To power through all those pandemic-generated Zoom-calls, hours of parenting, and tending to the rest of our busy lives, we need energy and plenty of it. But for a lot of us dealing with “crisis fatigue,” that much needed energy is exactly what’s in short supply. So, the ranks of the exhausted turn to coffee, ‘energy drinks’ or even sugary desserts to try to beat that ‘tired all the time’ feeling, whether it’s pandemic-induced or not. But these are all quick, unhealthy fixes — once the initial kick fades, you’re back at no-energy square one. Even without the caffeine or sugar cheats, if you’re dragging through the day, you need to pay attention to that. Pandemic-related or not, exhaustion is the body’s way of telling you it needs help, that it’s time to change things up. So, what to do about the tired-all-the-time blues? Consider these 9 common causes – and what you can do to fight back:

1) You’re physically ill.

Yes, fatigue is one of the symptoms of COVID-19 but feeling exhausted doesn’t necessarily mean your viral lottery number’s come up. First, consult with your doc to rule out illness, from COVID or anything else, and get treatment if you need it. Though fatigue ranks among the top five most common COVID symptoms just behind persistent cough, chills/fever and chest tightness, it can also be a symptom of a myriad of other physical or emotional issues. If you’ve got the all-clear from your doctor, then it’s time to look at a bunch of non-viral reasons you’ve lost your pep and then work on turning the tired tide around.

2) Your microbiome is out of whack.

The microbiome is the community of trillions of bacteria – both the beneficial and the not-so-good – which mostly live in the human gut. When they’re in balance, the good outweigh the bad and your immune system stays strong and runs well. When the bad guys gain the upper hand – thanks to things like untamed stress, antibiotic use, poor diet, sugar – your immune system takes the hit, leaving you with a bacterial imbalance (or ‘dysbiosis’) that can lead to “leaky gut” or interfere with your ability to absorb key nutrients from the foods you eat. The result? Energy tanks, as do mood and mental clarity, making thriving during the pandemic that much more of a challenge. So, if your diet’s gotten a bit sloppy and you’ve been going hog wild on carbs and sugar over the past few months, now’s the time to get to work on rebalancing your microbiome and restoring your energy, try these 11 tips.

3) You’re way too wound up.

Physical, psychological and social stresses are hard to avoid under the best of circumstances. Now, with mass social and political upheaval being added to our individual concerns about health and finances, it’s no wonder so many of us are exhausted. It all piles up, your adrenals get over-stimulated, and your system gets flooded with stress (aka, fight-or-flight) hormones, followed by exhaustion. It’s quite the energy-killing cycle. Instead of living in a perpetual state of hormonal ‘high alert,’ now’s the time to soothe your adrenals and train yourself to take stress down a few notches. Among the best ways to do it: restorative yoga; meditation; or meditative practices like tai chi, qi gong, and even forest bathing. They all ease stress, tame the fight-or-flight response and gently help boost energy without a chemical assist.

4) You’re in a bad sleep groove.

In addition to the fact that far too many of us are not sleeping the recommended 7 – 8 hours, pandemic-triggered emotional fatigue may make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep. You may wake up frequently during the night and not get enough restorative REM sleep. Sound familiar? Then I urge you to focus on learning (or re-learning) how to sleep well, particularly now when many of us have more time on our hands for self-care. To start upgrading your sleep skills and resetting your sleep rhythms: increase your exposure to morning sunlight; set an “electronic sundown,” meaning all screens off 2 hours before bed; lay off sleep-disrupting alcohol; and in the evenings, prep your body for sleep with pleasurable de-stressing activities like meditation, restorative yoga and soaking in a hot bath. What else can you do? Try my 11 top sleep-well-tonight tips. 

5) Your diet needs an upgrade – and possibly an overhaul.

Your body is a brilliant machine which runs and thrives on the nutrients in food. But if you’re eating crap, your engine will start to sputter and, eventually, run out of gas. Without proper fuel, like nutrient-rich plants, good fats and healthy, grass-fed animals, you’re vulnerable to that tired-all-the-time feeling. To help get your diet back on track, ditch energy-sapping sugar and processed foods and follow Popeye’s example instead, by loading up on fresh, preferably organic, magnesium-rich, leafy green energy powerhouses  like spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens and chard. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to getting your pre-pandemic mojo back!

6) Your desk-jockey days are tanking your energy.

There are physiological reasons all those Zoom calls and long days at your home office/kitchen table are exhausting you and a crucial one is the lack of movement. It may seem counter-intuitive but when you’re feeling tired all the time, move more! Add short movement breaks throughout your day, even if you’ve only got a few minutes between calls. Frequent movement breaks every hour or so will push more oxygen and nutrients into your cells, making your body feel more energized and your brain more alert. If you’re a desk jockey, set an alarm to keep yourself honest and break every hour or so for a 2-to-5-minute walk around your apartment or house, do a few push-ups, stretches, lunges, burpees, or whatever you can squeeze in. As good as longer, more rigorous workouts may be for overall health, it’s the short bursts at frequent, regular intervals every day that will perk you up when you need it most.

7) Your toxic load is way too heavy.

I advise all my patients to reduce their toxic load, and if they’re struggling with low energy, I tell them to do it as quickly as possible. When that load is significant, your liver has to work overtime to keep clearing out the deluge of chemicals that can make you sick and tired. All that extra effort and organ overtime comes at a price, draining energy and pushing you towards exhaustion. When you purge toxins from your life — the processed foods you eat, the chemical grooming and beauty products you slather on your body, the cleaning products you spritz onto household surfaces — your organs can get back to optimal function. To start cleaning up your act and cutting toxins down to size, check out my tips for low-toxin living.

8) You’re living life extra dry.

One of the most underrated – and easily fixed – causes of feeling tired? Dehydration. Staying well-hydrated – giving your cells an inner bath to help clear out cellular debris – is essential to feeling energetic. Fluids keep energy levels up by supporting healthy blood flow, which keeps cells, organs and tissues watered and functioning optimally. Even if you’re not breaking a sweat every day, you’re still losing water as you go about everyday tasks or spend hours in dry, over-airconditioned (or heated) homes and offices – so drink up, thirsty or not, throughout the day. Though just about any non-alcoholic fluid will help top off your tank, make water your default to avoid not-so-good ingredients like caffeine, sugar, chemical sweeteners and so on. Four to six cups a day should do the trick.

9) You could have a nutrient deficiency or hormonal imbalance.

If tired-all-the-time feels like it’s become your new normal, then it’s time to do a bit of detective work. That means getting your blood work done to rule out any important vitamin, mineral or hormone deficiency (especially if you are vegetarian). Partner with a knowledgeable practitioner to do some diagnostic tests and help you develop the appropriate protocols to support and supplement your energy supply.

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