The physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion I felt graduating from naturopathic medical school was the instigating factor that spurred my investigations into fatigue and energy. The 5 years proceeding had been a non stop race to the finish and crossing the finish line my energy was entirely depleted. I felt exhausted, stressed, had insomnia and caught every cold. I knew I had to do something, the question was what?
My study on energy has taken me all the way down to the cellular level: from mitochondrial dysfunction, hidden pathogens like yeast, cell toxicity issues, nutritional deficiencies to the macro level: Hormone systems, attitudes, perspectives, and the rhythm of your life.
Today I want to share three “secrets” that I’ve encountered in my studies and applied in my personal life that integrates everything from the cell level to the whole body system. Together they are some of the most powerful and accessible tools that anyone can apply to improve overall energy and vitality.
- Cooking Energetically
- Calming the Stress State with Gratitude
- Strengthening Circadian Rhythms
When our energy is low, one of the quickest ways to boost energy is through the energetics of food. In Chinese medicine, the digestive system is thought of as a “fire” in our abdomen, burning the food to break it down. When this “fire” is weak, food isn’t properly broken down. To make matters worse, if we eat foods that further weaken this “fire”, it leads to indigestion, fatigue, sensation of heaviness in the body, tendency to feel cold, white or even black coat on the tongue.
In this case, avoid cold, raw foods like salads and green smoothies or large amounts of cold water/drinks with meals. Other foods that can “dampen the fire” include dairy, soy, excess sugar, fruit/juices, excess refined carbohydrates like white bread.
Instead choose warmer foods like soups, steamed or stir fried vegetables and warming herbs like mustard, black pepper, horseradish and ginger. Adjust the overall heat balance of your meal according to the seasons and how you feel.
Keep in mind in Chinese medicine, the digestive system also digests thoughts. So too much energy spent on worrying means less energy for digestion.
Western diets often equate healthy foods with raw foods like salad. This can work for some people but those of us experiencing fatigue may benefit from adjusting the heat balance of our meals. I have had so many women tell me they’ve experienced dramatic improvements in their digestion and overall energy when they’ve substituted warm foods for cold.
Calming the Stress State with Gratitude
Our bodies ability to produce energy is tightly linked to our mental state. When we feel safe and secure our bodies are better able to relax and perform rebalancing and regenerating functions. We have the increased ability to repair body tissues, produce sustained energy, remain calm and think clearly, in short, feel resilient.
One of the biggest tools we have in cultivating this mental state is the intentional application of gratitude throughout the moments of our day. Without changing anything in our external environment, gratitude gives us the feeling of abundance and communicates to our cells that we are safe and secure.
Right now, with tensions high, uncertainty about the future and major changes to our daily lives, our thoughts easily lead to not having enough, or the fear being isolated or alone. These thoughts lead to feelings of being in danger and trigger our “fight or flight”systems. As if we were being chased by a bear, bursts of hormones turn off all body systems except for those necessary to run from immediate danger. Just like energy from caffeine or sugar, this energy is short lived, often uncomfortable and fatiguing in the long term. Regularly practicing gratitude is the antidote to this.
“It’s gratefulness that makes us happy, NOT the other way around” – Brother Steindl Rast
How to practice gratitude daily
Gratitude of course can arise from receiving help from someone so this is a way we can help each other cultivate gratitude. But gratitude is not simply what happens as a result of our situation. Instead, it’s a daily practice we can intentionally engage in. There are a couple ways we can do this:
- Gratitude journal Before bedtime, write down 1 or 2 things you’re grateful for that day. Each day try to write something different. Ie.I’m grateful for the comfort of a warm bath; I’m grateful for the extra time at home with the kids. I’m grateful for clean water available in my home. I’m grateful for the doctors and nurses risking their health to care for our community.” It doesn’t matter if the topic seems big or small, it’s about training the muscle that recognizes opportunity and abundance.
- When difficult feelings arise, ask “What is the opportunity in this moment?” This may be the opportunity to reflect on a great friendship, the opportunity to practice patience or the opportunity to challenge ourselves further.
In my experience, it takes more effort to recognize the “opportunity in each moment” than it takes to embrace worry and anxiety. As with other health practices like brushing your teeth, practicing gratitude requires that we intentionally engage in practicing it. At first it can feel unnatural and awkward but like anything, with repeated practice we can turn it into a habit.
Gratitude fosters a sense of well-being that empowers us to act out of our deeply held values instead of reacting to fear or insecurity and it is my belief that saturating our lives with gratitude not only helps us feel better but also strengthens our minds and our bodies.
Strengthening Circadian Rhythms
We all know the fatigue and foggy thinking that comes with jet lag. What is less obvious is that many of us experience jet lag regularly because of disrupted circadian rhythms. In the long term this is linked to insomnia, depression, diabetes and other chronic diseases. A strong day and night rhythm is one of the most important ways to cultivate energy. Circadian rhythms are driven by cues. Light, eating, temperature and movement are all important cues that help reinforce your body’s natural circadian rhythms.
Light Although we have an innate clock, it requires resetting daily. Light is the most important cue to reset this clock. Make sure to get daylight exposure every morning. Consider going for a walk for drinking tea on your patio. After sunset, dim lights as much as possible and avoid use of screens as blue light can block your natural melatonin production (or use blue light blocking glasses if needed).
Eating chlorophyll-rich foods can boost the energy benefit of sunlight even more. Adding chlorophyll rich foods like sea vegetables, green leafy vegetables, chlorella, spirulina, sprouts into your diet is a great place to start.
Both eating and movement are cues to our body that it is day time. Aim to eat and exercise during daylight hours to let your body know you expect it to be in its waking rhythm.
Temperature can also be used to reinforce the day/night cycle. Set your thermostat to mimic this – warmer during the day, cooler at night. Cooling down at night encourages sleepiness. Having a warm bath before bed can help to exaggerate that change in temperature and help improve sleep.
As you go through your day, be mindful of the cues your system is receiving. Are they reinforcing your circadian rhythms or are they confusing it? Adjust those cues whenever possible to reinforce your body’s natural circadian rhythms. When circadian rhythms are robust and our hearts are full of gratitude daily we create the ultimate conditions for health and vitality.
Stay healthy, everyone!