For most, it happens in the late afternoon, usually between lunch and 6ish: that feeling of sluggish, low-energy brain-deadness that makes you want to call it quits for the day. Since that’s generally not an option, you reach for the next solution: the caffeine pick-me-up. Whether it’s coffee or tea or a yerba mate, many of us are in the habit of using caffeine to prop ourselves up during the draggiest part of the day. Of course, some of us—and you know who you are—go one step further and combine refined sugar and caffeine. Nothing like a Frappucino and double fudge mini-donut to shake things up. It’s a slippery slope.
But what if you don’t want to be a Coffee Achiever? Maybe it’s getting in the way of sleep later that night. Maybe you’re doing the Beachbody Ultimate Reset™ or a general cleanse. Or maybe you’ve done some research, weighed the pros and cons, and decided caffeine just isn’t your thing. How to break the cycle? Here are 7 healthy ways to pull yourself through an afternoon.
- Get 15 minutes of exercise. Researchers at the University of Georgia found overwhelming evidence that regular exercise plays a significant role in increasing energy levels and reducing fatigue. “A lot of times when people are fatigued, the last thing they want to do is exercise,” said professor Patrick O’Connor, co-director of the UGA exercise psychology laboratory. “But if you’re physically inactive and fatigued, being just a bit more active will help.” Take a power walk, take a quick run, do 15 sun salutes. Walk up and down the office stairs for 15 minutes. Jump rope for 3 minutes, then walk. The more active you can be in these 15 minutes, the better. Activity increases circulation, and circulation transports oxygen throughout the body, which in turn boosts our energy level.
- Start breathing deeply. Conscious breathing is, perhaps, the easiest way to energize your body and improve mental clarity, among many other benefits. Breathing deeply provides your body with the oxygen it needs to increase energy and alertness. Dr. Andrew Weil, who has written extensively on the restorative power of the breath, suggests “The Stimulating Breath” as an energy booster. (It’s basically a mini-version of Kundalini yoga’s “Breath of Fire.”) Close your mouth, and breathe forcefully and rapidly in and out of your nose for 15 seconds, then breathe naturally. Alternately, you can sit up straight, on a ball if possible, roll your shoulders back and breathe deeply for 10 minutes, pausing on the inhale and then again on the exhale, as a way to simply become aware of your breath.
- Eat some almonds. Here’s the amazing thing about almonds: they’re rich in protein and they contain magnesium, a mineral that helps convert sugar into energy. Magnesium also helps with immune support, restful sleep, stress relief and heightens mood. The almond is often considered a superfood because it’s high in calcium and vitamin E with zero cholesterol. If you can’t/won’t eat almonds, try cashews, walnuts, or pecans. Nut butters are also a good way to mix up the textures, preferably unsalted. If almonds are too hard on your teeth, try soaking them in water overnight before you eat them. It softens them just enough.
- Crank up the music. Listening to your favorite fast song gets you pumped up and gives you a quick burst of energy, right? The music works on several physiological levels. One, music can raise your endorphin level. Endorphins are the biochemicals produced by our brains that both relieve pain and increase our sense of happiness. They’re the same chemicals responsible for “the runner’s high,” the euphoric feeling you get after a great workout. Two, music boosts your energy level by increasing blood flow. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore concluded that listening to your favorite music has a measurably positive effect on your cardiovascular system by expanding the inner lining of your blood vessels, which increases circulation.
- Soak up the sun. Take a break and get out in the sunshine, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. The sun is a great source of vitamin D, a nutrient that’s essential for healthy bones and teeth, but research now suggests that vitamin D may help in preventing cancer, as well as regulating our moods, cognitive abilities, and energy levels. The sun also plays a huge role in our daily circadian rhythm, our body’s natural 24-hour sleep/awake cycle. When this cycle is thrown out of balance, it often leads to sleep loss and stress, which in turn leads to increased caffeine use.
- Take a power nap. Cornell psychology professor James Maas coined the term “power nap” in his 1997 book, Power Sleep. In it, he recommends the daytime nap as a healthy, even necessary activity—but only if you don’t have trouble falling asleep at night. He also believes they are most effective when you take them at the same time every day, which is usually about 8 hours after you wake. Maas says 15 to 30 minutes is the optimal amount of time for a nap; any longer and you’ll enter a deep sleep which can leave you feeling groggy. He also provides these nap tips:
- Turn off the lights, close the door, and get rid of other distractions.
- Lying down on a couch, or chair with your feet up, is ideal, but any position including head down on your desk will do.
- Set an alarm, so you can nap worry-free.
- Take a Scottish shower. It’s what James Bond does, and look at the energy that guy has. In the Ian Fleming novels, Bond’s showers start out hot but finish with icy cold invigorating water. Commonly known as the Scottish shower, the idea is that alternating between hot and cold water improves cardiovascular circulation, which leads to feeling energized. Beyond youthful vigor, practitioners of the Scottish shower claim it keeps them younger-looking, too. In addition, researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine found that short cold showers might even help relieve depression. If you want to give it a try, it’s simple: Spend four minutes in a hot shower, then slowly decrease the amount of hot water, until it’s pure cold. Enjoy the chill for at least two minutes.
If caffeine is your habit, it will require a bit of effort to replace it with other ways to lively up yourself. But the first step is simply becoming aware of all the other effective options available to you. And now you know. Welcome to your new, jitter-free, energized, oxygen-rich world.