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How to boost your energy

Four types of energy affect how we interact with the world, our loved ones and ourselves. The good news for those feeling dragged down: Simple strategies can help power up your focus and connections.

Do you have the energy you need throughout the day, or are you feeling tired, unmotivated and frazzled? If you find yourself asking, “How can I do better?” you will be happy to know a lot of research has gone into strategies that can keep a spring in your step all day long and keep you from feeling fatigued and bogged down.

“Instead of always thinking about how you can get better at time management, think about shifting that paradigm to how you can better manage your energy,” says Brenda Buffington, executive director of Ohio State’s Health Athlete program and an assistant professor of clinical practice in the College of Nursing. “That is, how you can have and sustain good energy throughout the entire day.”

Lack of energy is not simply a physical health issue. Although that is certainly important, your energy levels also are affected by factors such as whether you feel mentally focused, emotionally connected and spiritually aligned with a sense of purpose, which can carry you through the day. The Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, which Ohio State’s Health Athlete program for university students and employees is based on, calls these the four domains of energy.

Physical energy

It’s important to eat the right amounts of nutritional food, exercise regularly, get good sleep, release stress and have regular wellness checks. To cultivate more physical energy, focus on improving at least one of these components to help increase your daily energy. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Sleep: Quality is just as important as quantity, although at least seven hours a night is recommended. Minimize distractions, such as pets and electronic lights and screens, to achieve a full cycle of sleep.
  • Nutrition: Try to match your fuel intake with the demands of your day. For example, eating light and often can help keep your energy going. Making sure you get five fruits and vegetables a day also can help you focus on the right kinds of fuel.
  • Movement: Sit less and move more, as sitting is the biggest zapper of energy. Also, evaluate whether you are getting the best quality out of your exercise time. Studies show that varying intensity levels can be more productive than sticking to just one type of exercise.

Emotional energy

Emotional energy refers to how we regulate our emotions and how connected we are to others and ourselves. Some emotional habits that we grew up with or fell into can be debilitating, such as self-criticism, shame and guilt. The good news is that you can change such habits, but it takes daily practice. These methods can help:

  • Cultivate what vulnerability and leadership researcher Brené Brown calls “shame-resilience” by practicing self-compassion instead of self-judgment.
  • Practice a daily dose of Vitamin G (gratitude) and optimism. Every day, write down three people or things you are grateful for.
  • Be intentional about cultivating friendships and set aside time to connect with those you love.
  • Catch, check and change your thoughts. When you notice your mood has changed for the worse, pause and ask, “What was just going through my mind? Is it helpful? Do I have evidence to back it up?” Chances are the last two answers are “no,” so turn that unhelpful thought around to a positive one.

Mental energy

Mental energy can be measured by how well you are able to focus, learn, reason and be productive. If focusing on tasks and trains of thought is a struggle, take heart: Your skills can be improved. One key strategy is to remove distractions. In fact, while multitasking might make you feel productive, studies show that focusing on one thing at a time delivers much better results.

Another big distraction may be your own inner critic. To shut down that negativity:

  • Cultivate your “inner ally” instead of an inner critic. Write down negative messages you tell yourself and try to rewrite them as positive ones. Remember the power of “yet”: When “I’m not good at this” becomes “I’m not good at this yet,” you give yourself permission to learn and grow.
  • When you feel a mental block on a tough task, rephrase your thinking from “I have to” to “I get to.”

Spiritual energy

Mark Twain said, “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Your spiritual energy reflects your values and your sense of purpose and passion in life — your “why.” Researchers have found that a sense of purpose helps people manage stress and gain energy. It decreases cognitive decline by as much as 40% to 50%, can improve sleep and even add seven years to your life.

To find your “why”:

  • Ask yourself who and what matter most to you, and what work you would find most fulfilling.
  • Define what success in your life would entail.
  • If you could not fail, what would you be doing five to 10 years from now? Find your answer and identify some goals and small steps you could take today to move in that direction.

Taking some time today to start putting these tactics into daily practice will give you sustained energy, a fuller, richer life and a feeling that you can handle whatever comes your way.

About the author

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Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk

Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk is vice president for health promotion, university chief wellness officer, dean and Helene Fuld Health Trust Professor of Evidence-based Practice in the College of Nursing, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry in the College of Medicine and executive director of the Helene Fuld Health Trust National Institute for Evidence-based Practice in Nursing and Healthcare.