How to stop being a slug?
March 25, 2011 8:28 PM   Subscribe

How to keep up my energy levels?

I have had my work scheduled ramped up recently with many of the hours in the beginning of the week (10+ hour days Mon and Tues, 9 hr day Wed, 10-11 hour day Thursday, 6-7 hours Friday, sometimes a few hours Sat.) My job also ranges from office work(Mon and Tues) to field work (reporter and copy editor for weekly publication.)
By Thursday, I can barely get up in the morning (which isn't always terrible since I don't work a strict shift.) and I feel like a slug on weekends.
I don't see this changing anytime soon, so what are some ways to keep up my energy levels? One challenge I've had is getting to bed early since when I work late, I want to unwind for awhile afterwards. In addition, this schedule also ramps up my depression and anxiety I've been trying to address for awhile with therapy/meds. I mostly think it's because I'm stressed a lot and unpredictable schedule makes it hard to establish new social connections. Tiredness also makes it hard to have energy to cook good meals much since I'm cooking for only myself.
I do drink a fair amount of caffeine, but a lot of the time I just drink it slowly for the taste I think. Not sure why this is hitting me so hard right now, I've put in long hours before.
Does anyone have any pointers or tips? While establishing more of a balance would be helpful, I am confused how to do this right now.
posted by greatalleycat to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
exercise is good, but hard to work in when you're busy and exhausted. can you start by improving your sleep? it may not be inappropriate to ask your doctor for a prescription sleep aid. keeping a regular sleep schedule helps, too, as does bright light in the morning and low lights at night.

eating well also helps. i find that if i have a heavy lunch, i lose all my will to function in the afternoon, so switching to a big salad instead of a sandwich or burger seems to help a lot.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:41 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you may not be eating a good range of foods. I rarely eat meat, and I find myself eating mostly carbs when I'm really working hard. As a result, I get very little iron. While I don't put too much stock in vitamins, I do find that I feel more energized during the day when I take a multivitamin with iron in it in the morning. This may very well be a placebo effect; I am OK with that. I also try to make big pots of balanced food once a week that I can freeze and quickly access through the week. Lasagna and stews are good for this, but lately, I've been cooking a lot of Iranian food, since it tends to be very vitamin rich (not to mention freaking delicious). I'd be happy to pass on recipes if you'd like.

If you're drinking caffeine just for the taste, would you be able to switch to decaf? I'm sure members here have lots of great suggestions about delicious decaf tea and coffee.

Figuring out how much sleep makes you feel rested and setting up a regular sleep routine around that is also important. When can you commit, on most nights, to getting into bed? Sticking to this time as much as possible may help you fall asleep then more consistently. If there are other things you want to do to unwind before then, can you reserve the hour or 30 minutes before that time as unwinding time? I like to read before bed to unwind, but I usually just take a book into bed with me at bedtime, and usually end up falling asleep after about 10 minutes. My sleep is great, but my reading progress, not so much. You may also want to consider setting aside blocks during the day as non-work times. Personally, I take a break 7 hours into my workday to walk my dog for a couple of miles and catch up on some podcasts. I find this really useful in mitigating stress.

Finally, I see you're on meds for depression/anxiety. Have you recently changed them? Some SSRIs have side effects related to sleep and energy level. This may be something to check with your doctor about.
posted by quiet coyote at 8:56 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I think about stamina and extending the performance duration, I am reminded of a book about hiking the AT. I may be wrong with exact figures here, so don't quote them, but the point is the same.

A person in poor fitness that starts the AT generally walks 8-10 miles a day. After three weeks, they average 16-18 miles a day. A person in excellent shape starts at 16-18 miles a day. After three weeks, they average 18-21 miles a day.

Over time, the body starts to develop a natural rhythm, and there are certain things which can be made routine and hikers get the hang of it. Even things that seem unpredictable and out of control, like terrain and weather, become routine and manageable.

To bring the analogy more applicable to you, even in the most chaotic workspace, it is important to develop a process for handing things, to set a pattern and a time table. You may not have the hang of things now, but it is important to start organizing the chaos into manageable and controllable events. 15 minutes for organization and planning, 15 minutes for filing, 15 minutes for scheduling meetings, an hour for making phone calls to follow up on leads, 15 minutes for accounts receivable. Break email into 15 minutes to read, 2 minutes for quick replies, and 10 minutes to respond per long message. Stick to it. Schedule your breaks - and breaks mean: food, restroom, email, smart phone, and face book checks. Get your notes together, get your research organized. It is ok to tell bosses 'no' to impromptu meetings and ask them to schedule a more formal meeting with you if it is disrupting your productivity (Caveat: That's mostly true unless the meetings occur every day at a relatively fixed interval and you could effectively schedule them, and/or your boss is a rage-a-holic-).

