If you are feeling constantly tired and run down, it could due be a combination of factors. Find out what could be the explanation and what you can to change the way you feel.
Someone close to me has a very funny and apt way of describing feeling tired and run down. She says it’s like the elastic in her knickers has gone. We all know the feeling. It’s when every fibre in your body wants you to cosy up in comfy clothes and hibernate for as long as possible. But, unlike that of a bear, the life of a busy person doesn’t usually allow for long periods of hibernation. So most of us just soldier on and hope that we get our spark back soon.
But have you ever stopped to wonder what’s going on? Why is it that you wake up some days feeling more like Eeyore than Tigger? Sometimes it’s easy to figure out – a bad night’s sleep, a late night involving too much alcohol or the imminent arrival of your period. Other times, especially when the feeling persists for days or even weeks, it can be harder to put your finger on what’s causing it. Often it can be a combination of factors but the good news is that a couple of smallish lifestyle changes will usually make the world of difference in terms of how you feel. However, there are some medical conditions which can make you feel really low in energy, so if you’ve been feeling exhausted for a prolonged period, despite getting to bed early, eating a healthy diet and doing a reasonable amount of exercise, it’s definitely worth seeking medical advice.
How did you sleep last night?
Sometimes I feel like a good night’s sleep just slips out of my grasp. It’s usually due to my delightful children (as my days of going out late are a dim and distant memory…a bit like sleeping in at the weekend). If you have young children, it’s inevitable that they will sometimes wake up in the night. Even the good sleepers have the occasional bad night. But it’s not just kids that can interrupt your sleep. It could be your partner stumbling into bed after a night out (and then snoring in a semi-comatose state) or teenagers getting in late at night. Or it might just be that you have to get up in the night to use the loo. Even being woken up for a short period at night can interfere with the quality and quantity of your sleep. And if you’ve not slept well, your energy levels will suffer.
Aside from being woken up by some external disturbance (kids, snoring bedmate, trips to the loo etc), there are other reasons why you might not be sleeping well. Assuming you’ve not got full-blown insomnia, setting in place in some good sleep hygiene can help with improving the quality and quantity of your sleep. One of the biggest things for me is not eating too late at night. Most week nights, I try to eat my dinner with my children at around 6.30pm. If I am eating later than that, then I know to avoid certain foods which can keep me awake (cheese and spring onions being the main culprits). Other habits that form part of good sleep hygiene include going to bed and waking up at more or less the same time every day (even at the weekend), avoiding screens at least an hour before bed and not having caffeine after midday. Alcohol has a negative effect on your sleep quality too even though you may not realise it when your head hits the pillow. So maybe think again before pouring that relaxing glass of wine on a Sunday night!
Too much sugar and not enough veggies?
It goes without saying that if you don’t give your body what it needs in terms of energising nutrients, your energy levels will suffer. Our bodies need a regular supply of good quality carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, fibre and water to function properly. I know there are many people who claim to have lost loads weight by “cutting out carbs” but the simple fact is that your body needs all the macronutrients including carbohydrates – not the refined sugary kind in cakes, biscuits and soft drinks, but certainly the healthy carbohydrates found in vegetables, wholegrain and other plant-based foods.
Check out your micronutrients….
You also need to be getting enough micronutrients into your body so that it can generate energy properly. The key vitamin and minerals for energy production are the B vitamins, iron, chromium and magnesium. If you are feeling low in energy, it’s worth increasing your consumption of foods that are rich in these particular vitamins and minerals (a quick Google search will give the lists of foods). The best way to get your micronutrients is to eat a wide variety of healthy foods, with lots of fruit and vegetables. However, modern farming practices and the way fresh food is stored and transported mean that the micronutrient value of food can be significantly diminished. Therefore supplements can be a useful way of topping up your micronutrient levels. I take a high quality multivitamin and antioxidant every day, in addition to eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. (link to Usana page)
Move that butt, baby!
Some people are put off doing exercise when they feel tired because they worry they’ll feel exhausted afterwards. Exercise can really help shake off tiredness, both from a physiological and mental point of view. Regular exercise helps your body generate energy as it increases mitochondria, which are tiny structures inside your cells responsible for producing energy. When you exercise, the number of mitochondria increases and this improves your body’s ability to generate energy. The more you exercise, the better your body becomes at generating energy (providing you are also eating healthily and getting enough sleep). Having said that, it’s important not to over train as excessive exercise can lead to exhaustion and muscle fatigue.
