Career, Lifestyle

The Energy Drain: 7 Habits that Zap Your Energy & How to Fix Them

| May 14, 2015


If you feel like you’re suffering from a personal energy crisis, you’re not alone. Fatigue is one of the most common complaints women bring to their doctor’s attention. While feeling tired can be a natural and understandable response to having a busy life, feeling constantly drained isn’t normal—or acceptable. It’s a cry for help from your body or mind, just as pain can be. Your energy shortage could mean that a hidden medical or psychiatric condition is depleting your vim and vigor (as you’ll discover in my new book The Exhaustion Breakthrough). Or, it could be a sign that vitality-robbing habits are sabotaging your get up and go.

If you suspect that a health condition is robbing your energy, make an appointment with your doctor. Keep a fatigue diary: For at least a week, rate your previous night’s sleep, note everything you eat and drink and when, and your physical activities throughout the day, monitor your stress level, and track the ups and downs of your energy and fatigue; bring this to your doctor’s appointment.


Reclaim your energy and ditch these 7 energy-draining habits:

The drain: Sleeping erratically. If your bedtime and wake-up times are wildly different from day to day, you probably aren’t getting enough sleep. And you may be messing up your body’s circadian (sleep-wake) rhythms, giving you the equivalent of jet lag without leaving home. Similarly, if you sleep with a partner or pet that frequently tosses and turns or snores loudly, your sleep may be highly fragmented and far from restorative.

The fix: Aim to get 7 to 9 hours of good quality shuteye each night, and follow a consistent sleep schedule every day, varying it by no more than an hour on the weekends. If your bedmate is compromising the quality of your zzz’s, try sleeping solo at least a few nights per week so you can get the rest you need. If you end up feeling happier and more energetic, this could even improve the state of your relationship!

The drain: Starchy carbs and processed foods. If you eat lots of simple carbs (chips, crackers, bread, and the like), sugary foods or processed foods, you could experience rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin, followed by a major drop and cravings for more carbs. When you indulge those cravings,  the roller-coaster begins its ascent (followed by another descent) again. This pattern can make you feel utterly wiped out.

The fix: Include complex carbs (whole grains, vegetables), protein (legumes, beans), and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, olive, coconut oils) in meals and snacks. This magical trio of macronutrients will help you stay full for longer and keep your blood sugar levels stable—and, hence, your energy—on a more even keel.

The drain: Sitting too much, moving too little. Spending endless hours at your desk may earn you points with your boss but it can deplete your energy. Your body equates stillness with sleep or a desire to sleep. When you’re sitting still, your breathing and heart rates slow down, along with your circulation, thus inhibiting maximized oxygen and nutrients to flow to your brain and body tissues.

The fix: Get up and move around for a few minutes every hour, even if it’s just to stretch, visit a colleague, take a short walk, or go to the bathroom. In addition, exercise (even brisk walking counts!) for at least 30 minutes 5 days a week.

The drain: Operating at full-throttle. Many women push themselves to get as much done as they can hour after hour, without taking a break. This can cause tension to mount in your body and your mind to feel frazzled. As a result, you may feel utterly spent by the end of the day.

The fix: Pace yourself. Prioritize what needs to be done now, what can wait, and what can be delegated. Take short breaks periodically to hit the “reset” button: Find a quiet place and engage in a calming exercise such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualizations, or listening to soothing music—for three to five minutes to restore your energy and focus and reverse the stress response in your body.

The drain: Dehydration. Many people are walking around in a state of dehydration, which may be contributing to why they feel tired, weak, or lethargic. A fluid loss of even 1 to 3 percent can cause a drop in blood volume, making your heart have to work harder to push oxygen and nutrients through the bloodstream to your brain, skin, and muscles. It can cause headaches, constipation, and slow the metabolism.

The fix: Think about when you’re going to drink, just as you plan your meals. Tote a water bottle around with you and refill it throughout the day. If you want to make plain water more interesting, add lemon, orange, or cucumber slices.

The drain: Stress and Tension. Whether you have a tendency to clench your muscles or breathe shallowly when you’re tense, carrying stress in your body drains your energy quickly. All that muscle tension puts a strain on the body, making you feel tired. And when you breathe shallowly, you end up with lower levels of oxygen and higher levels of carbon dioxide in your blood, which can make you feel fatigued.

The fix: On an hourly basis, stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, and focus your attention on your body. Starting at the top of your head and working your way to your feet, look for areas of tension or discomfort; consciously tense then release those muscles. Next, practice breathing from your diaphragm: Place your hand over your belly, and as you inhale, make your belly expand like a balloon, causing your chest to rise; exhale slowly. Repeat five times.

The drain: Squelching your feelings. Do you often go along with other people’s ideas to ensure that everyone gets along? Do you keep angry feelings to yourself because you’re afraid of stirring up trouble in your relationships? This self-silencing habit can make you feel powerless, hopeless, and ultimately energetically depleted.

The fix: Unearth your feelings by keeping a journal. Spend a few minutes each day writing about how you feel about situations that upset you or made you feel uneasy. Make a point to tell people how you feel, using gentle statements such as “I feel . . .”: Explain how the situation affected you, and then ask for a specific change you want to have happen. Doing this will help you feel empowered, more in control, and energized!


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For Holly Phillips, MD energy isn’t something to be taken for granted. For 20 years, she suffered from a debilitating case of exhaustion. Holly Phillips, MD, is a board-certified general internist with a private practice in Manhattan. She is a medical contributor to CBS News, featured regularly on CBS This Morning, CBS Evening News and 48 Hours.  Her advice has appeared on pages of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, O The Oprah Magazine, Town & Country and others. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two young daughters and an elderly Yorkie. 

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