CAROL HEFFERNAN, a 43-year-old marketing writer from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, regularly felt worn out from her busy life of working, shuttling her two kids to elementary school and play dates, and taking care of housework. But when COVID-19 hit last March and the kids were suddenly at home all day, learning remotely, she noticed that her run-of-the-mill weariness quickly turned into full-on exhaustion.
“All the extra responsibility and the mental load—it just added up,” she says. “I felt grumpy and tired—and it wasn’t due to lack of sleep.”
Heffernan didn’t have any time in the day to exercise off her stress. She was short on energy, and she started becoming short with her kids. “After I put them to bed at 8 p.m., I would just crash on the couch,” she says.
If there’s one thing many of us have in common, it’s that we’re tired. In fact, lethargy is so pervasive that it’s one of the issues people ask their doctors about the most. Doctors even have a name for it: “tired all the time,” or TATT for short. The solution isn’t always as simple as getting more sleep; nearly a quarter of people who get seven or more hours of rest a night report they still wake up feeling tired most days of the week.
Here are eight reasons your energy is low—and what you can do to bring it back:
BECAUSE YOU’RE SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME ON THE COUCH
When you’re feeling sluggish, it can be tempting to plop down and binge-watch TV. But doing something active will actually give you more energy, not consume the little that you have. In fact, researchers at the University of Georgia found that just 10 minutes of low- or moderate-intensity exercise gave study participants a noticeable energy boost.
Starting a regular exercise routine is even more beneficial. In another recent study, people who committed to an exercise regimen—working out for 20 minutes, three times a week— boosted their energy levels by 20 per cent in six weeks. “When we don’t work out regularly, our muscles can become weakened, so when we do use these muscle groups in everyday activity, we’re more tired,” explains Dr. Yufang Lin, an integrative-medicine physician at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine.
Exercise also works its magic at the cellular level: the mitochondria—the parts of your cells that provide energy to your muscles—actually grow more powerful and numerous after aerobic exercise, providing a continuous source of increased energy.
BECAUSE YOU’RE PUSHING YOURSELF TOO HARD
People who feel overcommitted— whether from volunteering for one too many causes or shouldering too much at work or at home—often try to squeeze in more tasks so they can get everything on their to-do list crossed off. But it might be wiser to take a break.
“When it comes to optimizing energy over the long haul, it’s about getting into a rhythm of periods of exertion and rest,” says Dane Jensen, CEO of Third Factor, an organization that helps companies’ employees perform better under pressure. “In fact, to stay energized over the course of the day, you need a 15- to 20-minute break every 90 minutes.”
Not all downtime is equal: a 2016 study looked at office workers in South Korea and found that those who looked at their smartphones during breaks were significantly less recharged than those who went for a walk or chatted with friends. Jensen suggests choosing breaks that balance out what’s taxing you. If you’ve been working at a computer, take a walk outside. If you’ve been doing spring cleaning, sit down and call a friend.
For more inspiration, Jensen suggests considering four categories of breaks, based on how they can benefit you: physical (walking or stretching); cognitive (crossword puzzles or Sudoku); emotional (phoning a loved one); and spiritual (walking in the woods or practising a religion).
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