Feeling sluggish? Ditching these bad habits that drain your energy will help. Lack of sleep isn’t the only thing sapping your energy. Little things you do (and don’t do) can exhaust you both mentally and physically, which can make getting through your day a chore. Here, experts reveal common bad habits that can make you feel tired, plus simple lifestyle tweaks that will put the pep back in your step.
1. You skip exercise when you’re tired.
Skipping your workout to save energy actually works against you. In a University of Georgia study, sedentary but otherwise healthy adults who began exercising lightly three days a week for as little as 20 minutes at a time, reported feeling less fatigued and more energized after six weeks. Regular exercise boosts strength and endurance, helps make your cardiovascular system run more efficiently, and delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. So next time you’re tempted to crash on the couch, at least go for a brisk walk—you won’t regret it.
2. You don’t drink enough water.
Being even slightly dehydrated—as little as 2% of normal fluid loss—takes a toll on energy levels, says Amy Goodson, RD, a dietitian for Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine. Dehydration causes a reduction in blood volume, explains Goodson, which makes the blood thicker. This requires your heart to pump less efficiently, reducing the speed at which oxygen and nutrients reach your muscles and organs. To calculate your normal fluid needs, take your weight in pounds, divide in half and drink that number of ounces of fluid a day, Goodson recommends.
3. You’re not consuming enough iron.
An iron deficiency can leave you feeling sluggish, irritable, weak, and unable to focus. “It makes you tired because less oxygen travels to the muscles and cells,” says Goodson. Boost your iron intake to reduce your risk of anemia: load up on lean beef, kidney beans, tofu, eggs (including the yolk), dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, and peanut butter, and pair them with foods high in vitamin C (vitamin C improves iron absorption when eaten together), suggests Goodson. Note: an iron deficiency may be due to an underlying health problem, so if you’re experiencing these symptoms of iron deficiency, you should visit your doc.
4. You’re a perfectionist.
Striving to be perfect—which, let’s face it, is impossible—makes you work much harder and longer than necessary, says Irene S. Levine, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine.
“You set goals that are so unrealistic that they are difficult or impossible to achieve, and in the end, there is no sense of self-satisfaction.” Levine recommends setting a time limit for yourself on your projects, and taking care to obey it. In time, you’ll realize that the extra time you were taking wasn’t actually improving your work.
5. You make mountains out of molehills.
If you assume that you’re about to get fired when your boss calls you into an unexpected meeting, or you’re too afraid to ride your bike because you worry you’ll get into an accident, then you’re guilty of “catastrophizing,” or expecting that the worst-case scenario will always occur. This anxiety can paralyze you and make you mentally exhausted, says Levine. When you catch yourself having these thoughts, take a deep breath and ask yourself how likely it is that the worst really will happen. Getting outdoors, meditating, exercising, or sharing your concerns with a friend may help you better cope and become more realistic.
6. You skip breakfast.
The food you eat fuels your body, and when you sleep, your body continues using what you consumed at dinner the night before to keep your blood pumping and oxygen flowing. So, when you wake up in the morning, you need to refuel with breakfast. Skip it, and you’ll feel sluggish. “Eating breakfast is like starting a fire in your body by kickstarting your metabolism,” Goodson says. Goodson recommends a breakfast that includes whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fat. Good examples include oatmeal with protein powder and a dab of peanut butter; a smoothie made with fruit, protein powder, low-fat milk, and almond butter; or eggs with two slices of whole-wheat toast and low-fat Greek yogurt.
7. You live on junk food.
Foods loaded with sugar and simple carbs (like the ones you’ll find in a box or at the drive-thru window) rank high on the glycemic index (GI), an indicator of how rapidly carbohydrates increase blood sugar. Constant blood sugar spikes followed by sharp drops cause fatigue over the course of the day, says Goodson. Keep blood sugar steady by having a lean protein along with a whole grain at every meal, says Goodson. Good choices include chicken (baked, not fried) and brown rice, salmon and sweet potato, or salad with chicken and fruit.
8. You have trouble saying ‘no’
People-pleasing often comes at the expense of your own energy and happiness. To make matters worse, it can make you resentful and angry over time. So whether it’s your kid’s coach asking you to bake cookies for her soccer team or your boss seeing if you can work on a Saturday, you don’t have to say yes. Train yourself to say ‘no’ out loud, suggests Susan Albers, a licensed clinical psychologist with Cleveland Clinic and author of Eat.Q.: Unlock the Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence.
“Try it alone in your car,” she says. “Hearing yourself say the word aloud makes it easier to say it when the next opportunity calls for it.”
9. You have a messy office.
A cluttered desk mentally exhausts you by restricting your ability to focus and limits your brain’s ability to process information, according to a Princeton University study. “At the end of each day, make sure your work and personal items are organized and put away,” suggests Lombardo. “It will help you have a positive start to your day the next morning.” If your office needs major reorganizing, avoid becoming totally overwhelmed by taking it one step at a time: start by tidying what you can see, then move through your desk and cabinets drawer by drawer.
10. You work through vacation
Checking your email when you should be relaxing by the pool puts you at risk of burnout, says Lombardo. Unplugging and allowing yourself to truly unwind allows your mind and body to rejuvenate and return to the office stronger. “When you truly take breaks, you will be more creative, productive, and effective when you return,” says Lombardo.