It’s 3 p.m. and you’re re-reading the same email for the fifth time. You’d give anything for a nap. But naps aren’t always possible, even if you’re working from home. So you reach for coffee, sugar, anything you can grab—and live to regret it, while feeling no better than before.
But there’s more: Energy drains aren’t the same for everyone. “The reason you’re feeling tapped out may be very different from why someone else does,” says Claire Dale, a UK-based coach and co-author of “Physical Intelligence.”
Here are seven strategies to help boost afternoon energy.
1. If you’ve been sitting for hours: Up your O2
You may be holding your breath as you sit in your meeting or power through a project—causing energy levels to dip, says Dale.
Try what she calls paced breathing: Inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of four and repeat for a few minutes. This boosts dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), “a fundamental performance-enhancing steroid” which sparks vitality and motivation.
You can also try “wake-up” breathing (which the yogis call “Skull Shining Breath”): Take a series of short, explosive breaths in and out of your nose, feeling your belly quickly contract and release. Start with just 25 cycles.
2. If you can’t nap: Do a 2-minute reset
Dale used this technique to help dancers feel refreshed after intensive practices: Set an alarm for two minutes, close your eyes, and try to “put yourself in complete stillness.” (This is not a 2-minute scroll-through-your-phone kind of break.)
Follow with wake-up breathing to help stimulate and energize body and mind.
3. If you typically eat a carb-heavy lunch: Swap out the sugars
Simple carbs like bread and soda can spike your blood sugar, causing it to plunge by mid-afternoon, says wellness author Kate Hanley, host of the “How to Be a Better Person” podcast. Consider trading your usual fare for a fiber- and protein-rich meal, like a salad with salmon, says Hanley.
And never underestimate the power of water: Dehydration can sneak up on you and suck your energy dry before you even realize you’re thirsty. Go for straight-up water to replenish and reenergize if you’re feeling a dip in energy and attention.
4. If you’re feeling foggy: Take a whiff of mint
A study published in the “International Journal of Neuroscience” found that peppermint increased alertness and enhanced memory.
And because you’re breathing it and not eating it, says Hanley, the essential oil skips the digestive tract and proceeds directly to the brain and nervous system.
Keep a bottle of peppermint oil on hand, or try an essential oil diffuser.
5. If you can’t go for a run: Strike a pose
Movement boosts the flow of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to our muscles, vital organs, and brain, says K. Aleisha Fetters, CSCS, a personal trainer and author of “Fitness Hacks for Over 50.” Even small exercises can trigger the release of feel-good endorphins and increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein critical to nerve health and function.
For a quick energy burst, Fetters suggests a reverse lunge: Stand with your arms at your sides, then step one foot back and bend your front knee into a lunge, raising both arms, palms facing. Repeat on the other side. (It also never fails to do some jumping jacks.)
6. If you can’t go anywhere at the moment: Fidget a Little
Even small movements can relieve physical tension and energize the body and mind. If you’re stuck in your chair for the time being, try some seated exercises, says Dale.
Shake out your hands and roll your shoulders, gently bend your head from side to side, roll your ankles, flex your feet, stretch your arms overhead. Do a seated twist: plant your feet and gently turn your upper body to one side and hold for a few breaths (and repeat on the other side), which releases tension in the spine and massages your inner organs.
7. If you’re working through a conflict: Tend and Befriend
Conflicts at work or at home may be making everyday tasks more stressful (and you more tired) by decreasing the feel-good hormone oxytocin, says Dale.
While some resolutions may take a while to shake out, you can boost oxytocin by expressing compassion, empathy, and gratitude to the people around you. A simple note, a shared joke, an offer to help, or a willingness to accept help may be just the thing you need to feel connected and revitalized again.