Pain and lack of energy…no matter what condition a person has, the two seem to go together. A 2006 study on chronic pain found that 74% of respondents said their energy level is impacted by their pain.
Aside from getting rid of your chronic pain – which is the obvious answer – is there anything you can do to improve your energy? Many think so and have experienced an improvement in their energy levels by making some lifestyle changes. We’ve compiled a list from all the resources we could track down, and hope that you find some modifications that could have a positive impact on your energy level.
1. Budget your energy
As with money, energy is something to be budgeted when you are a chronic pain sufferer. Don’t spend your entire energy “paycheck” at one time; rather, budget your energy to make it last longer. Here’s an idea of how to make it happen:
- Each day after you’ve been awake long enough to know how you’re going to feel that day, evaluate your energy level.
- Realistically decide how much you can do that day.
- Write down the tasks you’d like to accomplish with your allotted energy on separate pieces of paper and put them in the envelope.
- As you complete each task, remove it from the envelope.
- When your envelope is empty, it’s time to stop for the day.
2. Prioritize and say no
Focus on what’s important and make a plan so that you have adequate energy to accomplish priorities – this includes planning to take breaks to rest in between! As well, practice saying no to things that just aren’t that important or take too much energy.
3. Get regular exercise
Working out may be the last thing you want to do if you’re feeling tired (or in pain). But exercise can actually boost your energy level. You may not be able to do much at first, but that’s ok. Do as much exercise as you can tolerate, and try to add on additional time each week. A mistake many make is not exercising when they feel really lousy. While it may seem as if moving about when you feel exhausted is the quickest route to feeling more exhausted, the opposite is true.
In a University of Georgia study, people who did a low-intensity aerobic activity (like a leisurely walk) three times a week had a greater reduction in fatigue levels than folks who did higher intensity workouts for the same amount of time. The same study found that regular exercise generally increased energy levels by 20%.
4. Don’t skip meals
In particular, don’t skip breakfast. Numerous studies have shown that this is the most important meal of the day and that people who eat breakfast are in a better mood and have more energy throughout the day. Not sure what to eat? Try unrefined carbs (for fast energy), lean protein and healthy fat (which take longer to digest, giving you more staying power). Perhaps a scrambled egg in a whole-grain tortilla or oatmeal topped with nuts?
And did you know that missing any meal during the day can lead to an overall greater feeling of fatigue by the end of the day? Studies have found this to be true.
5. Get enough rest
This may be easier said than done, as pain sufferers often have sleep issues. However, we all also create bad habits that make it tough to get the seven to eight hours of sleep each night that we need. Make sleep a priority and try to avoid these detractors from good sleep:
- Don’t be super active before bedtime. Take time to relax and even take a warm shower or bath to help you get in “sleep mode”.
- Avoid alcohol and food or drinks that contain caffeine after dinnertime
- Turn off the TV as you are winding down – it tends to distract you from sleep. Read a book instead.
If one night you know you won’t get a full night’s sleep, plan or “budget” to make it up the next day.
6. Increase your magnesium
Your levels may be low – and you don’t even know it. When your magnesium level is too low, it can cause an elevated heart rate and require more oxygen to do physical tasks. Your body could be working harder than necessary, leaving you feeling depleted. Check with your physician about magnesium supplements or add some of these foods to your diet: almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, whole grains and fish.
7. The power of a nap
Studies have shown that both information overload and pushing our brains too hard can zap energy. The optimal amount of sleep is 10 to 20 minutes to get through the day without throwing off your night’s sleep. Find a cozy spot, let an alarm…and let a nap help wake refreshed and with energy for whatever comes next.
8. Drink more water, less alcohol
Thirst can often present itself as fatigue. Keep this from happening by drinking plenty of water. If you find yourself tired even after a good night’s sleep, look at your alcohol intake in the evening. Alcohol initially may help you fall asleep, but it can it interferes with deep sleep, resulting in less quality sleep. Cut down on alcohol before bedtime, and you will likely sleep better, resulting in more energy the next day.
