A while back, I brought up my struggle with fatigue. I’m happy to say that the struggle is over, for the most part, and I’d like to share the steps I took to get my energy back.
That had gone on for about two months. It was a lesson in patience, because even after I had made some appropriate changes the results didn’t kick in as quickly as I would have liked, but it makes sense that it would take a while to get my old self back. There was more than one cause, and it took a while for me to get to a place where the fatigue was obvious.
I will say that stress and burn-out were major culprits, and a change in employment fixed that. But the experience gave me the opportunity to reflect on my personal habits and change other things that also contributed. As a result, I was able to get a better handle on my energy level and make some improvements to my personal health.
Here are the changes I made.
Get back to a regular sleep schedule
My sleep schedule had been sliding for several months. This had been 100% my doing. I had drifted from an occasional irregular sleep schedule, to getting too-little sleep almost every night.
The excuse I made to myself was that I could sleep in once per week and “make up” for the lost sleep. Thing is, our bodies don’t work that way. Human beings are creatures of habit. We need our routines.
What was interesting to me is that it took a long while to bounce back from the crappy sleep routine. I needed to get back into a healthy sleep habit and stick with it for several weeks to start feeling my old self again. I had to be patient but it was totally worth it.
Drop the fast food
My diet had slid from me making my own healthy-ish food at home to eating out more. And more.
I can’t blame that one on my job because the fact is that by the time I did have a situation where I felt I was “too busy” to cook at home I was already eating out often. Hitting the McDonald’s drive through wasn’t a big deal, because I was already eating out a lot.
Eating out often—even if it’s not Taco Bell and Burger King—is silly. It’s not only unhealthy, it’s expensive. Eating at home and packing a lunch for work saves money in the long run, and it’s better for us. So I need to chalk it up as an investment in both financial health as well as physical.
I’ve gotten back to packing a lunch for work, and cooking dinner at home a little more often.
I’ll admit it, I’m still not 100%. I still eat out at restaurants more than I ought, and I need to get back to including salads more regularly, but I’ve limited the fast food to once per week at the most. It’s a work in progress.
Cut back on the caffeine
Caffeine has been my major vice since high school. It’s been a habit and sometimes a crutch. I love my coffee, strong and black.
I’ve always known that there are a million reasons I need to cut back on it or give it up altogether1. Among the reasons to cut back: It jacks up our sleep, it makes us moody and tense, and constant caffeine consumption can backfire and make us tired.
On top of all that, it contributes to hypertension—which is terrible for me because high blood pressure and heart disease runs strong in my family.
What I’ve done is:
- I’ve limited my caffeine to the earlier part of the day
- I mix a little decaf into my morning coffee. And I bring a thermos of coffee to work with me that is a 50/50 mix of decaf and regular
- Also, I’m trying to drink more water. I’m making myself reach for my water bottle rather than my coffee mug more often
Part of the frustration with my energy levels was due to my desire to bounce back to my old self in a hurry. I expected the job change, and the return to a healthier sleep schedule to yield instant results. When I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted, in the time frame that I wanted, I reacted by beating myself up.
But guess what? Negative emotions sap our energy. In a way, I was prolonging my bout with fatigue.
As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t get to a place of fatigue overnight. It was a slow progression—I let one healthy habit slide a little, and then I let another slide a little. Because it was a slow progression to get to a bad place, it’ll be a slow progression to get out of it.
Honestly, it was when I decided to be patient with myself that I finally started to notice a positive change in my energy level.
The (sometimes tiresome) advice to run through it it applied well to my battle with fatigue. I needed to stop fussing about my running time, and instead start celebrating my miles.
Ninety nine percent of running is a head game anyhow. What that means for me is a simple shift in attitude can make running enjoyable again. When I stopped paying attention to my overall times and average pace to was easy to start celebrating the miles and to be thankful for the run itself.
I did a lot of run/walk sessions, which was how I started running in the first place. In a lot of ways, this “season” in my running life feels a like a re-boot. That’s not bad. In some ways this has been a blessing because it has reminded me that running is important. It’s more than a big part of my physical health—it’s a part of what keeps me emotionally and spiritually fit as well.
1. Let’s be honest here, folks. Giving up caffeinated coffee is not gonna happen.