Sometimes that 3 o’clock feeling starts way before the usual afternoon slump — and sometimes it lasts longer than quitting time. A good night’s sleep is a great weapon against that sluggish feeling, but sometimes it’s not enough. Pesky energy zappers are hiding in your everyday routine.
Luckily, you don’t have to knock back three shots of espresso or chug a neon energy drink to snap out of zombie mode. Try these super-simple fixes that defeat energy zappers by naturally boosting your energy levels — without the jitters and sugar crash.
The Zapper: Your Comfy Desk Chair
The Reason: Ever wondered why sitting in your car then transitioning to sitting down in your office chair can feel so utterly exhausting? According to Dr. Frank King, M.D., founder of King Bio, sitting for long periods of time puts your body into idle mode. Your lack of movement makes circulation sluggish and lowers the amount of oxygen flowing to your brain. Cue the onslaught of yawns.
The Fatigue Fighter: Go for a walk. Studies show getting up and moving can boost energy for up to two hours. “Walking is the simplest, most natural form of exercise,” says King. “Taking brisk, 10-minute walks a day helps increase circulation, lower blood pressure, and instantly perk you up.” Getting out in the sunlight also boosts your serotonin levels so you come back to your work refreshed, more productive and even more creative.
The Zapper: Your Messy Desk Space
The Reason: The reason you feel too zapped to clean up your cluttered desk or office home? The mess itself. “Not only is there literally less space to do your work, create your art, make a magical spreadsheet, etc., but all the stuff is staring at you, reminding you of the hundred other things you have to do,” says Los Angeles-based clutter expert and professional organizer Fay Wolf of New Order. “Your clouded brain isn’t able to be fully present to the work at hand.” Looking for your notes from that one meeting or your favorite pen wastes time and tires you out before you’ve even started.
The Fatigue Fighter: You’ve heard that the bedroom should be reserved for two activities: sleep and sex. Well, according to Wolf, your desk should be reserved for current work projects and the tools that facilitate that. This means your computer, materials relating to your current project, a few writing utensils, and a small amount of office supplies like a notepad, a stapler, scissors, tape and paper clips (unless you have room for those in a desk drawer) can stay. Everything else is having a judgment day.
“Go through every item, left to right, and either discard it or choose a new home for it,” says Wolf. “If a piece of paper needs to be filed, make a file for it: ‘To Read,’ ‘To Pay,’ ‘To File.’ Next, she suggests using a to-do list app that you check every day and where you write down absolutely everything that has to get done. “If anything has a deadline, add it to your trusted to-do list.”
The Zapper: Your Breakfast
The Reason: This meal can make or break your energy reserve for the rest of the day. If it’s way too large (like Sunday-brunch status) you’ll be left feeling sluggish, and if you forget to eat it in the first place, your metabolism will never get that wake-up call.
“People who eat a balanced breakfast have more energy, perform better at school and at work, and sleep better at night, which means they wake up the next day more energized,” says Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., author of “Eat Your Way to Happiness.” But Somer isn’t talking doughnuts and coffee.
The Fatigue Fighter: For a winning breakfast to fuel your energy, follow Somer’s 1, 2 ,3 rule. The breakfast must have:
1) whole grains, which provide high-quality carbs for the brain during the morning hours,
2) a little protein to keep you satiated and maintain your blood sugar level throughout the morning, and
3) one or two colorful fruits and vegetables.
Try a bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk and a handful of berries on top with a side of sliced watermelon, or make a smoothie with fruit, soymilk and wheat germ.
The Zapper: Dehydration
The Reason: You may not feel like you’re walking through the Sahara, but there’s a good chance you’re mildly dehydrated right now, and even mild dehydration makes you feel sleepy and sluggish. “Many of us walk around dehydrated without realizing it,” King says. “Dehydrated bodies trap toxins and encourage water retention — a natural defense against the chronic ‘drought.'” Remember, your body is about 60 percent water, and there’s no way it can function at its optimal level during a drought.
