When Your Lifestyle Is Wearing You Down
If you've seen your doctor to rule out medical causes of exhaustion, and you aren't depressed, your lifestyle could be the cause of your fatigue. Here are three common drains on your energy:
1. Unhealthy Diet
If you find yourself eating a lot of high-sugar, high-carb refined foods, your fatigue may stem from rapid drops in blood sugar, Agarwal says. Refined carbohydrates quickly elevate your blood sugar, giving you a temporary energy boost, but they are poor sources of sustained energy—so when your blood sugar inevitably drops, you're likely to reach for more sugary foods to get another boost, perpetuating the cycle of eating poorly and feeling tired.Caffeine is the other main offender. Agarwal says that people often either overcaffeinate or caffeinate late in the day, which disrupts their sleep-wake cycle.
To begin eating healthier, Agarwal suggests eliminating refined sugar as much as possible and replacing it with foods that will keep up your energy. For example, if you're really tired at 3 o'clock, have carrots and hummus or apple slices with nut butter instead of grabbing a handful of sweets from the office candy bowl or downing a sugary latte.
And while many people won't want to give up caffeine altogether, moderation can help. Agarwal advises not having caffeine after lunch, and limiting your intake of coffee, tea, and soda to one or two servings a day.
2. Inadequate Sleep
This may seem obvious, but sleep is really important. The optimal amount, according to experts, is seven to eight hours a night, but Agarwal says, "Most women are getting between five or six hours on average, and that's not even good quality sleep."
Hormonal shifts during perimenopause or menopause can also lead to sleep disturbances. These fluctuations can cause changes in the body's temperature regulation, resulting in uncomfortable hot flashes that could keep you awake. When the cause is hormonal, exercising regularly has been shown to improve your ability to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
You might also have habits that hurt the quality of your sleep, such as using your phone right before bed. The blue light from the screen affects your ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep. An inconsistent bedtime may also contribute.
Agarwal suggests not charging your phone by your bed, so you won't be tempted to check it, and trying to get to sleep at the same time every night. Reading a book—an actual paper book, not on an electronic device—or meditating for 5 to 10 minutes can help quiet your mind at the end of the day.
3. Chronic Busyness
Agarwal sees many women who don't necessarily have a medical issue and eat fairly well, but are so stressed that they run themselves ragged. The best solution for chronic busyness, she says, is setting aside more time to do things for yourself, like exercising or spending time outside. Breaking up your workday can also help you feel more alert and refreshed: Try not to eat lunch at your desk, and take a couple of breaks throughout the day to go for a quick walk or sit outside to enjoy a snack or watch a short entertaining video on your phone.
Although there's a tendency in our society to downplay chronic busyness as unavoidable, life coach Joanna Lindenbaum says it's actually a very serious concern: "I've seen case after case where chronic busyness leads to burnout, making bad decisions out of exhaustion, and perhaps most important, disconnection from self and others."
Cutting back on obligations and tasks is easier said than done, especially when it involves saying no to others. As difficult as it may be, Lindenbaum says, it's crucial to put your own well-being first: "Remind yourself that you're saying no to the opportunity or obligation in order to create some time for yourself." Making your well-being the priority will help you create the resolve you need to really downsize your external commitments.
Once you cut more out of your schedule, Lindenbaum cautions, it can be tempting to fill it up again, even with things that you can justify as good for you, like yoga and massage. To tap into a slower pace of life, she suggests taking 10 minutes a day to do absolutely nothing. "No yoga, no walking, no technology…simply BE-ing," she says. "Ten minutes of nothing may not seem like a lot, but creating that type of space for yourself each day can have a massive impact in the long run."
If you are taking steps to remedy your fatigue and don't see any improvement after a month, Agarwal advises going back to your doctor. In rare cases, persistent fatigue could be a sign of a more serious condition, so it's important to rule out or diagnose and treat other potential causes as soon as possible.