“Fatigue is one of your body’s primary alarm systems,” says Dr. Holly Phillips, author of the soon-to-be-released book The Exhaustion Breakthrough and medical contributor for CBS News. “Just like pain or fever, persistent head-to-toe tiredness should alert you that something is amiss. While many lifestyle habits can set you up for insidious energy leaks and cycles of exhaustion, a variety of hidden medical and psychiatric causes could also be contributing to your lack of get-up-and-go.”
Unfortunately, we know all too well that fighting fatigue can seem like an insurmountable endeavor. Don’t trudge along. Instead, Phillips recommends starting the recovery process by keeping a fatigue diary. For at least a week, rate your previous night’s sleep, jot down what you eat and drink (and when you do it), note your physical activities throughout the day, monitor your stress level throughout the day and track the ebb and flow of your energy and fatigue. Look for patterns and bring this with you to your doctor’s appointment.
In the meantime, to help you set off on the road to greater well-being, here’s a look at nine energy-draining lifestyle habits plus Phillips’ advice on how to fix them.
It’s no mystery that skimping on sleep can make you feel like you’re running on empty. But it may surprise you to learn that the same is true of going to bed and waking up at different times from one day to the next because this can disrupt your body’s circadian (sleep-wake) rhythms, giving you the equivalent of jet lag without leaving home.
The remedy: Stick with a consistent sleep schedule all week long, varying it by no more than an hour, even on the weekends.
Skipping meals, eating junk food or loading up on simple carbs, sugary foods or processed foods can take a toll on your energy by sending your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride and depriving your body of a steady flow of nutrients. In other words, if you don’t consume enough food and the right kind of foods regularly, you’re essentially cheating your body of its prime power source.
The remedy: Plan your meals and snacks — ideally, a combination of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats — so that you’re eating regularly (every three to five hours). Make nutrient-rich choices, including lots of brightly-hued fruits and veggies.
Engaging in Full-Catastrophe Thinking
Thought patterns, such as catastrophizing (imagining the worst possible outcome), jumping to conclusions (believing you know something to be true when your hunches could be off base) and overgeneralizing (viewing a bad situation as part of an endless pattern) can make bad situations worse — and drain your energy in the process.
The remedy: Give your thoughts a makeover. Ask yourself how likely it is that your worst fears will actually happen, whether the situation will really matter in three months or three years and whether there’s evidence to support the notion that the situation is as threatening as you’re making it out to be.
Behaving Like a Statue
Spending long hours sitting still or being sedentary in your free time can make you feel tired because your body equates stillness with sleep or a desire to go to sleep. Plus, when you’re sitting still, your breathing and heart rates slow down; your circulation does, too, bringing less oxygen and fewer nutrients to your brain and body tissues.
The remedy: Exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week, and get up and move regularly throughout the day. Take breaks to stretch, go for a walk or visit with a colleague face-to-face instead of using the phone.
Staying Dry as a Camel
Many people are walking around in a slight state of dehydration. Being even one percent lower than optimal on fluids can lead to fatigue, low mood, headaches and trouble focusing. Fluid loss from your body can cause a drop in blood volume, which makes your heart have to work harder to push oxygen and nutrients through the bloodstream to your brain, skin and muscles.
The remedy: Carry a water bottle and refill it regularly throughout the day; try to consume eight 8-ounce cups of water per day. To make plain H2O more exciting, you can add lemon or orange wedges or cucumber slices or make decaffeinated tea.
Breathing Too Lightly
When you breathe shallowly or irregularly, you aren’t taking in enough oxygen. This can lead to lower levels of oxygen and higher levels of carbon dioxide in your blood, which makes you tired. Plus, smooth, efficient breathing is vital for the delivery of blood, oxygen and nutrients to muscles, organs and other tissues throughout your body.
The remedy: Several times a day, practice breathing from your diaphragm. Place your hand over your belly button and as you inhale, slowly focus on making your stomach and chest move, then slowly exhale; keep the pattern going and you will naturally take in more air with each breath.
Staying Digitally Connected All Day
Research has shown that being constantly accessible by cell phone, email and the like increases stress, which is a top cause of fatigue. Also, the constant exposure to the light on these devices stimulates brain activity and suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Moreover, working on a laptop or a heavy, handheld device for long periods can cause neck stiffness, headache and fatigue.
The remedy: Take regular breaks from digital devices throughout the day and turn them off at least an hour before bedtime.
Slouching Through Life
Lousy posture doesn’t just make you look tired; it makes you feel sluggish, too. Poor posture places excess strain on your back, hips and joints, which can make you feel tired and achy. Plus, if your spine, neck and head aren’t in the proper alignment, your brain may not be getting as much oxygen as it should.
The remedy: Give yourself regular posture checks. Whether you’re moving, sitting or standing still, your head should be lined up over your body — not sticking out in front of it — and your ears should be directly over your shoulders. Regularly correct any misalignment.
Saying Yes to Everything
If your “to do” list is constantly overwhelming and unrealistic, it’s time to learn to say “no” to nonessential requests, to delegate responsibilities to other family members or co-workers and to set limits with other people. The reality is you only have so much time, energy and attention to devote to various tasks and responsibilities in your life.
The remedy: Pick the activities that are essential, meaningful or rewarding and make those a priority, then pass up less appealing ones.