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It hits me around 3 every day. My eyes droop, my mind drifts, and tasks that were easily doable in the morning now seem impossible. Until recently my emergency strategy was to eat my way through exhaustion with a cookie or half a chocolate bar, or to caffeinate myself into a state of distracted jitteriness. I'd be alert only until the cookie, candy, or latte was gone. Then I'd be sleepier than ever. And because my day was now spiraling out of control, I'd also get totally overwhelmed and grumpy. I knew that getting out and taking a walk would probably do me good, but I felt obligated to stay and grind through the day's work. This cycle, I decided, had to stop. I needed an energy makeover. So I quizzed a panel of health experts for ideas to energize my life—and yours—starting right now.
Shake Up Your Day: Take another route to work, sit in a different chair at dinner, put a new font on your computer.
The Energizing Effect: "When it's same-old, same-old every day, you start taking things for granted," says Pierce J. Howard, Ph.D., author of The Owner's Manual for the Brain, 3rd Edition (Bard Press). "It's called habituation." Change causes you to pay attention more, which makes you more alert.
Check Your Attitude: Drop grudges—toward others, yourself and, most important, toward what you've got to get done today. Instead of griping, spin things to the positive: not, "I have to pay my bills," but, "I choose to be on
top of my finances."
The Energizing Effect: Positive thinking moves your body out of tense, tight, do-or-die survival mode into a relaxed, just-do-the-next-right-thing m.o. Feeling you have options frees you from a debilitating inner tug-of-war between the part of you that orders, You have to! and the part that yells back, But I don't want to!
Step into the Light: Get a few minutes of sun outside or near a window or invest in a full-spectrum lighting system.
The Energizing Effect: According to a study by the National Institute of Industrial Health in Japan, exposure to as little as 30 minutes of natural bright light helps people through those late afternoon slumps. If you can't get outside, indoor exposure near a window is just as effective.
Make a List: Before starting your mad dash of a day, take a couple of minutes to write down and prioritize tasks and errands.
The Energizing Effect: A flurry of thoughts in your head causes energy-draining confusion; putting tasks on paper helps clarify what you need to do. Now, the energy you spent ruminating about what you have to do—remembering it, dreading it—gets released for action. What's more, checking something off the list gives you an uplifting feeling of accomplishment.
Do What You Dread: Empty the dishwasher or call the cranky client before you start the rest.
The Energizing Effect: Even small anxieties hit the brain as a threat and provoke a flood of energy-depleting stress chemicals. "Tackle what you've been avoiding so it doesn't drain you," says Martha Borst, an organizational coach.
Drink Up: You don't have to guzzle eight glasses of water, but you don't want to wait until you're parched, either.
The Energizing Effect: Water makes up 79% of our bodies, says Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., author of Fight Fatigue (Tate Publishing), and one of its functions is to deliver glucose to the cells to fuel them. It takes only a 5% drop in your body's water for your concentration to decrease and for that frustrating drowsiness to set in. Start replacing the lost fluid, and you're good to go.
Time Your Tasks: Are you most creative in the morning? Do more difficult chores then.
The Energizing Effect: Say you bounce out of bed ready to go. If you squander that energy fielding e-mails and reading, you'll have to work twice as hard on the tougher stuff in the afternoon, when fewer of your brain cells are firing. Be energy-efficient by matching tasks to your natural highs and lows.
Take a Tech Break: Turn off the e-mail, phone, and BlackBerry, and step away from the computer—just for a few minutes.
The Energizing Effect: Overdoing the tech is like bingeing on chocolate. "Too much makes you feel sluggish and scattered, and drains your energy," says Jon Gordon, author of The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy (Wiley). In fact, a Carnegie Mellon study shows that too much computer use can be potentially depressing, possibly because it's taking the place of face-to-face encounters. (So during your downtime, how about connecting with a real live person?)
Eat a Light Lunch: Forget the heavy, greasy stuff and go for veggies, complex carbs (whole grains), and low-fat proteins. And don't have wine or beer with the meal if you want to accomplish anything at all in the afternoon. Alcohol will make you tired.
The Energizing Effect: According to a study reported in the British Food Journal, a big lunch (1,000 calories) just about guarantees an afternoon energy dip. This is especially true if the meal was high in simple carbohydrates and fat. When you indulge in a huge meal, says Dr. Bauman, your heart has to work 25% harder to fuel digestion in the stomach and intestines, depriving your brain and other organs of what they need to keep going. "Add this to your body's natural circadian rhythm, which causes an afternoon slump, and you've got double trouble," says Dr. Bauman. The British study also shows that a small lunch may actually improve your performance, especially in the early afternoon. So do yourself a favor and fuel your body with only the good stuff. That way high energy—not that superstuffed feeling—will be your postmeal reward.
Get Moving: Everything you've ever heard about the energizing effects of exercise is true—even if you take just a quick, brisk hike, says Robert E. Thayer, Ph.D., professor of psychology at California State University, Long Beach. At work, walk over to talk to a colleague instead of e-mailing or calling. At home, dash around the house for five minutes putting stray stuff back where it belongs. Stretch, too—find the muscle groups that are tight and move them in the opposite direction. If you've been sitting at a keyboard, rotate your shoulders up toward your ears and down your back, like the shoulder blades are going to touch each other.
The Energizing Effect: Exercise pumps oxygenated blood to our tired cells, says Thayer. So when you're feeling slow and low, make movement an absolute priority. Do it even if—especially if—you really, really don't feel like it.
Rev yourself up with these one-minute exercises:
Energy Shake: Stand with your arms by your sides and shimmy all over. "Think of an Olympic swimmer before an event, clearing nervous tension," says Lee Holden, author of 7 Minutes of Magic: The Ultimate Energy Workout (Avery). Let all your joints go loose.
Quick Massage: Slap your body with an open hand, starting down the outside of your legs and up the inside. Then slap down the inside of each arm and up the outside.
Spinal Stretch: From a standing position lean over and round your back, tucking your tailbone, exhaling, and curling into yourself. Then breathe in, stand, arch your back, and lift your chest to the sky. Exhale and round again before returning to a standing position.
Abdominal Breathing: When you're stressed you tend to take shallow breaths, and your body doesn't get the oxygen it needs. Place your hands on your lower abdomen, breathe in deeply, pushing your hands out.
Simple Anti-Slump Solutions
Make these strategies part of your everyday routine.
Neaten up. A jumbled, disorganized space drags you down. One or more times a day, spend a couple of minutes decluttering the messiest spot.
Call your best friend. She knows how to get you out of that energy-draining bad mood.
Skip sugar and coffee. When their effects wear off—and they will—you feel depleted.
Meditate. Taking a few minutes in a quiet, private space with your eyes closed activates the part of the brain associated with positive emotions. Voila! You're more alert.
Take a catnap. Just 10 minutes can rejuvenate you.
Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the November 1, 2007, issue of Family Circle magazine.