Work and other adult duties are flat-out tiring; that's a given. But life is full of smaller, subtler energy zappers — lost keys, a cursed commute — that can leave you truly tapped out. Use these strategies to seal up the leaks, and experience an instant boost.
The leak: Your morning scramble
The whole “where’s my phone, what should I wear, who finished the milk?” scene doesn’t get you anywhere. If you start the day out of control, it takes energy to recover your rhythm.
Seal it: “Stage-manage your life,” says organization expert Julie Morgenstern, author of “Never Check Email in the Morning” (Touchstone, 2005). In other words, have all your “props” (outfit, packed bag) in place the night before so that your morning goes off without a hitch, she says. “There’s no question that when you do things when you’re not in a panic, you get them done in much less time and at significantly higher quality.” Then, when the curtain rises on your day, tackle only the things you can’t do in advance — morning stretches, brushing your teeth, etc. You’ll walk out the door feeling in command of the day.
The leak: Mainlining caffeine
Down a big mug of coffee the second you get up, and you squander its ability to power you through the day. Your first cup doesn’t energize you so much as it staves off a potential headache: “You are really only having it to treat withdrawal effects, because you haven’t had caffeine since yesterday,” says James K. Wyatt, Ph.D., an associate professor of behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical School, in Chicago.
Seal it: Pace yourself. “A good strategy is to sip a small amount in the morning, perhaps even a cup of half-caffeinated,” says Wyatt. Or, you might try saving that first cup till you’re at work, when it’ll pack more of a punch, since “caffeine is less effective when you’ve been awake only an hour or two. After that, have a serving with or shortly after lunch to lessen the impact of the notorious midafternoon dip.”
The leak: A tedious commute
Being stuck in an assembly line of honking cars can zap your mental batteries and seriously mess with your mood.
Seal it: If you can’t shorten your trip, shake it up. One way is to build in exercise or a chat. Bike riders and walkers rate their well-being higher than drivers do, according to a study from Portland State University, in Oregon, and people who talk to others on the way get a boost, too. Can you drive partway and bike or walk the rest? Catch up with a friend as you go?
If not, try to keep your brain moving. It’s your perception of being blocked by traffic, emotionally as well as physically, that burns up your energy, explains Raymond Novaco, a professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine. Pre-empt negative thinking by tuning in to a bucket-list audiobook or funny podcast.
The leak: Scrolling through social media
Whenever we crave a distraction, Instagram and Facebook are there for us. But they chip away at our energy and ability to focus.
Seal it: First, cut yourself some slack — your brain processes an amusing or inspiring post as a reward, which drives you to keep scrolling. The trouble: “It puts the brain in a stressful state, because it’s continuously scanning the environment,” says Gary W. Small, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. To break the cycle, take note of when you get the twitch to check your phone. Then set rules, like putting it in a drawer during the day. Even better, ask yourself what you’re really seeking and try to get it in person.
The leak: Your four-o’clock snack
Lunch was three hours ago. You need something to quiet your rumbling stomach and help your momentum.
Seal it: Don’t succumb to leftover doughnuts in the office kitchen or packaged food. Most energy bars are high in sugar and send your blood sugar soaring, then drop you right back at the intersection of tired and hungry. Instead, eat something with fat and protein — nutrients that take longer to digest, so you’ll feel sated and alert until dinner.
Squeeze a packet of peanut butter onto apple wedges, top full-fat yogurt with berries or bring two hard-boiled eggs from home. Feeling fancy? Pack prosciutto slices and cantaloupe chunks for antipasto power bites. If you grab an energy bar on the go, pick one with fewer than five ingredients, less than 4 grams of sugar, at least 3 grams of fiber and no aspartame, sucralose or saccharine.
The leak: Coming home to a mess
When you open the door to an entryway scattered with mail, shoes, dog toys and the skirt you keep meaning to take to the tailor, you’re “walking into a to-do list,” says Morgenstern. “How can that not steal your energy?”
Seal it: Transform this landing zone without a full purge. “Identify what’s there by category — pet gear, bags of old clothes, and so on — and catch the stuff where it falls,” she says. Add a bench with built-in storage to hold dog toys or giveaway items. Put a few hooks in the wall, “staggering them — bags in a straight line tend to smash into each other,” Morgenstern says. This way, “you’ve created a place that rises up to greet you at night and tells you to relax.”
The leak: Binging on TV
Watching just one more episode (or three) leaves you overtired but wired at 2 a.m. “Streaming video makes it really tough to stop watching,” says Jan Van den Bulck, Ph.D., a professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
Seal it: One reason it’s so hard to turn off the TV is that there’s no longer a natural break (like commercials) when we can adjust our behavior, Van den Bulck says. But you can create one: Switch off the function that automatically cues up the next episode (for Netflix, go to “Your Account” and click “Playback Settings”). Set your TV’s timer to turn off at a certain hour. Press pause and ask yourself if watching another episode is worth having to drag through the next day. Then drift off to sleep knowing you have more drama (the good kind) to look forward to tomorrow night.
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