Stress Binge

12 Mindless Habits That Are Secretly Exhausting You

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It’s no secret feeling drained has become the status quo, one that leaves us overexerting ourselves just to get through the necessities of the day. This leads us to lean on any energy booster we can think of to help us make it through. However, we also should suss out the energy sappers lurking in our daily habits.

Think of your energy as water in a cup that has a hole in the bottom. There are two ways to ensure the cup always contains enough water: pour more water into it or make the hole smaller.

“Finding ways to boost your energy is analogous to filling the cup and focusing on ways to make tasks less draining to making the hole smaller,” Tyson Lippe, a psychiatrist at Heading Health in Austin, Texas, told HuffPost. “Both are equally important, yet we often underestimate what can drain our stamina.”

So continue doing what’s necessary to boost your energy (eating healthier, exercising, getting enough sleep, setting boundaries) — and make sure that process includes finding and quashing the sneaky energy saboteurs on your plate. To get you started, here are 12 easily overlooked things that can drain your energy (and how to turn things around):

Watching emotionally charged television shows

One of the ways binge-watching emotionally charged TV shows can lead to mental exhaustion is through trait identification, which refers to the process of temporarily imagining yourself experiencing the same feelings and events of a specific character.

“The experience allows individuals to perceive the world differently and acquire and gain access to various emotional capacities they were formerly unable to experience,” said Leela R. Magavi, a psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry and MindPath Care Centers in California.

In excess, however, sustained high-intensity emotions can result in a state of heightened arousal and overstimulation. “It then takes additional mental effort to dampen these signals with emotional regulation strategies,” Lippe said.

This is the case for both positive and negative emotions, he added, as they activate similar pathways in the brain, ultimately leading to mental fatigue, difficulty focusing and poor energy levels.

The fix: Be mindful about the entertainment you consume. Take note of how it makes you feel and impacts you throughout the following hours and days. “You may find that some themes are particularly triggering and best avoided,” Lippe said.

Other strategies might include setting a weekly time limit for emotionally charged viewing, consuming neutrally toned shows to balance the scales or restricting intense TV shows to days off, in order to control the cumulative emotional load sustained on any given day.

Don't go too long between meals.

Don’t go too long between meals.

Waiting too long between meals

The body scores energy from the foods we eat, and relies on a steady supply of it. “Each macronutrient — protein, carbs and fat — provides energy, but carbs are the body’s primary and preferred fuel source,” Caroline Lacey, registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition Rerooted, told HuffPost.

Some parts of the body, such as the brain, can only use carbs (in the form of glucose) for energy. “The body can store some carbs in the liver for later use, which acts as an energy reserve for the body to use when blood sugar levels are low, such as between meals,” Lacey said. “But there’s a limit to the amount that can be stored, and eventually, the supply becomes depleted.”

This backup energy supply only lasts about three to six hours, so going too long without food sets off biological and psychological mechanisms that turn on our eating drive — usually, this can lead to strong cravings for processed carbs, which are foods with a high-glycemic load.

“As we eat more carbs, especially simple ones, our insulin levels climb,” Uma Naidoo, nutritional psychologist and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food,” told HuffPost. “Once our insulin levels peak after eating, our blood sugar can subsequently crash and lead to a distinct feeling of being physically drained.”

The fix: In general, the recommendation is to go no longer than five waking hours without eating, “but this is highly individualized and dependent on a variety of factors,” Lacey said. “Some people may need to eat more frequently and may benefit from going no longer than three to four hours without eating.”

The best way to counter your eating schedule being thrown off is to always have a shelf-stable snack on hand (in your purse, briefcase, gym bag, car, desk or locker) that doesn’t require refrigeration. Think: protein bars, snack-sized bags of trail mix, mixed nuts or squeezable peanut butter packets.

“You want something that will hold you over until you can eat your next meal, but not something so large and filling that you’re not hungry at mealtime,” Lacey said.

Working at a messy desk

Working in a cluttered environment may increase distractibility and inattentiveness. The result? Tasks take longer to complete, requiring you to use up more mental focus and energy over time.

The fix: Maintaining a structured and planned environment, where everything you need is in its place, can help reduce this particular energy drain.

“I advise individuals to spend 10-15 minutes each day tidying up their work area while listening to calming music,” Magavi said. “This can create a positive pattern of behavior.”

Planning too far in advance

Planning is helpful up to a point. “By scheduling in advance, you ensure you’re allocating time to a task without forgetting or double-booking yourself,” Lippe said. “But if done in excess, it can leave you with too little flexibility and force you to live in the future instead of the present.”

Being constantly exposed to a full calendar of obligations can cause an uptick in anticipatory anxiety and adversely affect working memory and processing speed.

“This can impede your ability to remain mindful and efficiently complete tasks in the moment,” Magavi said, resulting in poor motivation and mental exhaustion.

The fix: Consider planning out the mandatory (work deadlines, meetings and appointments, family-related activities), then leave the remaining pockets of time as commitment-free as possible.

“Consistently leaving time open for hobbies, relaxation and nothing at all provides a sense of freedom and control for yourself,” Lippe said.

Setting limits with how far in advance certain things are planned out can be helpful too, allowing for more spontaneity and flexibility.

An excessive number of open tabs can demand your attention and zap your energy.

An excessive number of open tabs can demand your attention and zap your energy.

Having too many tabs open

Not only are you overwhelming your laptop’s battery by having 25 tabs open, you’re putting your brain into overdrive too.

“Bouncing from tab to tab gives your ego the misconception you’re getting an incredible amount of work done,” said Rana Mafee, chief neurologist at Case Integrative Health in Chicago. “In reality, you’re not fully processing anything you’re trying to efficiently consume.” Cue mental fatigue.

The fix: Instead of gradually sucking up your mental energy by leaving an ungodly number of tabs open, try asking yourself every hour or so: What do I actually need in front of me right now? What purpose is this tab serving me?

“Any tab that doesn’t relate to what you’re working on in the moment can either be bookmarked for when it does or exited to save your brain,” Mafee said.

Taking calls right away

“Phone calls can be exhausting,” Mafee said. “Your nervous system has to not only process a task change at the flip of a switch, but try to process the conversation you’re having without facial cues and body language, forcing your brain to work overtime.”

To top it off, once the call is finished, it can take you over 20 minutes to fully regain your focus.

The fix: Before hitting that green “accept” button, take a few seconds to check in with…

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