How energetic are you? Are you a morning person who bounces out of bed to welcome the start of another day? Or do you warm up more slowly, reaching a sluggish peak sometime after your third coffee? Most women find themselves somewhere between these two extremes, with many of us suffering from less-than-ideal energy levels.

Low energy is a very common concern and often results from a combination of environmental, physical, and emotional factors. Finding out about these influences may help you boost your energy stores to optimize your enjoyment of life every day.

1: Stress the system

Our bodies are well equipped to handle moments of acute stress, historically consisting of fleeing from tigers or other life-threatening situations. These days, stress consists less of wild animals and more of work deadlines, social disharmony, and financial worries.

In contrast to the short-term challenges faced by our ancestors, today’s stressors tend to be ongoing, leaving little time to rest and recover. Exposure to long-term stress can take a significant toll on our bodies, increasing our risk of chronic illnesses, disturbing our sleep patterns, and leaving us drained and fatigued.

Action plan

  • Find effective stress-tackling strategies—talk to a trusted friend or counsellor, start a journal, identify the problems that you have the power to solve, practise letting go of those that you can’t.
  • Take vacations! Getting away for even a few days can bring new perspectives to old problems and give you some distance from stressful situations.
  • Try to curb unhealthy coping strategies such as avoidance, alcohol and stimulant use, and withdrawal from sources of support.

2: Keep on moving

When we are feeling drained and flat, the lure of the couch may be far stronger than that of the gym. While it can be so difficult to break the cycle of a sedentary lifestyle, including exercise in your day will make a world of difference to your energy levels.

The fatigue-busting properties of exercise are highlighted in dramatic fashion by studies of exercise in people with cancer. A recent Cochrane review found that aerobic exercise significantly reduced the debilitating consequences of chemotherapy-associated fatigue. Other studies support the energizing effects of exercise in the general population.

Action plan

  • Schedule exercise into your life this week. Although it may be difficult with a busy schedule, the important thing is to just get started!
  • Can you make your commute more active? Bike to work, combining with transit if needed, and walk to as many of your daily errands as you can.
  • Use exercise in combination with other weight-loss strategies to reap the energizing benefits of a healthy body mass index (BMI).

3: Do Yoga, qi gong, and meditation

The ancient practices of yoga and qi gong combine movement, breathing, and meditation to harmonize mind, body, and spirit. Involvement in qi gong or yoga sessions has been shown to decrease fatigue over time, leaving participants with improved feelings of energy and vitality.

Meditation is also a very powerful technique in its own right for reducing the energy-sapping effects of chronic stress. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has garnered much attention for its ability to reduce fatigue, chronic pain, and other symptoms. By cultivating a deeper connection to ourselves and to our surroundings, meditation can serve as a conduit to a wellspring of peace in our lives.

Action plan

  • Look for yoga and qi gong classes in your community.
  • Check Buddhist centres, which may offer group meditation free of charge. MBSR programs may be funded by your provincial or private health insurance plan.
  • Take one minute, right now, to breathe slowly and deeply into your belly for some on-the-spot energizing and relaxation.

4: Make food your medicine

One of the most important factors in maintaining and boosting energy stores is the fuel provided by a nourishing, balanced diet of whole, unprocessed foods. Focus on high-fibre and low-glycemic foods to stabilize your blood sugar and keep your energy levels high. Stave off the sluggish feelings associated with dehydration by drinking water and other fluids throughout the day.

If you are eating all the right foods and still not feeling your best, food allergies may be to blame. Chronically low energy stores accompanied by digestive symptoms such as bloating, weight loss, or diarrhea can indicate that something is amiss. Food sensitivities can be identified through blood tests or through a structured plan of food elimination and reintroduction.

Action plan

  • Avoid the temptation to skip meals—make time for three meals and some healthy snacks each day.
  • Develop your awareness of your eating patterns and the foods that you turn to in times of stress.
  • Carry a water bottle and drink at least 2 litres of water per day.

5: Correct a Nutrient deficiency

It is impossible to feel vital, energized, and ready to take on the world if you are not eating or not absorbing essential nutrients. Deficiencies of folate, iron, and vitamin B12 are among the most common causes of anemia, a condition where your blood cannot transport enough oxygen to meet your body’s needs. The result? Feelings of low energy, fatigue on exertion, and dizziness.

Be especially vigilant for nutrient deficiencies if you are following a special diet (gluten or animal product avoidance), if you are taking medications (including protein pump inhibitors and metformin), or if you have other health concerns (heavy menstrual periods, celiac and inflammatory bowel disease). Get to the root cause of deficiencies, as they can be symptoms of serious underlying conditions.

Action plan

  • Test nutrient levels before starting supplementation. Supplements such as iron can be harmful if they are taken by people who don’t need them.
  • If you are deficient, find out why.
  • Use both dietary and supplemental sources of nutrients, where possible.

6: Enjoy restorative sleep

Poor sleep is an obvious and direct cause of low daytime energy levels, but may be overlooked as we consider other explanations. If you feel tired in the mornings, you are simply not getting enough sleep.

