Photo Courtesy of ShutterstockIf there’s one thing you usually run short of during the holidays, (besides money and time,) it’s energy. “We need a source to reconnect to when our energy battery has drained a little,” says Michael Finklestein, MD, who practices integrated and holistic medicine in Bedford, New York. “If that source is available, you can use all the energy you want.” That source can be found in changing the way you move, eat and rest.
Learning to Relax
Virender Sodhi, ND, an Ayurvedic doctor in Bellevue, Washington, says that regular exercise such as yoga or walking 30 to 45 minutes a day is not only reinvigorating but helps boost immunity and mood as well. Don’t overdo it, though: Excessively strenuous exercise can actually depress the immune system. Being active aids digestion and increases energy. “Also, people who practice yoga regularly don’t get sick,” says Sodhi.
Finklestein suggests going outside in the middle of the day to breathe real air — not that stale, recirculated office stuff—and remove yourself from an artificial environment. “Natural daylight helps your brain work more effectively, even on a cloudy day — and you’ll sleep better,” he says.
There’s more to getting out during the day than just escaping confinement. Finklestein says that nature itself can serve as an energy source. “Pay attention to its rhythms and cycles. When the sun goes down, you should be slowing down with the intention of going to bed around 10 p.m.,” he says. “Take a sabbatical day once every seven days and honor it as a day of rest, then you’ll be more productive the other six days.”
You could try drawing pictures upside down to change the way you see things. This generates energy by using the right brain—the creative, intuitive half that’s usually suppressed. To use this technique, have someone give you a line drawing that’s been turned upside down. Then copy what you see without concerning yourself about what the image actually represents. Free writing is another right-brain stimulator: Write continually for 10 or 15 minutes without thinking about spelling, syntax and other grammatical considerations.
Sodhi recommends left nostril breathing to stimulate the right brain. Close your right nostril, then inhale and exhale through your left nostril ten times at least twice a day. Matthew Edlund, MD, MOH, author of The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough (HarperOne), takes the concept of rest further by suggesting that we need four types: physical, mental, social and spiritual. “We are all rest-deprived because we aren’t using our bodies the way they were meant to be used,” he explains. “Rest is the opposite of what most people think; it’s active and actively rebuilding the body.”
Edlund recommends deep breathing as one way to gain physical rest. Breathe in through your nose to the count of four and out through your nose to the count of eight. Another way is through paradoxical relaxation, in which you pay attention to one particular muscle group and how tense it is. You don’t tense it or try to relax it, just notice the state of the muscles—feel it, sense it, know it. With all the attention given to one spot, the rest of the body relaxes.
“We need mental rest so that we can better focus, concentrate, pay attention and be productive,” says Edlund. “Walk to music; infuse it through your body and move to it. Or concentrate on something in nature like a leaf and imagine yourself moving in the same way. This will refocus you.”
Social rest means connecting with others, Edlund says. Talk to someone you trust for a few minutes each week. Connect with other people through a house of worship, a sports team or a common interest such as dancing or craftwork. Research has shown that having a variety of social connections leads to improved health.
Edlund says that spiritual rest can be attained through prayer or meditation. A simple meditation technique is to sit calmly, spine erect, close your eyes and breathe in through your nose slowly. Fill your lungs, hold for three seconds and then exhale out your mouth saying the word “hah.” Sodhi says this will get rid of the emotional and mental garbage you collect if you do it for 10 to 15 minutes twice a day.
Eating for Energy
Sodhi says we’d do much better by imitating animals in the wild; just as they graze throughout the day, we should snack. Sodhi suggests one handful (about 15 nuts) of almonds or walnuts once a day in summer and two handfuls twice a day in winter, along with a good breakfast and lunch followed by a lighter dinner. In-season produce that’s produced locally makes the optimal dietary choice, say both Sodhi and Finklestein. That isn’t always possible, in which case canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are healthier options than chips.
While there’s no substitute for a healthy diet, a high-quality multivitamin can help cover nutritional gaps. If you are a premenopausal woman your monthly cycles may cause you to lose iron, needed to carry oxygen. Energy production requires coenzymes to run smoothly, and the B-complex is required to ensure proper coenzyme levels. One coenzyme, CoQ10, is found abundantly in organ meats and more palatably in supplements.
Often sluggishness is due to intestinal distress. To aid digestion, Sodhi suggests using spices such as ginger, black and cayenne pepper, fennel, dill seed and cumin in your cooking. You should also eat fresh figs, papaya and pineapple whenever they are available for their healthful, digestion-promoting enzymes.
Lunch can become an energy trap. “Carbs make us lethargic, so you should avoid bread and pasta in the middle of the day,” says Finklestein. “Instead eat a salad or lean meat and wash your meal down with water or tea, not a drink full of high-fructose corn syrup. Soda will also contribute to your lethargy.” If you still feel lethargic after lunch, Finklestein suggests resting for a few minutes before resuming your day.
“Without rest, we won’t have life or energy,” says Edlund. “Biologically it’s necessary and critical to rebuilding our vitality.” Proper rest—along with a healthy diet and moderate exercise—is also the best way of enjoying the holiday season instead of staggering through it.
Extra Energy Tips
So you’re taking daily walks in the great outdoors, taking more time to rest and snacking smartly. Good! But if you still need help in getting over the mid-afternoon energy hump, here’s some other ideas:
- Sit up at your desk. In addition to leaving you prone to repetitive strain injuries, slouching can cut your oxygen intake by more than 30%.
- Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Passionflower, chamomile and valerian have all long been used to encourage sweet slumber. Today they’re joined by cutting-edge sleep nutrients such as lactium, the soporific substance in warm milk; melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s internal clock; and GABA, an amino acid that can also help you find dreamland.
- Make it easier to eat properly at home — and avoid the fast-food dinner trap — by cutting corners whenever possible. Plan meals with limited ingredient lists, look for precut veggies, keep your pantry well-stocked with basics and cook extra food that can be frozen for lunches or dinners later in the week.
- Fight stress with adaptogens, herbs that, as their name implies, help the body adapt to physical and emotional demands. Popular adaptogens include Korean and American ginsengs, eleuthero, rhodiola and ashwaganda.
- For days when you’re really rushed, use shakes as healthy meal substitutes. Protein powder mixes, liquid multivitamins and whole-food concentrates let you drink in a ton of nutrition on the go. Throw in some goji, a traditional Asian energy tonic, and spirulina, a blue-green algae loaded with protein, B vitamins and iron.