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Energy boosters

Dear Alice,

I am lacking energy. What tips can you give me to increase my energy levels?

Dear Reader,

A plethora of factors contribute to varying energy levels; some of these factors include food sources, physical activity, stress levels, and emotional state of being. As part of the human condition, many of us grapple with personal, academic, and professional demands that seem to sap our energy and leave us depleted. Many people that find they are lacking energy all or most of the time, they're experiencing fatigue, which is characterized by exhaustion and a lack of energy to such a degree that it disrupts your daily life, preventing you from doing your usual activities and making it difficult to get through the day. The first step to increasing your energy levels is to identify the root cause of your energy deficiency. Often, lack of energy is caused by certain habits or routines in our day-to-day lives. It may also be a symptom of an underlying health condition. By thinking in more detail about your life, you may be able to figure out what resonates with you and your experience and figure out which steps would be appropriate, whether it's making some small lifestyle changes or seeing a health care provider.

Some specific lifestyle factors that may be causing your fatigue include:

  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Excessive, or a dearth of physical activity
  • Jet lag
  • Medications (antihistamines, cough medicines)
  • Insufficient sleep
  • Stress
  • Unhealthy diet/eating habits

List adapted from Mayo Clinic

If you suspect a part of your daily routine could be playing a role in your lack of energy, it may be helpful to reframe the approach and think about how to maintain consistent, healthy energy levels throughout the day. Here are some tips to boost your energy and help you feel more like a battery-powered bunny:

  • Sleep: Get an adequate amount of sleep each and every night. Although it varies from person to person, try to sleep at least seven or eight hours a night. In addition, if you find that taking power naps tend to revive you rather than leave you feeling more tired, as they do for some people, try to find time to take a short nap during the day.
  • Get moving: Exercise three to four times a week for at least thirty minutes each time, but preferably every day for thirty minutes. Exercise may make you feel tired initially, particularly if you do not exercise regularly or haven’t exercised for an extended period of time, but your body will eventually adjust and feel more invigorated. If the weather is nice, try to be physically active outdoors so that you can breathe in the fresh air and get some sun, which can help energize you (and make physical activity seem less of a burden and more enjoyable).
  • Eat: Consume enough calories from a varied and healthy eating plan. Add more fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet, and eat more complex carbohydrates, which will support sustained energy levels. Eat fewer simple carbohydrates (sugar from candy, for example), which give you a quick burst of energy, but soon leave you feeling tired from the sugar blues (hypoglycemia). Eating a balanced breakfast can also help you maintain steady energy levels throughout the day.
  • Meditate: One of the most consistent benefits reported by meditators is increased energy. Improved quality of sleep and heightened concentration rank up there, too. Meditation can be performed for ten to twenty minutes once or twice a day, and is easy to learn. There are a variety of websites, online videos, and podcasts that provide meditation instruction, as well as books which you can find in most major bookstores in the self-help and alternative medicine sections.
  • Enjoy yourself!: Make your friends, partner(s), and family members aware of your commitment to improving your energy levels so they can help motivate you to get involved and become more active. Their encouragement and support can help you follow through with your revitalization program. Also, being preoccupied can leave you stressed out and exhausted (physically and mentally). In order to combat this, do something you enjoy, like hiking. Have fun while improving your physical and emotional energy levels to help lift your spirits.

Sometimes, fatigue can be a symptom of an underlying condition that requires medical treatment. There are wide ranges of conditions that could cause fatigue, ranging from mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, chronic conditions such as chronic inflammation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or diabetes, infectious diseases such as COVID-19 or monkeypox, among a wide variety of other conditions. Note that these are only a small number of conditions that may contribute to fatigue. If you suspect that your fatigue is caused by an underlying medical concern, it's highly recommended to speak with a health care provider to learn more.

Medications and treatments for said conditions, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, pain drugs, heart drugs and antidepressants, can also be at the root of chronic fatigue. While many medical conditions can cause fatigue, it is important to avoid jumping to the worst case scenario, as many of the aforementioned conditions would also exhibit other symptoms alongside fatigue. Take note of any other coinciding symptoms, and if you suspect your fatigue may be due to a medical condition, speaking with a health care provider can help you get to the root of the problem. If you experience any of the following, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Shortness of breath or pain in your chest, arm or upper back
  • Fast, pounding, fluttering or irregular heartbeat
  • Headache or vision problems (especially if you’ve hit your head recently)
  • Nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others

All of this being said, sometimes it can be hard to tell where your fatigue is coming from. To narrow down the potential causes of it in your daily life, identify specific actions that seem to drain your energy and those that sustain your energy. You might ask yourself questions like: Do I feel energized, or more tired, after hanging out with friends and family? Does zoning out for 30 minutes in front of the computer or TV give me some needed downtime, or make me want to fall asleep? Which food sources give me sustained energy throughout the day? Does taking a 15-minute break from work or studying help me focus better when I return? Do I feel more fatigued at certain times of day or after certain activities? Does the fatigue ever get better after resting or is it constant? Thinking through these questions may help you figure out in what ways you may be able to address your fatigue and in what ways you may need to seek out additional support. 

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Last updated Sep 16, 2022
Originally published Oct 04, 1996

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