Some of the factors disturbing our nightly beauty rest can be changed. Separate yourself from disruptive pets (perhaps requiring retraining on both sides); practise good sleep hygiene; and avoid late evening exercise, meals, or action flicks. Compensate for predictable sources of sleep interruption such as young children by getting to bed earlier. If health issues such as pain, hot flashes, and anxiety affect you at night, discuss solutions with your health care practitioner.

Action plan

  • Prioritize your bedtime routine to get enough sleep every night.
  • Practise good sleep hygiene:
  • Engage in calming activities before bed (Epsom salt bath, puzzles).
  • Darken your sleep environment completely (cover clock and lights).
  • Wake and sleep at the same times each day.
  • Cut back on daytime use of stimulants such as coffee/tea, pop, and chocolate.

7: Create “me” time

How much time do you spend focused on your own needs each day? With the countless daily demands in our lives, personal time so often falls to the bottom of the to-do list. It is essential that we find the time to energize and fortify ourselves.

We need to actively make time for ourselves on an ongoing basis. While no one solution will work for everyone, perhaps some of these suggestions will resonate for you.

Action plan

  • Book some non-negotiable time for yourself each week. Treat it as any other appointment in your agenda—you are just as important as anyone else in your life.
  • Track and evaluate your weekly tasks. What is keeping you busy yet not bringing you closer to your personal goals? Can you delegate anything? Practise saying no.
  • Bring awareness to time spent watching television and surfing the internet. Endless hours of screen time will likely not be as fulfilling as engaging with friends or doing something physical.

8: Make some space

According to the principles of feng shui, a cluttered space depletes your vital energy. If you are at all skeptical, recall the tangible calm that comes from having all of your phone calls made or all of your laundry put away. Take steps to restore order to your home and work environment.

Declutter your social life at the same time. Preserve your energy for yourself and your loved ones by disengaging from situations and people that are draining. While all worthwhile relationships will demand work at some point, they should also have moments of effortless gliding. It’s okay to let some connections lapse.

Action plan

  • Clear out the spaces you occupy most often. Tackle one area at a time: the car, the closets, the filing cabinet. Set attainable goals and celebrate achieving them.
  • Ask for help! Consult a professional organizer or enlist the assistance of a friend, perhaps returning the favour at a later time.
  • Commit energy to the soul-nourishing relationships in your life.

9: Get unstuck

If your energy stores are consistently low, check in with yourself to see if this is a physical or emotional phenomenon. Are you feeling engaged with your life? Are there goals that you are actively pursuing? Are you excited to get up in the morning, even if your physical energy is low? Do you enjoy the ways in which you spend your days?

If not, shake things up! Be open to the idea of getting help to shift out of an emotional rut. If grief or regret is keeping you from moving ahead in your life, seek out the assistance of a counsellor or therapist. Consult a life coach to help identify the barriers that you may be placing in your own way. Reach out to your support network and get some help with daily tasks. Bring joy back into your life—this alone will put a spring into your step.

Action plan

  • Take some time to evaluate your current situation. What would you change?
  • Recognize the conscious and unconscious choices that you are making to maintain your current state.
  • Remind yourself of the things that bring you joy in life. Do a few more of them.

1o: Trust yourself

You are ultimately the expert in how your own body works. If you know that your energy levels are lower than they should be, work with your health care practitioner to find out why.

Simple blood tests to assess your hormonal health may reveal an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), a condition affecting more women than men. A lingering infection may cause fatigue, as can many commonly used medications.

Episodes of depression may be accompanied by lowered energy stores, and feeling fatigued could be a sign of diabetes. Less common but important causes of depleted energy stores include heart, kidney, and liver issues; cancer; and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Action plan

  • Consult with your health care practitioner to help you assess your lowered energy levels.
  • Track any symptoms that appear at the same time as the fatigue, including bowel changes, pain, fever, or sweats.
  • Understand test results by asking for clarification when needed.
  • Lifestyle, dietary, and emotional factors can either rev up or dampen your energy stores. Maximize your energetic resources by using these influences to your advantage. 

Energy-Supporting Supplements

Nutrient/herb Function Indication
vitamin B complex provides cofactors for nutrient metabolism, blood cell generation, and neurotransmitter synthesis low energy resulting from stress, poor nutrition; may have antidepressant properties via serotonin formation
vitamin B12, folate, and iron required for red blood cell synthesis anemia resulting from deficiencies of these nutrients; do not take iron without knowing blood levels first
fibre supplement can improve elimination, stabilize blood sugar levels, promote feeling of fullness constipation, erratic or high blood sugar levels; may assist weight loss
Rhodiola rosea adaptogenic herb that helps the body to withstand the effects of stress fatigue secondary to stressful situations; burnout
Panax ginseng stimulating adaptogenic herb that boosts mental alertness; widely used in botanical medicine worldwide low energy and mental fatigue
melatonin hormone secreted by pineal gland, associated with sleep and circadian rhythms insomnia, especially when associated with shift work, jet lag
ashwagandha Ayurvedic medicine, classified as an adaptogen, is used for its antispasmodic and relaxant effects low energy, fatigue from physical exertion, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, or depression

About the Author

Gillian Flower is a naturopathic doctor, writer, and research fellow at the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre. Researching this article has provided her with several reminders for boosting her own energy levels!