This is the first in a four-part series on energy. So many of my clients come to me feeling stressed, but without enough mental or physical energy to know where to begin. In this piece, we’ll examine what is affecting your energy levels; in the next blog we’ll look at things that disturb ‘emotional energy’ and the way we look after ourselves and others, then in the last two blogs, we’ll delve deeper into practical ways to feel better. I hope you find them useful – as ever, please leave any comments or feedback at the bottom of this blog. I’d love to hear what you think.
How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? Or when you finish work in the evening? On weekends? If you were to rate your energy levels at each of these times, on a scale of 1 – 10, where would you place yourself? And is this where you’d like it to be?
Our energy ebbs and flows in life. Children seem to have an unlimited supply. Teenagers then seem to lose it through their legs. It often returns with a vengeance among 20-somethings, who can go out partying for nights at a time and still appear (relatively) bright-eyed in their lectures or in the office the following day.
Childbearing and rearing are particularly exhausting times in our life, and as we get older, the pressure of positions of seniority at work and the responsibility that can accompany them can also grind us down.
And yet, despite the challenges that each life stage brings, there are certain things that are in our gift to change. Why is one forty-something mother of two full of beans, while the other is living from one espresso to the next? Yes, constitution plays a significant role. Some people just are natural Duracell bunnies who can keep going until they keel over. Their parents were probably like that too. But most of us are more susceptible to our lifestyle choices than we realise.
Let’s look at some of the variables:
- Work situation
- Eating habits
- Intake of stimulants such as alcohol, nicotine and caffeine
- Physical activity levels
We all have to earn money to live, but the ways in which we do this can be radically different. The amount of physical energy it takes to work in a shipyard is on a different end of the spectrum from someone who works in a call centre. A masseuse will have different energy requirements to a librarian. This isn’t the forum to delve too far into your choice of work, but your enjoyment of your job will affect your energy levels when working in it. If you are consistently exhausted when at work, you may need to consider whether it’s the right fit for you. It’s possible to be sedentary all day and still have very little energy, either through excessive or insufficient levels of pressure. As a general rule of thumb, if you enjoy your job, whatever it is, you’ll feel energized by it.
It’s amazing how what you choose to fuel your body with can make you feel. Regardless of what we put in our mouths, we’ll probably get a temporary rush of energy immediately after eating. But certain foods will leave us feeling sluggish and lethargic, while others will keep us going for longer. In general, processed foods that are high in sugar, salt, and hydrogenated fats will make us feel tired. They are also more likely to make us put on excess weight, another energy sapper. I’m going to look in more depth at the role of nutrition and well-being in the next blog in this series, as I’m passionate about the difference it can make to how you feel.
Unlike food, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are not essential for living. We may begin to consume them in the hope that we’ll get a buzz and feel more alert – but over time, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. The short-term high leads to long-term lows, and you then tend to need more and more of the substance to achieve the same effect. Most people know that alcohol and nicotine leave you feeling drained and lethargic, but it’s amazing how few people are aware of the effects that excessive use of tea and coffee can have on the body. You can become very dependent on caffeine, so if you currently consume a lot I wouldn’t recommend going cold turkey. But try gradually cutting down – take a look at how many you’re having each half of the day and decide to cut one out; you could try having half a cup of coffee rather than a full one, or replace a cup of tea per day with a herbal one or a glass of water. You will soon start to feel the difference.
Using energy begets more of the same when it comes to exercise. When you feel tired, the last thing you probably feel like doing is going for a walk or a run or a swim. But it’s one of the things that will do you the most good. Studies have repeatedly shown that exercising moderately several times a week makes people feel more energetic. The key is to find something you really enjoy doing. Not everyone is a jogger. You may prefer a yoga class, a ramble across country fields or cycling. But your body is made to move, so finding something that will motivate you is the most important step. Then keep going, so that it becomes a habit.
This is perhaps an unusual choice of word – What I mean is the feeling of something being right, and natural to do. I’m not talking about the effort it takes when you’re learning something new, or simply working hard at something. But when you’re doing an activity you enjoy, in an environment that works for you, with people whose company you like, you tend to feel a sense of flow, which brings its own energy. When something’s out of synch, everything seems slow and harder work than it should be. You feel somehow at odds with your own life. It’s not always that easy to unpick exactly what it is, but if you’re feeling uneasy or uncomfortable about something in your life, try and work out what it is and what, if anything, you can do about it. There might not be an instantly straightforward answer, but start the investigation.
Watch out for the next blog, on what affects our energy levels psychologically or emotionally. We all have finite amounts of it but often commit to too many things or try and ‘be there’ for so many others we forget ourselves! Coming soon!