest and renewal
Having more energy isn’t about pushing yourself to the limits every waking moment. Regular rest is not only healthy and enjoyable, it can actually make you more productive during work time.
While I’m not working at the moment, parenting and homemaking can be emotionally and physically intense. The constant attention that parenting young children involves is exhausting. So I’m working regular down times into our day. These include having time off during naptime (instead of writing for the entire duration of naptime) as well as regular five minute quiet time / independent play breaks for some mummy-brain-shut-off time.
If you work, the book also suggests regular five minute breaks as well as taking your lunch break out of the office and away from work.
Another related energy sapper is stress and anxiety; being in a constant state of fight or flight response drains the bodies resources. I don’t personally have a high stress lifestyle, although anxiety can creep in at times, but I find deep breathing regularly and meditation (when I do it once every 6 months) really makes a difference. I am currently teaching the little fella to breathe deeply when he’s in the throws of a tantrum. While it doesn’t work with him yet, it certainly helps me get through tantrums with my equanimity intact!
So far I’ve dwelled on the physical: sleep, food, exercise. Emotions and mental activity also play a role in energy expenditure. Fatigue and depression are often inextricably linked.
Many studies have found that one of the most powerful tools to emotional wellbeing is a gratitude journal. Listing just three things that you are thankful each day can significantly increase positive thinking and combat the habit of negativity, which is good because negativity saps your energy.
I have started a gratitude diary and write in it at night as part of my winding down routine between 8:30pm and bedtime. Again, I have really noticed a difference in the way I feel.
9. Doing more fun stuff and regularly connecting with family and friends
While ‘having more fun’ will certainly come if I have more energy, the reverse is also true: doing more fun activities can leave you feeling happier and thus more energetic.
I’ve tested this theory and it’s definitely true – I always feel better about getting up in the morning if I have something fun planned for the day, and I always feel better after doing fun activities.
There are two fun things that I have regularly scheduled into our week (I find scheduling things means we actually do them): having a fun family activity each week and having a date night with DH every Friday night.
As a family we’ve been going for a swim and a picnic dinner in the cool of the evening lately and I’ve really enjoyed it. For our date night, DH and I usually hire a DVD and pop some popcorn, but we are talking about have a date night away from the house once every month or two, at least until the baby is born. As a side note, chatting to DH before bed (he then stays up till late) is part of my bedtime ‘unwinding’ routine.
10. Do more things just for me
I don’t have much time for creative pursuits ‘just for my pleasure’. I used to like drawing, drafting quilting patterns just for fun, writing fiction, reading. While I still read for fun, it’s usually a guilty pleasure.
What has drawing or reading have to do with having more energy?
Operating only in survival mode without exploring and enjoying your passions leads to dissatisfaction, which in turn can suck your energy. It’s the same deal as having fun, but following your passions isn’t always about having fun It’s more about the challenge of an interesting project and sustained concentration on something you enjoy. Sometimes passions aren’t ‘fun’ per se, but the challenge is still enjoyable, if you know what I mean.
So again, I’m scheduling in some creative pursuits just for me and regularly ignoring the housework some days.
There are lots of other tips on boosting your energy, many are short term fixes. I would prefer to work on long term, lasting solutions. It’s a slow process and one that needs to be adjusted for our changing circumstances, but I think that makes it more realistic and therefore more achievable. It’s always a good idea to adjust your strategies to meet the different stages in life and changing circumstances.
At the end of the year, I’ll let you know how I go (although if I’m still attending to baby several times a night then I won’t yet be as energetic as I ultimately want to be :)). If you have any tips, I’d love to hear them. If you’re working on increasing your energy, what are your strategies?
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