But give your body a chance to recover….
You need to allow your time body to recover, especially if you are pushing yourself quite hard. I get asked a lot about HIIT training (where you push yourself to your almost maximum for short intervals). There are many benefits to HIIT training but it can be quite hard on your body. So it’s important to allow recovery days between HIIT sessions, or at least work different muscles groups if you are training on consecutive days. My advice is to mix up your exercise throughout the week – do some HIIT training, some strength training (which can be either body weight or using weights), some low intensity steady state cardio like walking or jogging and some stretching or postural work like yoga or pilates. This is not only good for your body, but it also stops you getting bored!
Exercise also has incredible mental health benefits and it can be a really good way to de-stress and unwind. The next time you’ve had a stressful and tiring day, try going out for a jog or doing a yoga session and see how your energy levels lift.
Are hormones to blame?
I often think that women get a pretty tough deal on the hormone front. Period pains can be tiresome and unpleasant for some and bordering on debilitating for others. And then there’s menopause which brings a whole new bunch of symptoms which can be pretty unpleasant. I know from personal experience and from working with dozens of female clients that hormones can have a massive impact on your energy levels. But trying to figure out exactly what is going with your hormones can be tricky as things seem to be in a constant state of flux in the female body. Sleep, diet and exercise are so important as they can often help to alleviate hormonal symptoms. But if you feel like your hormones are starting to rule your life, then it’s worth chatting to a doctor or a women’s health specialist.
Stress is such a big energy sapper and it can constantly chip away at you. You may not think you have a massively stressful existence (or maybe you do), but the reality is that modern life throws low level stress at us more or less constantly- phones pinging, emails constantly popping into our inboxes, kids not getting ready for school quickly and traffic jams or train delays. When you add some more obvious stresses on top of that, such as a big work deadlines, money worries or relationship problems, the stress levels can really start to ramp up. Unless you go and live in a monastic retreat in the mountains somewhere (which still probably involves some degree of stress….no phones for a start, aaagh!!), the reality is you can’t avoid stress completely. Life just doesn’t work like that. It comes down to how you manage your stress. I could write a whole blog just on that topic but the point I’m making is that stress can really sap your energy. Simply recognising that you are stressed is an important first step to figuring how you can dial down the stress and feel more in control. Once your stress levels feel more under control, you should start to feel more energised.
Get outside and breathe in fresh air
On a cold, grey day wouldn’t you rather stay in the office (or indoors at home) at lunch time and fiddle around looking at travel websites or Pinterest??? I know, me too. I like to think I’m an outdoorsy person but if I’m honest, I’m actually a nice weather outdoorsy person. If it’s cold and wet, my inclination is to stay inside with a hot drink by my side. But give me a sunny day and I’m outside as much as I can justify! We all need fresh air and sunlight every day in order to feel alive and energised. If you regularly hibernate indoors during the day (and if you work in an office you may not have much of a choice), you are not doing your energy levels any favours. Try get outside for 10 minutes every morning and afternoon for a quick stroll. You’ll be amazed at how such a little thing can perk you up.
Think like Tigger
It’ll probably come as no surprise to you that I believe very passionately that you are what you eat (or rather, you are what you absorb…but that can wait for another blog). I’m also a big believer in the power of a positive mindset. From my own experience, I know that if I’ve gone into a bit of a downward spiral of feeling like things aren’t going well or I’m just feeling a blah about life, it really does affect my energy. I’m less motivated to go out and exercise and I’m more likely to graze on sugary foods. And it can become a bit of a vicious circle. It can take some work and time to switch your thoughts from negative to positive, especially if it feels like everything is conspiring against you. Sometimes you might need professional help – or at least find someone to talk to. Other times, all that may be needed is a brisk walk in some fresh air and a bit of time out.
Hang on, I need some me time!
Self-care is so important for keeping your energy levels up. You probably spend a lot of time looking after other people but when was the last time you properly looked after yourself? There’s a saying I love which is that you cannot serve from an empty vessel. It’s true. You cannot give all that you have to give and do all that you are meant to do in this world if you don’t look after yourself. So take 20 minutes today or tomorrow to do something just for you and most importantly, don’t feel guilty about it.
If you feel like the elastic in your knickers has gone or maybe you just feel a bit blah and de-energised, sign up for my free 7 day Energy Reset.