Do you often feel tired but aren’t sure why? It’s possible that some of your habits, activities, and actions are contributing to your fatigue. On the surface, these practices might seem innocent enough, but they are actually hidden energy drains.
Here’s what’s happening. When you feel anxious or overwhelmed, your body responds with stress hormones. These help you respond to acute threats. For instance, a toddler suddenly runs toward a busy intersection; your hormones surge, and you quickly chase after the toddler. After the threat passes, your hormone levels typically subside.
Often, however, we don’t associate certain tasks with anxiety and stress. So without your awareness, these habitual experiences might be creating the stress hormone cortisol, says Keshawn Hughes, a neurocoach and wellness advocate. Overexposure to cortisol can contribute to a number of health problems that drain your energy.
Uncovering these day-to-day drains is the first step to feeling better, reducing burnout, and staving off needless stress. Here are five common energy-sapping culprits, along with small strategies to plug them.
Energy drain 1: Struggling to make decisions
Moving to a new neighborhood. Accepting a project. Figuring out weekend plans. Whether your decisions are big or small, you regularly find yourself straddling the fence.
“It takes more energy to balance on the top of a fence than to choose one side of the fence or the other,” says Carla Marie Manly, a psychologist and author of the book, “Joy from Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend.”
Pro tip: Manly suggests creating a list of pros and cons. “It can be very clarifying to see the upsides and downsides of a decision in black and white,” she says. You also might ask someone you trust to listen and reflect back your thoughts, she says, but “without trying to push you in one direction or the other.”
Not a make-or-break decision? Try a coin toss. “Interestingly, as you see the ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ outcome, your gut response—a sigh of relief or a sinking feeling—often reflects your true, unconscious desire,” Manly says
Energy drain 2: Hitting the couch right after work
Whether you work from home or the office, when you’re finally done, you might camp out on the couch. But if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, vegging out actually won’t bring relaxation, says Adrienne Clements, therapist and founder of Head and Heart Integrative Psychotherapy.
Studies have linked sitting and passive sedentary behavior, such as watching television and scrolling through social media, with higher depression and anxiety symptoms. Movement, on the other hand, reduces your levels of stress hormones and releases mood-boosting neurotransmitters, including serotonin (known as the “happy” hormone) and dopamine.
Pro tip: To trick your brain into action, keep (or put) your sneakers on when your workday ends, Clements recommends. Take a walk, dance, or do some push-ups. If you’re feeling especially drained, practice gentle yoga poses. Yoga can relieve both physical and mental tension without significantly exerting your body.
Energy drain 3: Fraying your focus
On the surface, multitasking makes sense. You probably have a dozen tasks on your plate that need to be done immediately. But according to Hughes, “Doing more than one thing at a time, like being on a Zoom call while scrolling through your phone and responding to group texts, uses up more of our energy and brain’s fuel reserves.” With multitasking, we get tired faster, stop processing important information, and ultimately feel demotivated, she says.
Pro tip: Be thoughtful about what you’re focusing on, Hughes says, and immerse yourself in a single activity. Then follow up with a restorative break. “Our brain learns and operates best in 20-minute increments,” she says, “and likes to process information over time.”
Energy drain 4: Being a people pleaser
Is your day taken up by other people’s requests and preferences? Do you over-commit to avoid conflict? Constantly apologize, even though it’s not your fault? It’s hard to feel energized when you’re hyper-focused on others—and inadvertently bulldozing over your own boundaries.
Pro tip: Ease into boundary setting by thinking of one activity or experience that you really need or want to do. Then protect that time like it’s a meeting with your boss. When you have to say no and it feels awkward, try stalling. Tell the other person that you’re unsure of your availability and have to check your calendar. Saying no is usually easier in an email or text.
Energy drain 5: Ignoring your natural tendencies
Challenging ourselves is, of course, important. But if you’re regularly ignoring your natural traits and tendencies, you could be draining your energy. Maybe you’re an introvert who has a deep need for downtime and quiet. But due to pressure from friends, you’re out more often than not. Or you need to eat every few hours to feel energized but frequently skip lunch–and then struggle to stay positive and focused. Or you’re sensitive to noise and work in an open office space. You think it’s “fine,” but the noise is actually making you feel rattled and worn out.
Pro tip: Honor your natural tendencies by picking activities or workarounds that align with your true-blue traits. Not sure what’s affecting you? Jot down what you did (your action) followed by how you felt (your emotion) throughout the day for a few weeks.
You can also ask yourself these questions:
- When do I feel drained?
- How does my current environment affect me?
- What recharges me?
- Are my habits and choices enhancing or draining my energy?
- Am I more of an introvert or extrovert?
- Do I feel depleted emotionally, mentally, or physically?
After you’ve pinpointed your natural tendencies, the next step is to come up with small, strategic solutions. For example, if the noise in your office saps your energy and boosts stress, wear noise-canceling headphones. Put on a soothing playlist, and take one-minute meditation breaks throughout the day. Need personal quiet time? Start a to-don’t list and consider making your bedroom a calming retreat with scents, sights, sounds, and soft fabrics that genuinely restore you. Forget to eat? Pack a great lunch that you’re excited to eat or nutritious snacks (or both). Then set alarms on your phone to remind you to break for lunch and snacks.