A question I get asked often is how to restore low energy and the answer to that question is not something we usually consider.
There are simple lifestyle changes we can make to increase our energy levels. We are a mind-body system where the body and the mind influence each other. This means that in order to have a healthy mind and sufficient energy, we need to have a healthy body. So the first thing is to take a look at your diet, exercise, and sleep habits. If they’re disordered, no amount of “mind” work will fix your low energy levels. But eating well, going for a walk or run, and getting a good night's sleep can often be enough to restore our energy levels.
The purpose of the brain is to ensure we grow, survive, and reproduce. It’s most important mission is to predict our body’s energy needs and it works every second of every day to keep us alive and well. It works in the background to keep all of our bodily systems working even when we're resting or sleeping. This is called allostasis: how our body maintains stability, or homeostasis. Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett has coined the metaphor “body budget” for allostasis. Everything you do, think, and feel affects your body budget!
Your body budget is like a bank account: we’re continually making withdrawals and deposits.
When we’ve made too many withdrawals from our body budget so that it’s unbalanced, we’ll experience some negative consequences in the form low energy or fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, and so on.
The self-help literature and many coaches and other helping professionals view these conditions as solely of the mind: If you think differently, you’ll feel differently. They don’t give much, if any, consideration to the body. Yet, your body and mind are deeply interconnected and interoception - the sense of our body’s internal state, including the state of our organs - drives our actions.
The brain doesn’t differentiate between a physical withdrawal from your body budget - such as working long hours, running a marathon, disordered sleep, or a poor diet - or a mental withdrawal from your body budget - such as fear, worry, or anxiety. To the brain, it’s a withdrawal from the same system.
If your eating a poor diet, not exercising, or not getting enough good quality sleep, you're going to feel awful no matter what self-help tips you follow.
If you’re experiencing low energy or fatigue, your body budget has been unbalanced by too many withdrawals and too few deposits. So the best thing you can do to keep your energy high is to keep your body budget in good shape. If you want to feel good, your brain must be able to accurately calibrate your bodily systems to your body’s actual needs. If they’re unbalanced, then you’re going to feel awful no matter what self-help tips you follow.
How do you rebalance your body budget?
Remember, withdrawals from our body budget come in the form of both physical and mental withdrawals. Your brain doesn’t care where the deposits to the body budget come from. The fastest way to restore your body budget is to make sure to eat well, exercise, and get enough good quality sleep. A good night’s sleep and/or a nap when you feel your energy has fallen too low can often do wonders to restore your body budget.
You say you’re eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep but you still can’t get yourself up and going? The first thing to do is to see a health professional and make sure it’s not a medical problem. Then, you need to dig deeper and question what else is unbalancing your body budget. And you may need some psychological support or coaching. Doing something pleasant, like going to lunch with a friend, yoga, reading a good book, or going for a walk can also restore your body budget. These are just some ideas of how to restore your body budget. You need to find what works best for you.
Because remember, your brain doesn’t differentiate between a physical withdrawal and a mental withdrawal. Neither does it differentiate between a physical deposit and a mental deposit. Sometimes, a physical deposit is all we need.
An Example of How I Restore My Body Budget
I suffer from anxiety that can be so debilitating that it can take me out of commission for hours or even days. But, since studying Dr. Barrett’s book, I’ve taken a close look at my own body budget. I was already eating well and exercising several times a week, but what was disordered was my sleep. So I’m committed now to getting 7 - 8 hours of sleep a night, and if I start to feel overwhelmed, usually in the mid-afternoon, I take a 30 min map so that my anxiety doesn’t escalate.
I also manage my anxiety by breaking up my work into small tasks I know I can succeed at. This keeps my dopamine and motivation up and helps to keep me from overwhelm. For example, it’s taken me 4 hours to write this short article but every time I felt stuck in my writing, I switched to an easier task: this morning it was searching through my news feed for new research articles which is something I enjoy. So cycling between a difficult task like writing and an easier task enabled me to keep going with my writing without overwhelm.
I’m acutely aware of my body budget and what unbalances it. I now manage my anxiety by maintaining a balanced body budget so that it doesn’t escalate.
It's All about the Body Budget!
You can’t have a healthy mind without a healthy body so the first thing is to take a look at is your diet, exercise, and sleep habits. If they’re disordered, no amount of “mind” work will fix your low energy. But eating well, going for a walk or run, and getting a good night's sleep can often be enough to restore our energy levels.
[…] 1Dr. Irena O'Brien, Neuroscientist & Founder of the Neuroscience School: https://neuroscienceschool.com/2018/08/20/low-energy-heres-what-you-can-do/ […]