9. Reduce your sugar intake
When your blood sugar is balanced, your energy is constant. High-sugar foods give you a spike in energy, but it is followed by a drop in your blood sugar level, causing you to feel tired. So steer clear of sugar and instead replace it with whole grains, which provide a slow and steady release of fuel. By the end of the day, you won’t feel as fatigued.
10. Choose a latte over coffee
Pair the sustaining power of protein with energy stimulation of caffeine by having a low-fat latte. The milk transforms your coffee into a protein drink, providing extra energy plus the added bonus of calcium, which is good for your bones. Who knew Starbucks was could be so good for your health?!
11. Get tested for a thyroid problem and anemia
A simple blood test administered by your doctor can show if you’ve got a problem. People with thyroid dysfunctions or low red blood cell counts, commonly referred to as anemia, can experience low energy even when they eat and sleep well. Once a problem is diagnosed, medications can help your body get back to its normal energy level over time.
12. Control how and when you wake up
While it may be tempting to hit the snooze button each morning, you may actually be hindering your ability to get going in the morning. By falling back asleep, you wake up the second time with “sleep inertia”, that groggy feeling that can last for up to four hours. Better to set your alarm later, if your real intention is to get up later…and avoid the snooze.
How you wake up is as important as when. If you’re someone who needs to conserve your energy, that last thing you want to do is roll out of bed and into a frenzy, especially if you have others to help get ready for the day. Get up 15 minutes before everyone else so you can shower, get dressed, get your cup of coffee, peruse your newspaper. Clear your mind, then take on tasks.
13. “Chunk” your activities
Often, sustaining activity for a long time is energy-zapping. Whether it’s at work or in your home, don’t stay glued to the same place (i.e., your desk or couch) for a long time. Every 90 minutes, get up and move around and get your oxygen flowing. Even standing or walking around while talking on the phone can help you keep your energy level up.
14. Beware of the “2 to 4 slump”
Slumping in the afternoon? That means you’re human. It’s normal for your energy level to dip between two and four in the afternoon. The spike of hormones that gets you started in the morning is leveling off – and if you’ve had a big lunch, sitting around can make the energy drain even more pronounced. Especially if you are budgeting your time for maximum energy, be strategic about the big lunch and make sure you have some movement during those afternoon hours.
15. Catch some rays
Whether at work, home or elsewhere, you may be lacking sunshine in your daily routine. Sunshine helps boost levels of vitamin D, which researchers suggest may play a role in sustaining energy. Experts also suspect vitamin D helps regulate metabolism and insulin secretion, which both have an impact on energy. So, get outdoors – if only for 15 minutes!
16. Make time to transition
After being out running errands or at work all day, coming home to yet more tasks can be tiring. You can avoid fatigue by making time for a “transition ritual” as you start downshifting for the day. You can transition in many different ways. Consider:
- Doing some low-intensity exercise
- Taking in some sunshine by walking through your garden
- Slipping on your headphones and listen to some music
- Setting an alarm and taking a power nap
- Changing into comfy clothes and sip some tea while flipping through a magazine
Having that transition time can help you have more energy to focus on and enjoy the rest of your evening.
17. Don’t fall prey to late-night cravings
Cravings late at night usually mean you are sleepy – not hungry, as most people think. When you keep your brain awake for too long, it needs glucose a boost to stay up. If you must eat, choose something light and easy to digest, such as half a plain Greek yogurt with berries or hot chocolate made with almond milk at least an hour before bed. Experts agree that banking a good night’s sleep is the best way to have more energy the next day…so focus on what will help you get those ZZZZ’s.
All of the ways to boost energy we’ve shared won’t work for every pain sufferer…but our hope is that you will find a few that will. Have additional ones to add to our list? Comment below.
PainPathways is the first, only and ultimate pain magazine. First published in spring 2008, PainPathways is the culmination of the vision of Richard L. Rauck, MD, to provide a shared resource for people living with and caring for others in pain. This quarterly resource not only provides in-depth information on current treatments, therapies and research studies but also connects people who live with pain, both personally and professionally.