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Episode 189: Energy Levels

With some enthusiasm we can go from dragging our feet and saying how tired we are to suddenly being alert and awake. But whether it's about scripting a podcast episode or going for a run, it's really easy to say to ourselves "I don't feel like it" and if your energy levels have dropped it's definitely worth looking into why.

First off, check your physical health.
As a psychotherapist it's tempting to see everything through the lens of emotional or behavioural problems, but sometimes there's more going on. Psychiatrists often have the same bias too I"ve recently discovered.
So, if you're not pushing yourself too hard, you're getting plenty of sleep, have a good diet and do plenty of exercise yet your body is still tired all the time then speak with your GP about the possibility of underlying physical issues..

But of course depression will do this. Depression doesn't just sap our emotional motivation it makes us physically fatigued. It's not uncommon to feel as if you can't get out of bed let alone go out to that party you were pressured into saying yes to. And more sleep won't help, early nights won't cure depression.
But what can sometimes help is to show up despite it. Even if it feels empty and pointless in the moment, carry on regardless and do things that you would have done if you did have the energy. Just at a slower pace. If you usually go for a run every other day, still do. Just don't aim for a personal best time. Acting as if you're fine when you're not isn't going to cure depression or suddenly give you boundless energy, but it will probably make you feel better than if you'd done nothing.

Another culprit to draining our energy is anxiety and overthinking. Worrying about stuff can be exhausting to both our brain and our body. Symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder include being easily fatigued, having tight muscles, feeling on edge, having anxious thoughts and trouble sleeping. These will tire you out.
The challenging thing about anxiety though is that the treatment is part of the issue. When you feel that doing something is going to make you MORE anxious the unfortunate treatment is to actually do it, which is likely to make you feel more anxious in the short term, but hopefully more confident in the long term.

Anxiety is your brain telling your body that something is going to happen soon and that it might be dangerous, even when it's actually something safe. It becomes a disorder when your brain responds to more and more experiences to such an anxious degree that it stops you doing them. So to counteract it you need to train your brain that those things ARE safe after all, because avoiding them only strengthens your unconscious belief that there's something to be scared about.
But as with depression, don't be hard on yourself, take it one step at a time. Go to that party but only with an expectation of staying for an hour, with a white lie about having to leave because you've got to pick someone up from the train station.
If the idea of writing a dissertation is making you anxious, then only write one page.

A lot of anxiety comes from what ifs though?

What if everyone laughs at me?
What if the plane crashes?
What if I'm abducted by aliens.

If anxiety starts to turn into panic, one way of helping with that is to shift your attention from things that aren't happening to things that are. Move your attention from the imaginary stuff in your head to the genuine stuff in your environment, look for things, notice things. It's often suggested but it bears repeating so I will. Use your senses.
Look for 4 things in your environment that you can see, 3 things that you can hear, 2 things you can feel and maybe something that you can smell and it really helps to get you outside of your head and into the real world. Taking a few deep breaths as you do so.
Then you can scan your body to make sure you're not holding your muscles too tightly. Often the muscles in the back or the shoulders just need to relax a little to let go of any physical tension. It sends a message to the brain that says "Hey, we're ok after all, chill" and you do. It lets you focus on what is, rather that letting the what ifs pull the rug out from under you.

As with so many issues. Find the balance, so that you're not overwhelmed.
Saying "I'm too tired" is sometimes masking the reality underneath of "I don't know where to start."
People will often say that looking for a new job is too tiring because they just don't have the energy, when it's just plain old procrastination.
Procrastination can come from a couple of different places, perfectionism for one or in a lot of cases, self esteem and pessimism.
Once you see this you can start to challenge it, and begin to break down your goal into smaller steps and bite size chunks.
If a pile of old children toys under the stairs needs putting on eBay but is overwhelming. Then just list one thing.
If your loft is full of rubbish and needs sorting, then just go through one box.
If you want to change your job, then just update your CV and LinkedIn profile.

One of 2 things will happen, either:

1. You've dealt with one thing so there's one thing less to do but it doesn't tire you out or
2. Doing it gives you a bit more energy and you accomplish more than you set out to

Either way you're a winner.

There is one way that energy and motivation can get sapped that I've not mentioned actually and that's from being bored, from not having "enough" to do.
Everyone needs a break, we might need to sit with a big bag of crisps and watch Netflix for 3 hours one Saturday afternoon, but if that's becoming day in day out and leaving you feeling slow and sluggish, then its not a break anymore.
Locking yourself away from the world and doing nothing can actually make us feel more exhausted than having a full on day. Even if you are stopping in, acting as if you've got something to do, will give you more energy. Have a shower, a shave, put on make up, whatever, even if you are stuck inside all day.

It can give you a push that moves you from "I don't feel like it" to "I'm ready for anything"