Point being, start organizing your work, then apply the same practice to your morning routine and your pre-bed routine. You would be surprised how much an improvement you can have for your energy level when you actually start scheduling a little of your routine. For me, I even schedule in loafing time in the morning, since I actually need a little time to putt around before I get things accomplished. By limiting loafing, I still get to loaf, but I don't abuse it.

So yeah, for me, I don't know about a restore-my-energy life-hack (ugh). I do know that I'm generally more refreshed when I keep things scheduled and in my control, and that when things slide, I generally know what is actually the lower priority item to drop off my schedule because I have preplanned.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:34 PM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think exercise might really help. I work similar hours M, T, and W and am quite exhausted by the end of my work day. I get home, take a short nap, eat dinner, and then work out (sports practice) for 2-3 hours. I get home at 10:30 or 11pm, shower and go to bed and wake up again at 5:45 am. My Thursdays and Fridays are somewhat less intense work schedules. I find that when I start missing practices my energy really declines, I eat more, and I start feeling generally miserable.

I know your schedule is tough, but you will adapt to it, and I highly recommend adding intense exercise if you're not already. 2-3 hours 5-6 days per week is what works best for me.
posted by palegirl at 9:38 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Some good ideas, especially with the multivitamin. I figure more exercise could help, I was doing some previously, but winter in Cleveland and no gym membership makes it hard for motivation to run or walk outside most of the time. I can't say quiet coyote I even know what exactly Iranian/Persian food consists of other than some stereotypical middle eastern answers (lamb or goat anyone?)
The lack of a schedule at work at time does make for some chaos, especially since I basically have to take what comes at me...three hours of formatting crazy letters to editor or go cover fire/explosion that just happenen.
posted by greatalleycat at 10:43 PM on March 25, 2011

This is a Really Good Time to learn to cook good meals for 2-4 people.

One way I would wind down after my unpredictable days (and nights) as a TV news camera assistant was to shop 3-4 times a week at fresh food stores (not supermarkets, they were too noisy/stressful) and cook enough food to make brown-bag lunches and spare-serves for the nights I couldn't be bothered. Selecting the freshest ingredients that took my fancy, finding a suitable recipe, and then creating an edible delight was the antidote to a day of garbage and violence. And I really liked pulling out my yummy healthy left-over chicken curry and rice for lunch when others were eating carb-heavy meals. I still make some of the meals I learned to make then.

My other tricks were to combine exercise with transport and ride my bike to work (it was a great de-stressor on the way home) as well as drinking only mostly water or some tea at work. On slow afternoons when I had to hang around I would go for walks around the block with my pager on.

God I wish I was 27 again and so damn mature.
posted by Kerasia at 11:59 PM on March 25, 2011

Persian food in the US is usually beef, but some places do lamb. It's mostly rice(parboiled then steamed), and then a stew of some sort. Pretty heavy stuff, but if you cook it at home you can make it lighter and use healthier fats. Tahdig, the crunchy rice, is also really caloric(BUT SO GOOD). Ghormeh sabzi is super good for you, it's mostly greens.

Now, I wish I was at my grandma's. ;.; It was just our New Year and everybody eats till they pop and has a good time.

Anyway.... N'thing exercise and good nutrition. Also, sunlight either outside or in the form of lamps.
posted by lettuchi at 6:10 AM on March 26, 2011

Best answer: Where are you in Cleveland? Lakeview Cemetery will be beautiful for walking pretty soon, especially once Daffodil Hill blooms. Cedar Hill and Mayfield Rd (going into Little Italy) are really nice to walk if you need a good incline, but maybe I am just partial to those old stone walls. You could also go to the Animal Protective League and volunteer to walk their dogs if you don't have one of your own. Even walking around the Botanical Garden or the Art Museum can be decent exercise. Having those kind of mini excursions to go on can give you something to look forward to.

