Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by fatigue. What about if you’ve hit that afternoon slump so often, a 3pm coffee is a part of your daily routine? We’re all working long hours, fitting in workouts, keeping up with friends, starting side hustles or families, and somehow in the midst of it all, we’re supposed to home cook three nutritious meals a day and sleep a decent amount of hours. Of course you’re exhausted.
But if you’re finding it hard to concentrate or are reaching for that second, third, or fourth cup of coffee just to make it through the day, you’re probably suffering from chronic fatigue. The first step in fixing it is to identify the root; chronic fatigue could mean a deeper problem. However, you should not have to suffer from difficulty focusing or exhaustion (ain’t nobody got time for that!). Here are our best (caffeine-free) ways to boost energy levels, and how to get rid of that fatigue once and for all.
1. Change your diet
Studies show that minimizing sugar and refined carbs can significantly boost energy. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your fatigue might very well be caused by that blueberry muffin or packaged oatmeal you have for breakfast on a regular basis. “Sugar crash” is a real thing (FIY there’s sugar in a lot of processed white carbs too). Kelsey Herrick, senior dietitian at Sanford Health, said in an article that if you’re going to eat simple sugars, eat them with or after other meals (with plenty of healthy fats, fiber, and protein).
There are lots of foods that will boost energy levels instead of draining them. Snack on foods like bananas if you’re feeling fatigued, as they’re filled with nutrients that have been found to boost energy during exercise. Make sure that every meal has a combination of lean protein, healthy fats, slow-release carbs (like quinoa or sweet potatoes), and high-fiber vegetables, so your body is getting as much energy as possible, for as long as possible.
If you’re eating all the right foods and still feel fatigued, talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional about going on an elimination diet, or working with an allergist to test for food sensitivities. While symptoms of food sensitivities are more commonly thought of as skin rashes or digestion issues, fatigue is a commonly overlooked symptom of a food sensitivity as well.
2. Check your vitamin levels
Chronic fatigue could be a sign of low levels of vitamin or mineral deficiencies like vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, or magnesium. Fatigue can commonly be caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which are easy to discover via testing and fix through supplementation or changes in diet, as Dr. Anthony Komaroff, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told U.S. News & World Report. Talk to your doctor about testing your vitamin levels and the best options for you.
3. Drink more water
You might think coffee is the most important energy-boosting beverage in your life, but even mild dehydration can lower energy levels. Add lemons, berries, or mint to your water for extra flavor, and make sure you have water on hand at all times (your reusable water bottle should be your best friend). If you’re feeling sluggish and tempted to get another cup of coffee, consider chugging a big glass of water first. It might be enough to get you through the slump.
4. Change your morning routine
You might have heard that your morning can affect the rest of your day, and when it comes to fatigue and energy levels, it’s true. What we accomplish in the morning can give us more energy all day long. For example, instead of scrolling through Instagram for 15 minutes after your alarm goes off (guilty!), get up right away and open the blinds; natural light first thing in the morning tells your body that it’s time to wake up. Try to squeeze in a workout soon after waking (walking your dog or a yoga flow counts!) as morning exercise can help improve energy throughout the day.
5. Spray some essential oils
Aromatherapy is not only a luxurious form of self-care, but it’s also a powerful tool to boost relaxation and reduce fatigue. Just like lavender can drift you off to blissful sleep (if you don’t have a pillow spray yet, you’re missing out), other essential oils may give you a burst of energy. When you’re feeling the afternoon slump coming on, try diffusing a bit of peppermint oil.
6. Track your sleep patterns
You should be waking up after at least seven hours of sleep feeling rejuvenated, well-rested, and energized. Unfortunately, many of us are either getting less than seven hours of sleep or are still not feeling well-rested when we think we’re sleeping long enough. This might be because your body is not going through complete sleep cycles for reasons like stress, outside noises, light (damn Friends re-runs!), etc.
To get a better understanding of the quality of your sleep, download an app like Sleep Cycle to track patterns, and talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist if you’re not getting enough quality cycles in a night’s sleep.
7. Reduce caffeine
Before you disregard the rest of the article on account of this counterintuitive advice, hear me out. While you might feel immediate benefits of caffeine intake, long-term use might be making fatigue worse. Caffeine causes neurons to send messages to the pituitary gland, which alerts the adrenals to pump out stress hormones.
In other words, caffeine can put your body into constant fight-or-flight mode, which is how you’re able to power through that project or function off of very little sleep. But if you’re drinking several cups of coffee a day, your whole nervous system might be on constant red alert. Stick to one cup of coffee in the morning and switch to green tea if you’re craving more caffeine.
8. Go for a walk
Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle can cause fatigue and lack of energy. If you’re sitting at a desk all day (as many of us are), make sure you’re fitting in 30 to 45 minutes of exercise for at least four days a week and move as much as you can (like yoga flows a couple of times a day or taking a walk around the office once every hour). If you’re feeling in a particular energy slump, take a break to get outside and go for a walk, which can provide an immediate increase in energy.
9. Try adaptogens
Adaptogenic herbs may help regulate the body’s natural response to stress, but they’ve also been used for centuries as a way to specifically boost energy, focus, and attention. Adaptogens can be a great supplement to try if you want to improve your energy levels because they’re not a stimulant like caffeine (which forces your body into an unnatural state). Instead, adaptogens improve the body’s natural ability to respond to stress and increase energy over time. If you think adaptogens might be right for you, talk to a healthcare professional to find the right adaptogen and brand for you.
10. Manage stress
By now, you know that adrenal fatigue may be a common cause of lack of energy. Stress tells adrenal glands to produce cortisol, so chronic stress might be causing your body to release too much cortisol, which can make you exhausted. However, stress also affects every part of your body and lifestyle.
Stress can make you crave sugary foods and refined carbs, negatively affect sleep patterns, and reach for immediate stimulants like caffeine. Therefore, stress not only causes fatigue, but it also sets off reactions in your body that might additionally be causing fatigue as well. To get out of the vicious stress cycle, prioritize your mental health. Set up a meditation practice, gratitude journal daily, see a therapist, or find any practice and ritual that helps you manage stress.