A year of living with the COVID-19 pandemic has left us all fatigued. Between the relentless news, having to be extra vigilant whenever we walk outside and the monotony with no end in sight, this past year has been a massive energy zapper. (And that's for those of us lucky enough to be able to work from the relative safety of home; the exhaustion of frontline workers and those navigating the healthcare system due to COVID illness is even greater.)
You don't have to drag through your day, hoping you can keep your eyes open for that 9:00 p.m. Netflix binge, though. There are things you can do that can help to give you a little extra charge when your energy is lacking. And these things are safe and natural, meaning you'll avoid the sleep deprivation that comes with afternoon caffeine or the sugar flooding your system from an energy drink.
Try one of these tips to give you the motivation to tackle that item on your perpetual to-do list or finally master making that loaf of banana bread.
Move your body
Dr. Casey Kelley, medical director and founder of Case Integrative Health, says, humans are not meant to be sedentary creatures. "We're meant to move around and walk." But so many of us have jobs that are computer-based, and with no commute, we are moving less than ever.
"It is really important to get up and move and get that oxygen into ourselves," she says. "That exercise is going to help to create more mitochondria, which are little energy factories in each of us, and helps to boost our immune system as well."
She recommends 30 minutes a day, alternating between aerobic exercise, such as walking on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike – which can help protect your mitochondria – and light weight lifting – found instrumental in helping to improve sleep, a crucial component to feeling properly energized the next day.
And breaking up your workout into multiple sessions throughout the day can be a great way to help you achieve sustained energy. Set a timer as a reminder to hop up for a mid-workday stretch or walk a few laps around the office to recharge.
Find your sleep sweet spot
Dr. Ilene Ruhoy, PhD, a board-certified neurologist and founder and medical director of the Center for Healing Neurology, says to aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. "Too little and too much sleep can cause fatigue, as they both can alter neuroendocrine physiology," she says.
Ruhoy recommends following a consistent sleep/wake schedule. "Our brains are circadian organs and thrive on going to bed and waking at the same time each 24-hour cycle," she explains. To help align your circadian rhythm further, get outdoors for some natural sunlight exposure throughout the day.
Dress the part
Meaghan Murphy, author of Your Fully Charged Life: A Radically Simple Approach to Having Endless Energy and Filling Every Day with Yay, says "dressing up to feel 'up'" is a great way to get a quick boost.
"I call it 'dopamine dressing': Thee fact that your clothes have the power to either act like a venti latte or act like a tranquilizer," she says. "I say go for the latte."
Not ready to ditch the leggings if you're not leaving the house? Murphy challenges you to layer on an accessory that will improve your mood. "Add a pop of positivity to your outfit, which can be incredibly energizing," she says. And those leggings don't have to be basic black: "There's a reason tie dye is trending. It's happy. It's bright. It's energized."
Up to 60% of our bodies are made of water, so depriving yourself of H2O is a surefire way to drain the energy tank. "Think about a flower that doesn't have enough water and it gets kind of droopy and saggy. Our cells can essentially do the same thing," says Kelley.
First thing in the morning, before reaching for your coffee or tea, she says to pour yourself an eight-to-16-ounce glass of water. "That can actually help to energize you, even more than a cup of coffee, and to reset you for the day," she says. Kelley's rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day.
Tackle your stress
"Stress manifests in your system with an elevation of a stress hormone called cortisol," explains Kelley. And that, she says, will weaken your cells, your immune system, deplete your energy entirely and can really affect your sleep, which is important for energy as well.
"Everybody on the planet is extremely stressed out right now," she says, but that's why it's more important than ever to identify some ways to help mitigate whatever is causing your cortisol to spike. "Getting some me time is extremely important."
Find a reason to celebrate
When life seems like Groundhog's Day, finding a reason to celebrate – no matter how small – can give you a newfound zest. Murphy says to commemorate any moment you can, whether it's National Wine Day or your dog's half-birthday. "It's a chance to anticipate something joyful and that will recharge you," she says.
In her house, for instance, it's no longer Tuesday; it's Taco Tuesday. "Are we going to have the cheesy nacho shells? Or are we going to have the ranch shells? Are we going to have a hot sauce taste test?" she says. And having something to look forward to, which we've been lacking during a pandemic, is shown to be a mood booster.
Sugar will give you an instant burst of energy, but it won't fuel you long-term. Instead of grabbing a donut for breakfast, prioritize eating more protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. "That energy is going to sustain you through the day versus sugar, which will give you a little bit of a boost, and then you'll crash," Kelley adds.
Humans are creatures of community, and that's been taken away from us at the moment — robbing of us the natural recharge we get from others (for some, that's small talk in the grocery line; for others, a long catch-up with a friend over a glass of wine).
"Even people who are introverted and really liked their alone time need to connect with other people," says Kelley. "And extroverts tend to get a lot of energy from being around other people."
She notes that simply having a person to talk to can truly uplift our mind, body and spirit as well as give you an energy boost. So pick up the phone and connect with a friend. "You'll feel so much better, more upbeat, more uplifted," Kelley says. "We're not meant to be solitary creatures."
Take deeper breaths
An unexpected source of energy for our bodies, according to Kelley? Oxygen itself. But we might not be making the most of that natural resource. "Most of us are very shallow breathers, so we don't take full deep breaths," she says. "We're breathing into our upper lungs, but not our base of our lungs, which are much bigger."
Thus, taking the time to do some deep belly breathing can be an energy-boosting game-changer. "There are a lot of different breathing techniques and breathing meditations and yoga and things you can do," says Kelley. "But even just stopping and taking a couple really deep breaths can help to get extra oxygen to our to our tissues and help us make more energy."
Clear that clutter
Ever get stressed by having an unmade bed, unfolded laundry, and items scattered around the house? You're not alone. A cluttered environment has been linked to procrastination and is a surefire way to suck up your energy, says Murphy. "When we feel like our house is in disarray, there's chaos," she says — and we have enough of that overloading our brains right now.
Something as simple as organizing your junk drawer or tidying up the kids' play room can boost your mood because you've taken a positive action step. And, per Murphy, "when you clear the clutter, you clear your mind, and that recharges you."