Do you have a slow cooker? That's a great way to cook in bulk. If not, go to any of the Unique Thrift Stores; they always have them. I made ghormeh sabzi (beans, greens, and meat) and some khoresht-e bademjan (eggplant and meat stew) in my slow cooker, and then ate it with plain greek yogurt on top (no rice). There are a ton of AskMe threads with slow cooker recipe suggestions if you'd prefer other kinds of food.
posted by quiet coyote at 8:53 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

i think others have good suggestions for dealing with the amount of hours you're describing. i wanted to ask if there's any way that you can put more boundaries on your schedule? not necessarily work less, but just keep good tabs on where those hours are happening and not inadvertently work more time than you have to. it may impossible to know at 8 am *everyday* exactly what time you will be done with what you need to do and then when you will leave, but can this happen at least *some* of the days? the way that you describe your schedule makes it sound like on a given day, you don't know what time you will be able to stop working for the day. that is just the worst kind of stress when you're tired and only beginning your day. i am the first one to understand that this situation is unavoidable some days, but on the days it *is* possible to set a time that you will leave by, are you sticking to it?

even if your free time is limited, it might help your general mindset to know that your limited free time is guaranteed to happen and to start at x time.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:10 AM on March 26, 2011

Unwinding in the evening after a long day can be tricky. I would suggest working on that, because if you can get more sleep a lot of other things in life will get easier. Here are some possibilities:

- an evening yoga routine to help you unwind. Here is an article about yoga for insomnia that is OK; you could also search for "restorative yoga" books or videos that can really help with winding down before bed.

- sleepy drugs. Personally I find that melatonin works really well and doesn't leave me groggy the next day; some people don't like it. Sleepytime Extra tea has chamomile and valerian, which are mild sedatives, and the ritual of a cup of tea might help with the transition to bed.

- meditation. If your mind is abuzz from your day, a few minutes of meditation could help you slow down. Previous questions have a lot of information about meditation if you're interested.

- avoid the computer. Personally I find that going online has an allure of relaxation, but it's easy to get sucked in and stay up late.

- another relaxing evening ritual. Whatever works for you.
posted by medusa at 10:13 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Getting enough sleep is key, but the only way for me to feel alert and awake all day until bed time is to do all of the following:

- Limit carbs: I eat fruit at breakfast, and I eat non starchy vegetables freely, but other than that I limit my carbs pretty severely. Something I call the "carb trap" is the following: it's like 3 PM at work and you're starting to feel run down so you decide to perk up with a snack like a bag of pretzels... you eat the pretzels... oh shit, now you feel EVEN MORE EXHAUSTED! Seriously I used to do this every single day. If you want a snack, have something protein-y and fatty, like a hardboiled egg or some roasted almonds. If I eat a lot of carbs at any meal, I feel tired the rest of the day.

- Exercise hard: A 30 minute walk or what have you doesn't really do it for me (especially since I'm on my feet at work all day, so I'm doing "light cardio" all day every day). If I do a 5-20 minute metcon after work that leaves me sweaty and gasping, that's enough exercise to give me great energy levels all day. Example metcon that you can do in your home in the winter with no equipment:

3 rounds for time:
30 air squats
20 sit ups
10 push ups (from knees if you can't do that many regular push ups, OR put your hands on a chair instead of the floor)

And there you have it. Depending on your current level of fitness that might take up to 20 minutes or so (if it takes longer, you're not working hard enough). This takes very little time but the key is that you have to work at HIGH intensity. There are lots of bodyweight movements that you can do indoors with no equipment, and even more things you can try if you have a couple of dumbbells or some makeshift weights, like a backpack filled with canned food, or a big water jug.

- Sleep at least eight hours per night: yeah, sleep, it works. Alone it isn't enough for me but combined with the above two it is awesome.
posted by telegraph at 10:25 AM on March 26, 2011

The last couple of years gave me a lot of health hits, and two things really helped me that you might want to experiment with:

1) Make sure you're getting enough iron - low iron can leave you feeling tired all the time.
2) Take a dose of B-12 when you need to have your brain awake- I usually go for the afternoon, like 2-3 ish when I'm getting sleepy. Make sure you're eating some food as well, as some folks get rashes or inflammation if it all hits at once.

For something, alternative, I also study Traditional Chinese Medicine and one of the things they recommend is cutting back on caffeine because it burns your reserve energy. The usual symptoms that go with this are feeling cold all the time, and waking up a lot to go pee. If you have this going on, cut back the caffeine and try to get some more fish in your diet.
posted by yeloson at 12:15 PM on March 26, 2011

« Older I prefer chicks, but please, validate me with your...   |   Rickenbacker ragas Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.