Any of this sound familiar: dozing off on the train to work to grab a few precious seconds of shut-eye; snapping at the barista in Pret because she asked you to repeat ‘strong latte’ for a third time; yawning in a meeting when you should have been pitching?
If the answer is yes, it’s all down to low energy. Or rather the lack of it.
That you need to keep your energy levels up to stay firing on all cylinders is hardly breaking news, but here’s something you might not be so au fait with: there are distinct types of energy and each one can be drained by a gang of zappers.
‘Energy can be categorised as physical, mental and emotional,’ explains James Glover, head of faculty at The Energy Project, a consulting firm that works to improve employee productivity.
You need to look after each one equally to make sure your energy levels are at their peak and you’re at the top of your game. And how do you do that exactly?
You just need to acquaint yourself with our step-by-step guide to identifying your own energy zappers – and then kill them before they kill you. (Or just slow you down a bit.)
See the causes of low energy below.
Breakfast = most important meal of the day, right? Not so fast. Sure, it’ll set you up nicely, but choosing the wrong lunch will leave you with a lack of energy, especially if you’re working late. Or you’re socialising post-o ce.
If you crave an afternoon catnap, you’re probably not getting enough protein midway through the 9-5.
‘If you’re sat at a desk all day, a protein-rich lunch will keep your physical energy topped up through to the evening,’ explains registered nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert.
Rob Hobson, registered nutritionist and co-author of The Detox Kitchen Bible, suggests lunch with a 1:1 ratio of protein to carbs – with your protein serving the size of a deck of cards.
Easiest way to nail it? Chicken, avocado and quinoa salad – protein, healthy fats and carbs in one – giving you the energy you need to power on to the end of the day (and then the bar).
Veggie? Go for a mixed bean and feta salad. Done.
Hold the front page – don’t get enough sleep and you’ll be tired the next day. Yep, obvious enough. But it might not just be a case of not getting enough sleep – you may not be getting the right sleep (that means solid blocks of uninterrupted sleep).
A study in the journal Molecular Metabolism found that, while waking in the night is natural, just one night of sleeping for only four uninterrupted hours increases insulin resistance. Which brings on the carb cravings, lining you up nicely for that mid-afternoon low energy slump.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge found magnesium can help your body play nicely with those circadian rhythms.
The result? A night of blissful sleep. Your body needs 300mg a day and dark leafy greens should be your first port of call, but grab a daily 375mg magnesium supplement (£8.45 for 90; femalehealthytips.com and you’ll smash your RDA. Sweet dreams.
Here’s a catch-22: don’t do enough exercise and your physical energy will tank which, in turn, means you’ll have zero interest in doing any exercise.
But Norwegian research found the physical energy drain caused by inactivity costs the global economy around £55.5 billion every year. So getting more under your belt will actually make you more productive.
Jonathan Lomax, PT and founder of Lomax gyms, agrees: ‘Quick, time-effcient workouts will kick-start your physical energy, especially if you are desk-bound most of the day.’
If you flag way before 3pm, a 30-minute HIIT session at lunch is your new energy saviour. Just need a quick pre-meeting pick-me-up? ‘Grab five minutes,’ says Lomax.
‘Do four moves – a split squat, press-up, bicycle crunch and box jump – each for 30 seconds back to back, rest for a minute, then repeat. Do as many as you can in five minutes.’
You’ll refuel your body and nail that meeting. Wipe the sweat from your forehead first though, yes?
While a vitamin B12 deficiency could lead to anaemia, that’s worst-case scenario stuff; simply not hitting your RDA (2.4mg a day, according to Mayo Clinic) will zap your mental energy and your attention levels and cognitive function along with it. ‘Vitamin B12 is essential for blood formation,’ says Lambert.
‘And if you’re not getting enough, it can have a negative impact on your levels of mental energy.’
Your best B12 booster to kiss goodbye to mental fatigue and low energy is to get it from animal products; Lambert suggests upping your intake with shellfish or steak with eggs.
Not a meat eater? Milk, cheese and yoghurt contain plenty to pep you up, but some plant-based foods are fortified with the vit, too.
Or, you know, grab a supp: BetterYou Pure Energy B12 Boost Oral Spray (£11.99, femalehealthytips.com) delivers your daily quota and then some in one spray.
Worried you’re actually deficient? Get yourself to your GP pronto.
A tidy desk equals a tidy mind, right? Not so.
According to Dr Craig Knight, a psychologist at the University of Exeter who studies workplace productivity, the opposite is actually true: ‘Studies show that the worst space to work in is actually clean and clutter-free. Forcing someone who’s naturally messy to work in an area that’s uncluttered is more damaging to their mental energy levels than forcing a tidy person to work surrounded by mess.
Forget Scandi minimalism (unless that floats your boat) and personalise your desk safe in the knowledge it’ll boost your mental energy levels; whether that’s framed positive mantras or a stack of unopened post is your call.
‘You should be able to put your stamp on your workspace,’ says Dr Knight. So embrace your creative (ie messy) side and let the clutter pile up. Word to the wise: if you can spy some half-finished porridge with a crust so thick you’d need a claw hammer to get rid, it’s time for a clear-out.’
Mobile’s always within reach; it’s under your pillow as you sleep. So far, so typical. But non-stop use of a device can do some serious damage to your mental energy levels.
Research from the University of Illinois found constant use of a phone could lead to low energy fatigue, anxiety and depression, while another study by Hokkaido and Chukyo universities in Japan found just the presence of a phone leads to distraction – bad news for that mental energy.
Full disclosure: there’s not a single person in the Women’s Health office who’d consider it, but next time you’re about to swipe right, think about doing a 30-day digital detox.
On day one, keep a digital diary (not on your phone, obvs) noting everytime you check your texts, emails or Asos order. Then go cold turkey at all the times your checking was non-urgent.
At dinner, on the bus, bingeing on Narcos – keep your device hidden. Embrace FOMO safe in the knowledge you’re doing wonders for your mental energy (and wellbeing).
No one wants to be sat on the train with nothing to read or scroll through – what on earth would you do with yourself?
According to Dr Sandi Mann, senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire and author of The Upside of Downtime, this constant quest for stimulation is a drain on your emotional energy.
‘We’re bombarded with information overload,’ she says. ‘We just don’t know how to handle our downtime.’
We’re constantly looking for new experiences,’ says Dr Mann. ‘
As soon as you have a spare minute, the fear of boredom kicks in and you start looking for a new experience. Your reward centre lights up and you get a hit of dopamine. But that hit is addictive: the more you have the more you want.’ And that’s when the draining happens.
So set aside 15 minutes every day to do nothing – literally nothing. No Instagram, no TV, no emails. Stare into space if you want.
It’ll boost your emotional energy and that’s reward enough.
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