When you’re dragging from all that multi-tasking, here are proven strategies to fight off fatigue.By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD FeatureReviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
It’s 3 p.m., and you’re definitely dragging. Your body feels like a car that’s run out of gas. And while your official workday may soon be over, your day probably isn’t.
If you’re like most women, your to do list probably still includes some or all of the following tasks: pick up the kids, cook dinner, get in a workout, supervise homework, tend to aging parents, walk and feed the dog, feed the cat, catch up on bills, and take care of housework.
Whew. Reading the list alone can make you feel exhausted.
But here’s a solution – our six proven fatigue-fighting strategies. Some of these strategies offer an instant energy boost – just in time to shine for the 4 o’clock meeting. Other strategies are longer-term remedies. They require a bit more patience, but they’ll pay off big-time in the long run. Once you’ve mastered these energy-boosting strategies, any one of them can make you feel like you’ve just had a tune-up.
Energy Boost #1: Reach for energy food
You may be thinking “candy bar!” but a sugar boost will just leave you lagging again in an hour. For a nearly instant energy boost that lasts, eat a healthy snack containing protein and a complex carbohydrate, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, MPH, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and a weight control researcher at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
One place to find complex carbs is in whole grain bread products. “Try a whole grain cracker with low-fat cheese,” Gerbstadt says. “Or a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread.”
The secret? “That combination of protein and a complex carbohydrate (digested more slowly than simple carbs) increases your blood glucose in a sustained way,” she says. “It boosts energy longer than if you eat gum drops, for instance.”
Energy Boost #2: Eat a high-carb, high-fiber breakfast
For short-term and long-term energy boosts, make a habit of eating a high-fiber, carbohydrate-rich breakfast, says Jaimie Davis, PhD, RD, research associate at the Institute for Prevention Research at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
As proof it works, Davis points to a study that compared the effects of two carbohydrate-rich breakfasts – one high-fiber, one low-fiber – with two high-fat breakfasts. The high-fiber, high-carb meal was associated with the highest level of alertness between breakfast and lunch. The study was published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition.
To boost the fiber and carbs in your first meal of the day, select such foods as whole wheat toast or high-fiber cereal. A half cup of high-fiber cereal can contain as much as 14 grams of fiber, and some high-fiber breads have 6 grams per slice. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of total fiber daily, Davis says, noting that most Americans get perhaps 10 to 15 grams.
Energy Boost #3: Take breaks
Multi-tasking is viewed as the way to get a lot done quickly. But taking a short break and doing absolutely nothing for a few minutes can help you overcome fatigue and actually get more done in the course of a day, says Jon Gordon, a Florida-based consultant who advises corporations and athletes on how to stay energized. One short break of 5 or 10 minutes or even less can boost your energy immediately, and making break time a habit can keep your energy up long-term, he says.
“If you take short breaks throughout the day, you will have more overall accomplishments,” says Gordon, author of The Energy Bus.
Human performance studies show he’s right. In one conducted at Louisiana State University and published in Computers and Industrial Engineering, researchers compared three different work-rest schedules for workers who used the computer. The schedule that allowed for briefer, more frequent breaks was best in terms of fighting fatigue and increasing productivity.
The researchers found that workers who took four breaks per hour, usually just 30 seconds each, followed by a 14-minute break after two hours of sitting at the computer, reported higher performance and worked faster and more accurately than their coworkers.
Energy Boost #4: Get moving
For an instant energy boost, drop out of your busy life for 10 minutes and hit the road – or the hallways of your office. “Walking is an energizer,” says Gordon. Even a 10-minute walk can help you overcome feelings of fatigue.
And yes, it works better than a sugar infusion. In a study published two decades ago but still often-quoted, Robert Thayer, PhD, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, compared the energizing effects on 12 different days when 18 subjects either ate a candy bar or walked briskly for 10 minutes. Walking was the better bet. Walking increased energy for two hours. The sugar snack initially boosted energy, but after an hour, participants were more tired and had less energy.
Energy Boost #5: Take 5 and Meditate
Numerous studies have demonstrated the fatigue-fighting effects of meditation, but there’s no need to light candles, sit cross-legged, or learn a mantra. Mini-meditation can work wonders, says Judith Orloff, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California Los Angeles and author of Positive Energy.
“A three-minute meditation is a way to calm yourself down and stop rushing,” she says. “You can replenish yourself. You can take control of your energy.”
Orloff suggests getting the day off to a positive start with a mini-meditation while you’re still in bed, then continuing with short meditation breaks throughout the day. Any quiet place in your home or office will do, Orloff says. You can even use the office bathroom for an instant energy boost.
“Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths,” Orloff says. “Begin to relax your body. When thoughts come, think of them like clouds in the sky. Let them float by. Visualize a positive thing – a sunset, the beach in Hawaii.”
Energy Boost #6: Ditch the Energy Vampires
To increase the amount of energy in your life long-term, experts suggest surrounding yourself with positive people whenever possible. Of course, you can’t always avoid some negative people, like a moody boss or that complaining grocery clerk who always seems to be the one who checks you out.
But negative people can do more than bring down your mood, says Orloff. Some people can make you feel so stressed in their presence that they cause a stress reaction in your body. Orloff terms them “energy vampires.” And stress is the biggest energy drain of all. “Stress like that burns out the adrenals,” Orloff says, “and when the adrenals are burned out you have no energy.”
Not sure if someone’s negative enough to affect your energy levels? Analyze how you feel in their presence, Orloff says. If, after a few minutes together, you feel like you want to take a nap, or if your energy suddenly bottoms out, that’s a telling sign. If someone really makes you tense, you may even find yourself feeling nauseous or dizzy or notice a headache coming on. “Emotions are catching,” she says.
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