Let's get the bad news out of the way first: There's no quick fix for chronic fatigue. It is typically a level of depletion that results from draining your energy reserves over a period of time. It requires a commitment to refuel and restore your vitality. But the good news is that there are many tried-and-true approaches you can begin using right now that can start building up your energy level significantly. Let's look a little deeper at what's involved.
Physical, Mental/Emotional and Spiritual Fatigue
Depletion can occur physically, emotionally/mentally and spiritually, so what kind of tired are you? Fatigue can result from overwork, poor sleep, an unhealthy diet, adrenal fatigue, thyroid and hormone imbalances, medication side effects, anxiety or depression, experiencing an overall lack of meaning to life and the list goes on!
While there are always exceptions, general guidelines are that if you wake with energy in the morning and find yourself dragging in the afternoon, the fatigue may have a physical origin. If you wake up tired in the morning but get going as the day progresses, it's worth exploring your emotional concerns. And generalized fatigue could point to a spiritual foundation -- an overall lack of meaning and fulfillment.
Whole Person Fatigue Fighters
Mom was right: Eat a good breakfast, pick up the apple instead of the candy bar, get to bed at a decent hour and when you're stressed remember, "This too shall pass." And research is showing we're chronically dehydrated, which is an energy zapper. Eight glasses of water per day can do wonders. Because exercise builds vitality, try taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work, or a short walk as part of a lunch break (commit to a walking buddy if you tend to procrastinate.) And if you haven't had a physical in a while, it's worth checking for other common fatigue culprits of modern life, such as a vitamin D deficiency.
Zen Brain Drain Remedy
There's a well-known Zen story that offers an important insight about how to free our minds (and therefore emotions, because they are inextricably connected) from internal habits that drain our energy. Two monks are on a day-long walk to a temple. This is a very strict tradition, and they are not to speak or interact with others, especially women, during this pilgrimage. Mid-morning, they notice a woman along the side of the road struggling to cross a river. One of the monks goes over, picks her up and carries her across, safely placing her down on the other bank before returning to continue the journey with his colleague. This action is very disturbing to the second monk, who is aware that his colleague just violated the vows of their order. After thinking about this for more than three hours, the second monk could contain himself no longer, and he blurts out, "How could you pick up that woman back there?!" The first monk calmly replies, "I held that woman for five minutes -- you've been carrying her for three hours!"
So what burdens are you are carrying mentally that keep you from being present in the moment to your family, to your friends, to yourself? The shift is as simple as remembering that you have a choice where you place your attention. It's always an option to take a deep breath and look at the trees instead of the worries inside your head.
Exorcism of Emotional Vampires
Emotions are contagious. Have you noticed how some people are chronic complainers or often emit anger and irritability? How do you feel around them? Scientists have discovered that we have mirror neurons that trigger us to directly experience the emotional atmosphere of others. Take an inventory of people in your life that drain you. Then take the initiative to end toxic relationships, surrounding yourself with positive ones.
There are also situational vampires. So you volunteer at your kid's school, but only in time to get the other one to soccer practice, before taking all the kids along with you to the market and, oh yeah, the dry cleaners, before throwing together that dinner tonight so you can meet your friend that you're hoping to open a side business with since you're not all that happy with your part-time job, but not staying out too late because you haven't finished that book and book club is tomorrow or wrapped your sister's birthday present, but you can't forget to leave a note for the babysitter first about helping the older one with the school project, being sure to find the links to the online research articles he needs and... on it goes. The superhuman lifestyle, and there are many varieties, are a core cause of fatigue. Set limits -- learn to say no. Prioritize those people and things that you want to really come first.
It's easy to make a list of healthy to dos. In fact, most of the recommendations are common sense. The challenge is to live the changes, and that requires tapping into deeper layers within ourselves. Consider the line from Mary Oliver's poem, "What is it you want to do with your one wild and precious life?" How do you want to live your rare, brief, mysterious time on this planet? At the end of the day, what qualities and values do you want to abide in? The 13th century Persian poet Rumi declared, "The Soul is here for it's own joy." Take a joy inventory. If that account comes up empty, begin making choices that invest in a joy-filled life.
Back Pocket Practices
While certain kinds of fatigue need targeted remedies, such as a medication adjustment, all types of depletion can benefit from rest and relaxation. Redefine those unexpected waits in traffic or a grocery lines as an opportunity to take a few minutes to take care of yourself. Here are two additional rejuvenating tips that boost the vitality of our body, heart and soul. They're free, require no special equipment and can be done just about anytime, anywhere.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart, knees relaxed, arms at your sides. As you inhale, slowly raise your arms to the sides, palms up, until they are overhead. Imagine that you are gathering the energy first of the earth, then the sky in your hands. Then exhale as you lower your hand, palms down in front of you. As you exhale, visualize all the natural energy flowing through you like gold light, cleaning, relaxing and vitalizing your body, mind and emotions. Continue for three minutes. If you are in a setting where you can't do the movement, do the breath practice and imagine the movements.
Picture the face of someone you love. And if there isn't a person, a pet will do! Research has suggested this kind of visualization releases a cascade of "feel good" chemicals, such as endorphins, into your system for an all-around energy boost.
As the old Zen saying goes, "If not now, when?" There is no better time to start or revive a practice to nourish your body, heart and spirit, actively shaping your vital life.
Leslie Davenport is the author of the classic book on self-healing "Healing and Transformation Through Self-Guided Imagery." A pioneer in the health care revolution that recognizes psychospiritual dimensions as an integral part of health, she is a founding member of the Institute for Health & Healing at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, serves on the faculty of John F. Kennedy University and is a clinical supervisor with the California Institute of Integral Studies. Visit Leslie on Red Room.