You don’t need us to tell you: We’re living in weird times. Pandemic life has become the new normal, which has heightened our response to stress. And work-life balance no longer seems achievable now that so many of us are working from home. So, it’s completely natural to feel a little (or a lot) fatigued these days.
Burnout is a real problem for many people—but there is hope. If you’re living in a state of exhaustion, there are a handful of expert-backed, natural ways to beat fatigue that you can incorporate into your day to finally feel more energized. Put the following tips to work for you.
1. Drink more water
Nodding off mid-afternoon or constantly dealing with a dull headache that’s messing with your focus? Dehydration may be to blame. “Because the body is composed of about 60 percent water (with variations based on age, sex, and body composition), dehydration resulting from insufficient water intake can result in significant symptoms,” says dietitian Kristin Gillespie, M.S., R.D., L.D., advisor for Exercise with Style. “Dehydration can impact your mood, energy, and overall brain function, so it is important to ensure that you drink adequate amounts of water to ward off fatigue.”
Whether you leave a bottle of water on your nightstand, drink a large glass of water before breakfast, or infuse fruit in a pitcher of water overnight to sip on throughout the day, make sure you’re keeping H2O top-of-mind, says plant-based dietitian Amy Gorin, R.D.N., owner of Plant-Based Eats.
2. Check your vitamin B12 levels
Vitamin B12 helps the body form red blood cells and plays a role in preventing a type of anemia that leaves you feeling weak and fatigued. Without ample amounts, your energy levels take a serious hit—so consider having your doctor test your levels if you feel constantly drained. (In fact, research has linked B12 deficiency with fatigue.)
While anyone can be B12 deficient, it’s more common in vegans and vegetarians who avoid or limit animal products, which provide the vitamin, Gorin explains.
If you’re low, talk to your healthcare provider about adding a vitamin B12 supplement to your regimen. Plant-based eaters can also incorporate tempeh, shiitake mushrooms, and fortified nutritional yeast, which provide the vitamin, to their diets, adds Gorin. Otherwise, just three ounces of cooked salmon or lean ground beef—or a cup of milk—provides your daily value of 2.4 micrograms, Gorin says.
3. Quit mouth breathing
“A 2017 study confirmed what yogis have long known: Breathing through your nose with your mouth shut is good for your health,” says Lynn Anderson, N.D., Ph.D., C.P.T., C-IAYT. This research, in particular, found that nose-breathing, rather than mouth-breathing, during aerobic exercise improved endurance.
“When we breathe through our mouth, we give our breath away,” Anderson says. “The breath is shallow and therefore pumps less oxygenated blood, which provides energy, through the system.”
So what does this all mean for your all-day fatigue? According to Anderson, breathing through your nose throughout the day keeps your breath rate slower, allowing more time for the oxygen you inhale to reach the bloodstream and activating lower parts of the lungs associated with the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system. As a result, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to bring in oxygen, and you feel more relaxed and better able to concentrate.
When you feel your energy fading, try this nasal breathing exercise:
- breathe in, filling your lungs completely
- hold for three seconds
- breathe out as if to pump and empty your lungs
- repeat for at least three full cycles
4. Avoid added sugars
We know, we know. That three o’clock chocolate bar tempts us, too—but “while sugary foods and beverages may initially boost energy levels, the energy spike is short-lived and results in a subsequent crash,” says Gillespie. (That’s because simple sugars skyrocket our blood sugar, which then triggers a chain of events that then send it plummeting.)
For this reason, Gillespie suggests restricting sugary, sweetened foods and beverages—at least when you feel exhausted. Instead, focus on consuming complex carbohydrates that offer fiber—like whole-wheat bread, beans, sweet potatoes and other veggies, nuts, and whole grains—which will help stabilize blood sugar and thus energy levels.
5. Up your vitamin D
Is there anything the ‘sunshine vitamin’ can’t do? “Vitamin D has been shown to improve self-perceived fatigue,” says Diana Gariglio-Clelland, R.D., a dietitian for Next Luxury. In fact, a study on vitamin D on self-perceived fatigue published in the journal Medicine found that increasing levels of the vitamin significantly improved fatigue in otherwise healthy persons who were deficient.
The thing is, “when we have less sunlight exposure through shorter days or more time spent indoors, the risk of vitamin D deficiency goes up,” she says. “Since vitamin D isn’t found in many foods, take a vitamin D supplement to be safe.” Though it’s worth talking to your healthcare provider about first, it’s safe to take 2,000 IU per day to start with, she adds. (Discuss anything higher than 4,000 IU with your doctor.)
If you think your tired vibes may be due to low vitamin D levels, your doctor can check your levels with a simple blood test.
6. Set Yourself Up for Sleep Success
Though it’s easier said than done, prioritizing sleep is one of the most natural ways to beat fatigue (especially during times of stress), says Mary Albus, R.D., C.D.N., a dietitian for Gainful.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting at least seven-to-nine hours of quality sleep per night. According to Albus, the body uses this time to produce ATP, the form of energy cells use, and release hormones that help repair cells and control the body’s use of energy.
Take this study, which evaluated sleep satisfaction, or people’s subjective perception of their sleep quality. It found that poorer sleep satisfaction ratings predicted next-day fatigue in individuals with chronic fatigue. “This essentially means that when we feel that our quality of sleep is poor, it can lend itself to feelings of fatigue the following day,” Albus explains.
To set yourself up for a better night in dreamland, avoid screens before bedtime, make sure your room is dark, cool, and comfortable, quit drinking caffeine after 4 p.m., and try relaxation exercises or meditation to help settle your mind at night.
A brief nap may help you recharge if you’re sleepy during the day, too. “Some studies have suggested that napping can improve mood and learning capacity throughout the day,” says Albus. Even 20 to 30 minutes can make a difference.
7. Consider L-Carnitine
This nutrient helps cells function efficiently by ushering fatty acids into their mitochondria, the powerhouses within them, where they are turned into energy, explains dietitian Marie Ruggles, R.D., C.N., C.D.E., author of Optimize Your Immune System.
“L-carnitine can be found in many foods, but red meats, such as beef and lamb, are the best choices for getting it from the diet,” she says. (Other good sources include fish, poultry, and milk.)
If you’ve been dragging, getting more l-carnitine into your body may do you good. You can ensure you’re getting ample amounts by incorporating high-quality protein (like those listed above) into every meal—or adding a supplement to your routine. Ruggles typically recommends adults start with 500 milligrams a day, taken between meals for the best absorption.
8. Take a walk in the park
Chronic stress makes the body churn out the stress hormone cortisol, which, in excess, can leave you stuck in a vicious cycle of fatigue, mental exhaustion, and lack of motivation, according to functional health provider Mindy Pelz, D.C., author of The Menopause Reset.
To nix some of the stress at the root of the problem, she recommends getting out into nature (for city folks, a local park or a path by the water counts). “Research shows that a walk in nature can lower cortisol levels,” says Pelz. “Forward movement of our body calms the part of the brain that gives fight-or-flight signals. Without this stress hormone draining you, you’ll feel more alive and energized throughout the day.
Research suggests that 120 minutes (or two hours) of time spent in nature per week has a significant impact, so try taking your daily walk to a local park, checking out local hiking trails on the weekend, and planning outdoor activities with friends.