If you’re tired, you’re not alone. A 2014 survey published in the medical journal BMJ found that 36 percent of people had experienced fatigue in the past week. Transient fatigue, mental or physical, is a normal reaction to overdoing. Maybe you stayed up late finishing a novel, or perhaps you’ve been working long hours, raising kids or exercising too hard. A number of lifestyle changes can relieve weariness and even reduce fatigue associated with some chronic conditions.
12 Energizing Habits
1. Listen to your body. Rather than trying to fight or ignore your fatigue, search for the natural remedy that’s best for you. Even though caffeine can temporarily enhance alertness, it won’t correct the underlying problem.
2. Get enough sleep. More than 40 percent of American adults and teens fail to get a full night’s sleep on weeknights, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While sleep needs vary, the average adult needs eight hours a night. Plan ample time to sleep and avoid sleep-hindering substances, including afternoon caffeine, and late-night alcohol, tobacco and other stimulants.
3. Say, “No.” This stress-survival skill can sometimes seem impossible, but do it anyway. Practice saying it in front of the mirror: “Thanks for asking, but that doesn’t work for me.”
4. Meditate. Done regularly, meditation has multiple benefits. Chief among them is the ability to reduce stress. Pranic meditation, a technique that uses breathing techniques and visualization, has been particularly effective at reducing fatigue and psychological stress, as well as improving sleep quality and quantity in breast cancer survivors. Studies show that mindfulness-based stress reduction eases fatigue in healthy (but stressed-out) individuals and those with chronic illnesses. For more on mindfulness, read Mindfulness 101: Live in the Present Moment.
5. Move your body. Moderate physical activity energizes, relieves stress and promotes nighttime sleep. Even in the face of chronic illness, exercise has anti-fatigue effects—though it’s a good idea to get medical clearance first. Studies support moderate aerobic exercise, resistance training, yoga, tai chi and qigong. Start slowly and build over time. If you do too much too soon, you may feel sore, discouraged and weary.
6. Consider herbal allies. Herbs have long been used to cope with stress and fatigue. Studies indicate that both American and Asian ginseng combat fatigue in chronic conditions such as cancer. Research also supports rhodiola, eleuthero, cordyceps and schisandra. These adaptogenic herbs help us cope with stress and can help reduce fatigue. Find these herbs in capsule or tincture form at your health-food store.
7. Drink plenty of water. Dehydration also contributes to fatigue. Avoid soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks, which cause unhealthy blood sugar spikes and weight gain. Also keep alcohol intake to a minimum.
8. Think positively to reduce stress. Long-term physical and psychological stress can be exhausting. If you’ve had the experience of doing the same task in both a calm state and a harried state, you know which one saps your energy faster. To reduce stress, change your attitude about a taxing situation. Viewing potential stressors as interesting, surmountable challenges can help, and learn to accept reality. If you’re running late and stuck behind a car driving 10 miles below the speed limit, stressing out about it won’t get you to your appointment any faster. Instead, appraise the situation. Is it that big of a deal? If your initial reaction was negative, can you rethink the situation? Accept what’s already happened—ruminating only serves to perpetuate stress—and find ways to take responsibility and regain a reasonable sense of control. Tell yourself you can handle what comes your way. These strategies are typically taught in cognitive behavioral therapy, which has proven effective at managing stress.
9. Balance social life and solitude. Loneliness is a risk factor for fatigue. However, the amount of socializing you need depends upon your personality. Socializing tends to recharge extroverts, while too many social events can be draining to introverts. Find the equilibrium at which you thrive.
10. Pamper yourself. Many of us put the demands of work, family and friends ahead of our own needs. We might even feel selfish when we take time for ourselves. In fact, self-nurturing can improve work and social relationships, as well as keep us functioning well. Each day, make time for a refreshing break. Curl up with a book, take a nap, soak in the bath or get a massage.
11. Prime your diet. Malnutrition—deficiencies of both macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)—leads to fatigue. Maintain a varied whole foods diet to cover your nutritional needs. Eating junk food, particularly sugar and refined carbohydrates, puts us on a blood-sugar roller coaster that ultimately robs us of energy. Also watch out for food intolerances and allergies, which can drain vitality; and don’t skip meals—most notably, breakfast.
12. Rule out illness. Call your physician if fatigue lingers longer than several weeks or interferes with your usual activities. Causes of persistent fatigue include anemia, cancer, diabetes, depression, autoimmune disorders, sleep disorders, chronic infection, neurologic disease, heart and lung disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Try this Energizing Mashed Sweet Potato Recipe to replenish major fatigue-fighting nutrients.
Our Advice: Relax with Yoga
Restore energy with the simple yoga practice savasana. The translation of savasana from Sanskrit is “corpse pose,” which sounds morbid but is meant to suggest that we arise from this moment of disconnection feeling restored.
Linda B. White, M.D., is the author of Health Now: An Integrative Approach to Personal Health and co-author of 500 Time-Tested Home Remedies and the Science Behind Them. Learn more about her on her website.