Updated: Dec 7, 2020
I am not a coffee drinker, nor do I drink sodas or caffeinated beverages. I know those energy drinks and vitamin-infused waters exist, but I have yet to try one. I have decent eating habits but I don’t seek out high-protein, nutrient dense snacks or bars when the afternoon slump appears. When I am struggling to find the energy to cope, act, work, or make the bed, it is my mind and my body telling me something. (Usually, it is not telling me anything good….)
Energy, or a lack thereof, can be attributed to a vast array of things that are happening, or not, in your life. When energy is flagging, rather than trying to artificially boost it, it might be worth the effort to identify the cause of its absence in the first place. Using nothing but my own experience tracking my own energy patterns, here is my list of common energy zappers that I work to address when I’m feeling out of sorts. How many can you identify with? Better yet, how many are you willing to confront to bring your energy back to optimal levels?
1. Too much television or idle screen time. There are literally thousands of options on our screens. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, XFinity, and more, we can cue up television shows from the 1970’s, movies from the 1980’s and 25 seasons of Law and Order SVU at any moment of the day or night. And then we’ve got video gaming and apps on our phone. And how could we forget our news feeds, social media and that thing called TikTok? Our digital habits, whether it be on the television or the phone, have a deep impact on our energy in at least two ways. The act of watching idling drains our energy. Nothing kills momentum in my afternoon like plopping in front of a television program while my brain atrophies. And then the actual content itself can serve to drain us, too. Social media is supposed to keep us connected but I honestly feel like more division and discord is present on these sites than anything uplifting or truly helpful. Scrolling through terrible news stories, memes about politics, and someone else’s breadmaking just doesn’t provide me with anything valuable. Audit your screen time and your screen choices to improve your energy.
2. Negative self-talk. How could I have the energy to live my best life when the person who stares at me in the mirror first thing in the morning has nothing nice to say about my uncut hair, my repetitive wardrobe, or the bags under my eyes because I didn’t sleep well again? How we speak to ourselves matters, as referenced in an earlier post. How we decide to think about and speak about life right now and the obstacles we might face matters, too. So giving ourselves a break with the negativity and aiming to be gentle with our challenges and stumbles, appearance foibles and more, goes a really long way. Find an affirmation that is kind that you can believe and repeat. Keep it simple. And most of all, keep it positive. One of my favorites these days is “I am, and always have been, a work in progress.”
3. The people around you. Kids. Parents. Spouses. Co-workers. Neighbors. Your choices are quite limited when it comes to eliminating all of the people around you that you believe truly drain your energy, but that has always been the case. I can’t just get rid of my kids because I know they are draining my energy. I mean, I could, but then I’d be writing these posts from another location, like prison. There is no doubt that people around us affect our energy. And while we have very limited choices about selecting new family members because the current ones are driving us nuts, we have unlimited choices about how we are going to deal with it. We deal with the energy-zapping people around us like we deal with ourselves - with acceptance and patience. Knowing that we can’t change others should be a relief. It should leave you with more energy to use for yourself because now we don’t have to worry about what to do with them. We can stick to dealing with ourselves. When being around my family zaps my energy, I move rooms, I take a shower, I tell them to give me 5 minutes and set a timer. I remember that what I put out there in the world reflects right back on me. And I remind myself that their behavior can only affect my energy if I let it. This is hard to accept, but it should be the easiest to understand. MY energy is not taken away by the actions of others. It is taken away by my choices to react to the actions of others. Really.
4. Clutter. I just can’t be cool with clutter. I find it to be one of the biggest sources of any stress that I experience. And I think most people would agree that physical clutter brings on a level of emotional and mental clutter that is stressful and zaps our energy at every turn. There have been studies that confirm that people who have clean kitchen countertops actually are more likely to eat healthy, or stick to a diet, or report higher levels of satisfaction after a meal. With clutter gone, we have time to think about other things. We have time to actually enjoy. We have time and space to plan and find and control. Some will say “I don’t have the energy to deal with this clutter” when what they should be saying is that “This clutter is taking away any energy that I might have to deal.”
5. Poor diet or eating habits. This is nothing new. Food matters. Good food matters. Not delicious-tasting good, but good-quality. Food high in sugar, fat sodium or anything overly processed might feel good in the moment to consume but ultimately kills all of the good parts in our bodies and our brains that gives us energy to thrive. Eating too much, of anything on the shelf, doesn’t help either. Being confined to the house indeed limits my choices with food but I stay vigilant about putting things in my mouth that will help me more than hurt me. Do I have chips? Sure. Do I drink wine? Of course. But I keep it in balance knowing that my energy is directly impacted by what I have chosen to eat or drink each day.
6. Lack of sleep. No one wants the sleep lecture but here it is again: we need to sleep. We need to sleep well. We need to stick to a bit of schedule with going to bed and waking up. We need to set the conditions at night to settle our minds so we can sleep through the night peacefully. And we need to stop pretending that we live our best lives on only 4 hours of sleep each night during the week and unhelpful binges of sleeping on the weekends. I don’t know how many hours of sleep you need, but you do. Aim for that. And don’t ever expect your energy to be anything more than what you have established with your sleep habits.
7. Lack of exercise or movement. I love to exercise. But I know many more people who just don’t like anything about it. I hear those complaints, but it doesn’t automatically mean that your body doesn’t need the exercise simply because you don’t like it. Our mobility matters. Fostering it through regular movement of any kind is a game-changer for energy levels. You don’t need bootcamp. But you do need to get up and walk around. You don’t need to do complicated yoga poses. But you do need to flex and stretch your muscles at some point to get the blood flowing. Days when my energy is lowest are usually days where I have logged few steps or not moved my body. This one is easy to fix - dance, walk, plie while the microwave is going. Stand on your toes, throw the ball with your kids, do a burpee everytime you make an Amazon purchase. Get up between chapters, stand during your conference call, stretch in front of The Great British Baking Show. Just keep moving and give your energy a fighting chance to support you through the day.
8. Fretting about the future, or unproductive mental cycling about the past. The future is perpetually, out of our control. What happens with the fires, the virus, the election, the protests - not in our control. I don’t know what is going to happen, and that is going to have to be ok. And just like I can’t control the future, I can’t control the past either. It is done. It can’t be changed. It can not be made better, no matter how much I keep imagining a do-over. It is so stressful, allowing ourselves to stay in a mental tangle over the future or the past. The best option here seems to be a no-brainer: live in the present. Today. This moment. This event or experience. It belongs to you.
We need our energy to keep fighting now more than ever. Eliminate the zappers. Cultivate the chargers. And if it really helps, feel no shame for grabbing an energy drink to get through the afternoon.