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How to Get Energy Back When You’re Dealing With Stress

Chronic stress can put you into a state of fatigue. Learn how to eat the right foods and vitamins to get the energy you need to thrive under pressure.

Chronic stress can put you into a state of fatigue, making you lack the physical and mental motivation to accomplish all the items on that ever-growing checklist that’s partially to blame for causing the stress in the first place. Everyone is dealing with stress. Why does it seem like some people are thriving in spite of it?

It’s because they’ve figured out how to use other aspects of their lifestyle to put themselves in the best position to mitigate the negative effects of stress.

Optimizing your diet and lifestyle to persist in the face of constant stress can help you keep your energy levels as high as possible when constant stress is threatening to hold you down.

What to Do for Energy

Get a Massage

In a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that cortisol decreased while serotonin and dopamine increased following massage. Cortisol is one of the hormones secreted to enable the fight or flight response to stressors. In today’s high-paced, constant-stress lifestyle, the prevailing theory is that our bodies are releasing way too much of this hormone, which can wreak havoc on our health. Health and stress experts have labeled this hormone as one of the factors responsible for stress making us tired. Serotonin and dopamine, on the other hand, are associated with feelings of energy and happiness.

Sleep Better, Longer

It seems fairly obvious that adequate sleep will help your energy levels, but quality sleep can be hard to come by when you’re dealing with stress. You know you need sleep, which can cause you to stress out about getting to sleep. In a 1997 study, researchers found that sleep loss causes cortisol levels to elevate the following evening. Higher cortisol levels can contribute to a racing mind, tense muscles, and a rapid heart beat, none of which are conducive to falling asleep. And people who get less sleep at night report more symptoms of stress during the day, including a lack of energy.

To ensure you get a full night’s sleep (between the recommended 7 and 9 hours), you’ll have to put yourself in he relaxed state that leads to falling asleep. That means shutting down devices that emit artificial light and stimulate your mind with a constant barrage of information. It means cutting the night-time caffeine that may seem necessary to power you through the evening hours, but is actually contributing to the cycle of stress-induced tiredness. The National Sleep Foundation recommends breathing and guided imagery exercises that help with relaxation by focusing attention.

Get Some Exercise

When you’re lacking energy, the last thing you want to do is engage in an activity that requires a pretty heavy dose of that depleted energy. Trust us: Getting over that initial motivation hurdle is worth it as exercise is crucial to maintaining an energy levels while dealing with stress.

Per Harvard Health, “Exercise reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.” The constant presence of those of stress hormones can lead to depleted energy and feelings of fatigue. Exercise also increases the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which can help the body’s ability to respond to stressors.

Numerous epidemiological studies have shown a strong positive relationship between exercise and energy levels. And it’s no particular type of exercise. 20 minutes of low-intensity stationary biking was shown to increase energy levels in sedentary people while moderate-to-vigorous activity has improved sleep.

Yoga, with its physical and mental demands, has been shown to increase energy levels and reduce cortisol levels in people with depression.

So, it’s not about the type of exercise you choose, but the mere act of engaging in regular physical activity that helps you recharge when you’re dealing with stress.

What to Eat for Energy

Numerous canned beverages purport to enhance your energy levels, but they are a short-term fix that can lead to more long-term problems. Sustained energy comes from a diet of the foods that optimize metabolic function.

Consume Nutrients that Support Metabolism

The B vitamins are crucial to your cells’ ability to convert food to energy. Vitamin B does not give you energy. Carbohydrates, fats, and protein (also known as food) give you energy. B vitamins support your cells in turning these macronutrients into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy your body needs to do just about everything.

The major B vitamins are B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12. They’re what is called an “essential” nutrient, meaning that our bodies can’t produce them and we need to get them from diet. They’re pretty easy to come by in eggs, legumes, beef, poultry fish, leafy greens, and B complex supplements.

Our digestive system breaks all the food we consume into the simple sugar glucose, which the blood sends to the liver and muscles. Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) helps to convert glucose into ATP energy. That means the food we eat is being used for its intended purpose, not sitting as fat around the midsection. ALA is naturally occurring in our bodies, but you can choose to supplement as it isn’t found in high doses in food.

Magnesium is another requirement for the ATP production process. Surveys consistently show that Americans are not getting their recommended daily allowance. That’s likely due to magnesium deficiencies in industrial farm soil and food processing that can strip out some of the magnesium-dense components. You can maximize your intake by opting for unrefined whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, legumes, and supplements.

The coenzyme Q10 is also critical to the energy conversion process. It occurs naturally in our bodies and in high levels in beef, poultry, and fish, so unless you’re taking a medication known to deplete the body of CoQ10 (like statins), supplementing probably isn’t necessary.

Iodine is vital to produce the thyroid hormones that control the body’s metabolism. This mineral is readily available in numerous foods, including fish, dairy, and grains.

Eat Carbs that Provide Long-Lasting Fuel

Eating for energy isn’t just about optimizing your energy production pathways, but also giving them a sustained source of fuel in the form of fats and carbohydrates. It’s important to be mindful of the types of carbs you’re consuming as they break down in varying speeds, which affects whether energy comes in spikes or sustained rates.

Let’s take the aforementioned energy drinks. A 12 oz. can of Red Bull has 37 grams of sugar and 0 grams of fiber. Sugar is the simplest of carbohydrates, so the process of breaking it down to glucose happens quickly. It floods your blood with glucose and causes an increase in the insulin necessary for glucose uptake in the muscles and liver. That’s part of the reason these energy drinks cause a spike of energy and a subsequent crash. Complex carbs contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals in the form of long molecular chains and thus take longer to convert to glucose, giving your body a more sustained fuel source.

Keeping your energy levels up while dealing with stress is critical to, well, dealing with stress. There are no quick fixes, just smart choices that optimize your body’s energy production system and give it the fuel it needs to run.