Nine surprising causes of fatigue—and how to fight back!
Football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” We may not be facing a string of hulking linemen. “But fatigue dis-emboldens us,” says Dr. John R. Sharp, Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and author of The Emotional Calendar. If you’re running on low, check with your doctor: You may have an underactive thyroid or iron deficiency, or be anemic. But if a medical reason isn’t behind your blahs, one of these common energy drains might be. Check the list to find out what could be causing your fatigue—and how to get your juice back.
Energy drain: Dehydration
Thirst can flatten us. “The body is made of 75 percent water,” says registered dietitian Melissa Rifkin of Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Even if the tank is one to two percent low, you won’t be tiptop, she says.
Recharge: The simple answer: Drink more water, at least eight to 10 cups a day. Limit dehydrating caffeinated and alcoholic drinks.
Energy drain: Skipping breakfast
“Fasting all night results in low blood sugar that contributes to fatigue,” Rifkin says. Not only will you be lethargic, your brain will be foggy too: Brain cells require twice the energy of other cells for proper functioning.
Recharge: Eat a breakfast of whole grains like oatmeal plus a lean protein like skim milk or an egg. Or plan grab-and-go breakfasts like a protein bar and banana.
Energy drain: Boredom
Think sixth- grade math class, and you’ll feel a nap coming on. “Boredom is the opposite of curiosity,” Sharp says. “It’s in our makeup to like being engaged. And healthy engagement fuels us.”
Recharge: Nurture curiosity, Sharp suggests: “If you’re stuck in a boring situation, ask yourself, ‘If I were interested in this, what would my interest be?’ You’ll find yourself more aroused.”
Energy drain: Toxic relationships
“We pick up one another’s energy,” Sharp says. “So, when you get sucked into someone’s negativity, that’s a tremendous drain.”
Recharge: Practice emotional distance—realize that another’s bad mood doesn’t have to affect yours. “And set boundaries on your availability,” Sharp says. “Good boundaries are healthy.”
Energy drain: Unfinished projects
The half-done sweater, or the overdue report can set loose surprising amounts of guilt, psychologist Dr. Sybil Keane, medical expert for JustAnswer.com. “People beat themselves up when they don’t finish things.”
Recharge: Before you agree to a project, ask yourself if you have the time and desire. If not, don’t start it. For tasks in mid-completion, rate their importance. Not important? Chuck it, says Keane: “You’re best served doing something else.”
Energy drain: Gadget overload
Our constant plugged-in state is exhausting, says Sharp: “You get dialed into a false sense of urgency.”
Recharge: Schedule gadget-free times several times a day, says Sharp, at mealtime or during conversations. Make gadget-less-ness a conscious priority.
Energy drain: Decision-making
“Decisions are mental exercises that literally burn calories,” Sharp says. “You expend energy to make them.”
Recharge: Make decisions in the a.m. when energy is highest. And rely more on intuition. “Rational analysis takes the most energy,” explains Sharp. “But intuition takes little.” To tune into your inner guide, find a quiet spot. “Then let go of the noise in your rational mind through meditation, yoga or prayer,” he says.
Energy drain: Living in the past
“Ruminating on the past takes away ideas about moving forward,” Keane says. “You’re lamenting that your life isn’t good any more, and that’s draining.”
Recharge: Set aside 10 minutes a day to look backward, says Keane: “Then say, ‘I’m done for today,’ and move on.”