King’s simple test for dehydration: Pinch the skin on the back of your hand and hold for three seconds. When you release, if the ridge from the pinch remains for more than a second, you’re probably dehydrated.
The Fatigue Fighter: Next time you’re feeling drowsy, chug a glass of cold water for an instant fix. Then, take a look at how much water you’ve been drinking. According to Dr. King, you should aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 75 ounces of water (about 9 cups). If you want something more pleasing to your palate, snack on watermelon, which is about 91 percent water.
The Zapper: Your Posture
The Reason: As you may have guessed, breathing is an essential part of being a fully functioning human being. With that in mind, your terrible posture can be enemy No. 1. Slouching puts uneven pressure on your spine and causes different muscles to overcompensate and tighten. This makes it hard for your lungs and diaphragm to work properly, and labored, shallow breathing is a one-way ticket to zombie town.
The Fatigue Fighter: According to King, you can take in up to 30 percent more air if you pretend a string is pulling you up straight. Lift your rib cage away from your hip and push shoulders back to keep your blood circulating and oxygen flowing to your brain. Do neck and shoulder shrugs in your car to reenergize on your morning commute.
The Zapper: Your Predictable Routine
The Reason: We have routines for a reason, but constantly going through the same motions day after day can put you in a rut and your brain on autopilot. When you’re completely zoned out or bored, your nucleus accumbens, a central part of the brain’s “reward center,” is seriously lacking in the feel-good chemical dopamine that encourages drive. So dragging your feet (mentally and physically) and having zero motivation or stimulation can leave you feeling drained — even if you haven’t really done, well, anything.
The Fatigue Fighter: Try something new. When you do something novel, your brain floods with dopamine, that feel-good hormone that influences alertness, attention and concentration. Something as simple as ordering a new, innovative dish, grabbing coffee with a new coworker or turning a chore or work-related task into a time challenge (first one to finish doesn’t have to buy a round at happy hour) can give you a much-needed jolt.
The Zapper: Your Stressful Work Environment
The Reason: Similar to bad posture, stress can lead to tense muscles and shallow breathing, which leave you feeling lethargic. To make matters worse, focusing on one thing for a prolonged period of time, like that looming deadline or a presentation you’ve been staring at for hours on end, causes your brain to use up so much energy that you feel physically drained. Researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough found that mental concentration is much like a muscle — it becomes tired after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover.
The Fatigue Fighter: Instead of stewing in your stress and digging yourself into a nerve-wracked hole, force yourself to take breaks. Studies found that during the day, we move from alertness to fatigue every 90 minutes, but instead of listening to our bodies’ signals to slow down, we shut it up with sugar and caffeine.
To get a boost of energy, work uninterrupted for 90 minutes, then take a 10- to 15-minute break. And no, updating your Facebook doesn’t count. Leave your desk to chat with a coworker or go outside and smell the fresh air.
The Zapper: The Company You Keep
The Reason: We all know some kind of energy vampire: The whiner, the naysayer, the chronic blamer, the jabbermouth, the frenemy … dealing with these people is emotionally draining, which drags you down and depletes your energy. Yes, it’s literallyexhausting to be around these people.
The Fatigue Fighter: You can’t choose your family or your coworkers, so your best bet is to play defense. Set time limits for recurring sob stories (“I only have five minutes”), hop on a “phone call” or excuse yourself to the restroom to avoid blabbermouths, and never encourage or reaffirm blamers.
If you’re more of an offensive player, try calling up the friend who always makes you laugh — she actually gives you energy. Ever notice how invigorated you feel after a good laugh session? Laughing improves blood flow, wakes up respiratory organs and suppresses stress hormones — consider LOL-ing a little packet of aerobic exercise without the sports bra and sweating. If you can’t arrange a date, choose the next best thing: some quality time on Funny or Die.