`Being stuck inside can make you feel bored, frustrated, and thoroughly tired — which might seem contradictory if you feel you haven't done anything aside watch Netflix and eat Flamin' Hot Cheetos. The constraints of the pandemic can make us feel sapped and weary. “Many people are wondering what they can do to maintain or increase their energy, while protecting themselves and their families from contracting the virus," Dr. Natasha Trentacosta M.D., a sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute, tells Bustle.
"There are change in routines, plus we have a harder time staying connected and can be bombarded with as much bad news as we are willing to watch or read," Dr. Bennet Davis M.D., director of the pain rehabilitation program at Sierra Tucson Treatment Center, tells Bustle. "All of this can adversely affect sleep and energy levels."
Why Your Energy Levels Feel So Low
Exhaustion is pretty common during the pandemic, Dr. Davis says, in part because people are more stressed. When you're in fight-or-flight mode, he explains, you tend to sleep more lightly, because you're constantly monitoring your environment. It also makes people seek out non-nutrient dense foods to fuel our escape from threats; one study published in 2013 in Minerva endocrinologica found that stress makes us crave "hyperpalatable" food. Nutritionists are quick to assert that comfort foods are nourishing in their own way, and it's important to honor your body's cravings, whether that's for a brownie or a smoothie. That said, if your body doesn't have the nutrients it needs, it can interfere with sleep quality and make you tired.
You might also be sleeping badly thanks to a spate of nightmares. "The Lyon Neuroscience Research Center study has found a 15% increase in negative dreams," Dr. Davis says. "For people not on the front lines of healthcare and emergency response, fears of the novel coronavirus are projected onto threats like zombies, bugs, and shadowy figures."
Exercise Kicks Your Energy Levels Into Gear
Exercise is the number-one way to make yourself feel more energized, Dr. Trentacosta says. "Regular exercise is always a great idea to boost your energy and it is also beneficial for the immune system," she says. "Many fitness clubs and workout groups have brought their programs online to accommodate those self-isolating and/or working from home," she says. If you can keep the recommended six-foot distance between yourself and others, going for a brisk 30-minute walk can help get the blood flowing and make you more energized. No outside space? "If you’ve got a jump rope, challenge yourself to how many jumps you can do in a row without stopping," she says.
Alternate indoor cardiovascular workouts with some strength moves. "For an extra boost, grab household items to use as your 'weights'," Dr. Trentacosta says. She recommends milk jugs, packets of rice or beans, or canned foods, as long as the weight is balanced on both sides of your body. Regular exercise can tire you out and make your sleep deeper and more restful, which can lift your energy levels over time, she says.
Trying To Manage Your Stress Will Also Pay Off
Lowering stress levels can also help. "Regulate how much negative news you take in, and take daily breaks for 'me time' that include proven stress-relieving practices such as mindfulness meditation," Dr. Davis says. "Practicing acceptance and calm is a potent antidote to stress." Exercise is also a great stress-buster, so if you're not the meditating type, getting moving can help.
Good sleep hygiene will also make your nights more restful, giving you more energy during the day. Dr. Davis recommends eating on a regular schedule, going easy on sugar, caffeine, and alcohol around bedtime, and trying to keep to the same waking and sleeping routine every day, even on the weekends. "If you can't sleep, get out of bed and return when you're tired," he says; no lying there staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to come.
Dr. Bennet Davis, M.D.
Dr. Natasha Trentacosta, M.D.
Yau, Y. H., & Potenza, M. N. (2013). Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva endocrinologica, 38(3), 255–267.