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​Energy Busters and Boosters

Jan 19th 2021

December 21 is host to the winter solstice. The solstice occurs when the sun travels the shortest path through the sky, causing the least amount of daylight just at a time when we need all the inspiration, light, and energy we can muster.

When we need energy, we crave sweets because sugary snacks help our brains manufacture serotonin which elevates our mood and increases our sense of well-being. Sweet, sugary foods also release natural opioids that lead to feelings of pleasure and happiness but on the flip side, after we eat sweets our blood sugar spikes, and then our energy sinks even lower than it was before.

Well then, how about a cup of coffee as an energy boost? Believe it or not, caffeine is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world. One or two cups of coffee in the morning can jumpstart the day and improve our memory, mood, and energy, but too much caffeine late in the afternoon or evening can make it difficult for us to fall asleep, leaving us even more tired the following day.

Would a nap help? Catnaps are a pleasant luxury and an easy way to relax and rejuvenate, but it is best to nap in the early afternoon or we may be too wide awake to fall asleep at night. A 20-minute nap after lunch can provide a nice boost of power but if we nap much longer than 20 minutes, we run the risk of drifting into deeper stages of sleep that slow down our brain waves and make us feel groggy or dazed the remainder of the day.

Perhaps the simplest way to increase energy is to take a brisk morning stroll; it invigorates us and gives us a boost of natural energy that can last the entire day long. Morning sun and cool air is refreshing; it elevates our mood and gives us a little extra time to plan our day. Walking increases blood flow and the supply of oxygen to our cells; it also increases the production of a protein that boosts mental acuity, and it helps us sleep well at night.

Tai chi and qi gong are healthy options for increasing energy. In traditional Chinese medicine, chi or qi is the dynamic force that gives us life while gong is the cultivation of a robust source of this energy. Some people practice tai chi or qi gong for exercise and physical well-being while others practice it for emotional balance—either way qi gong, alternatively spelled chi gong, requires us to focus on the present which creates distance from stress and helps us enter into a calm, non-thinking and peaceful state of mind.

If all else fails, we can chew on some mints or citrus-flavored sugarless gum to feel more alert since scent and taste stimulate an area of the brain that is responsible for focus. Another idea is to stand tall and stretch since good posture opens our chest so we can breathe more deeply and bring in more oxygen to circulate throughout our body. Got a little more time? Go outside for a few minutes because being in nature contributes to our sense of well-being.

A tall glass of ice-cold water can perk us up while eating a small snack every four or five hours avoids dips in our energy and blood sugar. Many nutrition bars are loaded with sugar, but bars are better than nothing when we are on the run and don’t have access to whole food snacks like celery and peanut butter. Music lowers stress hormones—listening to upbeat tunes can energize and lift our mood and add some oomph to the afternoon, and if all else fails… grab a power nap.

Even though our celebrations will be low-key this year, we still need to set aside some time to take care of ourselves during this season—goodness knows we deserve it!