I know, I know, I am probably one of the last people that you would think of for advice on how to increase energy! Multiple Sclerosis-related fatigue has been a big part of my life over the past few years (and still is, at times) but over the past few months I have had the time to really focus on my health, as I am no longer spending a big portion of my week at work.
As a result, I feel that I have been able to work out what are my energy-givers and my energy-sappers, and doing the helpful things more consistently has really paid off. Of course, the changing work situation has helped too — it is surprising just how much ongoing stress actually saps your energy. In the past, I found that I was relying on coffee to see me through the day and I remember as a student drinking Diet Coke to see me through late night studying. If only I knew at that time just how much the simple tips below help!
Maybe not so easy in the winter when you are at work all day and come home when the sun is down, but spending even just 10 minutes outside helps to give me a burst of energy. It is a new environment, a moment of calm and, if lucky, a quick dose of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ and did you know that there appears to be a link between Vitamin D and depression? In that people who have depression appear to have low vitamin D levels/are helped by supplementing? Due to the link between MS and lack of Vitamin D I currently supplement with 5000ug per day, as per Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis guidelines.
Let In Light
Exposure to natural sunlight is a natural energy booster — it boosts serotonin levels which can help your mood and it helps with Vitamin D formation, provided you aren’t always covered up in sunscreen! Living in the UK means that sunlight is not always in plentiful supply — but my plan is to invest in a lightbox or natural sunlight alarm clock to help boost my energy in the autumn and winter, especially in the mornings, when I need to get not only myself but also the kids out of bed!
Be Savvy with Sleep
Sleep is one of my absolutely favourite things to do — yes, it can be frustrating at times that I often have to sleep in order to function, but I still love crawling into a freshly made bed at night, especially on the odd occasion when I don’t have an alarm waking me up the next day! My time away from work has made me realise that I still have to have an afternoon sleep on most days, my fatigue hasn’t gone away, so it is a non-negotiable. But whereas in the past on my days off from work I would literally sleep all afternoon as I was so exhausted from work, I have now worked out my optimum afternoon sleep time — one hour from my head hitting the pillow to getting up — and I set an alarm. That time scale means that I can carry out the 10 minutes of meditative breathing that helps me to sleep, have a quick nap and then get up again, ensuring that I am able to make it through the rest of the day but not leaving me too wired to then fall asleep again at night. The best time for me to nap seems to be between 2–3pm. It can take a bit of working out, trial and error, but I really feel that being savvy with sleep helps to keep my energy from dipping too much. I also try and get up and go to bed at the same time each day in the week.
Plan a To-Do List — But Keep It Doable!
I feel that if I have some things that I aim to do in the day — even if it is as simple as putting a wash on, writing a blog post or doing 20 minutes of yoga — it gives me something to focus on and stops me spending all my spare time on social media or on iPhone games! In an ideal world, I would spend my days doing a self-taught German lesson, yoga, reading, tidying, using my air glider exerciser, helping my kids with their homework and cooking my family a lovely meal. But I have come to realise that keeping and boosting the energy that I have means not doing too much, whilst planning and aiming for some activities that will stop me being too lethargic. I think that the key is being aware that some days I will feel more productive than others and that that is ok — it is finding a balance so that my energy can be on as even a keel as possible.
Find Your Body’s Rhythm
As mentioned above, the afternoon is my down time, when a nap or rest is needed. This means that my mornings are my most productive times as are, perhaps bizarrely, right before bed. It is at this time that I get my fanciful ideas of all the lovely things that I would like to do the next day (which then don’t seem to come to fruition!) . Even so I have found that figuring out when my body is at its best helps me to plan better — I schedule housework, coffee dates or library outings with the kids for the morning, for example. This means that I can still feel productive and I don’t resent my afternoon nap as much as I perhaps would if I hadn’t done anything in the morning. It may be that afternoons or evenings are your productive time — keep a note of that and use it to your advantage!
Eat for Increased Energy
You know that feeling when you have a stodgy meal or a delicious pudding? You have a bit of a satiated high but then end up sitting on the couch for the rest of the day. One of the biggest differences I noticed when I went onto the OMS diet was how much extra energy that I had — I am guessing it because it drastically increased my fruit and vegetable intake as well as lessened the amount of fat (for me, that means cheese!) and processed food I ate. The OMS diet isn’t for everyone, but food is definitely a way to increase energy. The key is to avoid the foods that offer a quick sugar high and instead aim for slow release energy. For me, this means mixing protein and fibre-rich carbs for on ongoing boost that keeps me full — I will often have a banana or apple with peanut butter, for example. Have a look here for some smart snack ideas. And that coffee? I still have one once or twice a day (morning only) but I try and have herbal teas and water the rest of the time.
I wrote recently about my plan to reduce alcohol and, I have to say, that I think that this has been one of the biggest changes that I have made that has helped my energy levels. I have noticed that, if I don’t have wine with dinner, I can get up more easily and I feel less lethargic the next day, therefore being more likely to carry out activities that boost my energy, such as gentle yoga or weeding the garden.
Ok, so breathing is something that we automatically do, but I have noticed that really focusing on the breath, either through meditation or gentle yoga really helps to boost my energy. Again, meditation isn’t for everyone, and that is fine. But don’t knock breathing exercises until you’ve tried them! One of my favourite yoga moves is an extended child’s pose, where I can just relax, stretching out and breathing deeply. It helps me to feel really chilled out but also clear-headed and with increased energy by the end of it. Exercise is often touted as the answer to energy dips but, if you have a chronic illness like me, sometimes just gentle stretching and breathing is all you need to give you that burst. Please find below two videos from Yoga by Adriene (my fav!) — the first being extended child’s pose on its own and the second being a 30 minutes stress relieving gentle yoga practice with the emphasis on the breath.
Whether you are at work or at home, take the time to take time out from what you are doing. Have a stretch at your desk, stop the ironing for a bit and enjoy a cuppa, just relax. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest, and having a break from whatever it is that you are doing can help you feel ready to keep going with renewed energy.