Are You Running on Empty?

May 5, 2021

When we’re dragging, feeling tired, or experiencing low-energy, most people run to the magic mega-mixture of caffeine sources such as coffee, tea, or a monster-chemical-concoction! Step away from the so-called “energy drinks” that give your body and brain an unhealthy jolt. They create an unhealthy dependence and do not provide help where help is needed most: in our cells.  


What is happening when we feel tired and have no energy?

What we call energy is actually a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) produced by tiny cellular structures called mitochondria. ATP’s job is to store energy and then deliver that energy to cells in other parts of the body (among other important jobs). However, the decline in quality and activity of mitochondrial function is affected by age and disease. If you feel you don’t have enough energy, it may be because your body has problems producing enough ATP and is not providing cells with enough energy. We may not be able to overcome some of the age-related energy loss, but there are ways to help our body produce more ATP, replenish dwindling energy levels, and fight anxiety, stress, and sleeplessness. I believe that the best ways to achieve a healthy work-life balance and preserve our energy stores revolve around the choices we make in four basic areas: How we live.  How we move. How we think. How we eat. It’s that simple!


This is how we live. Our fast-pace, break-neck, need-for-speed lifestyle of doing affords little time for being, let alone well-being. How we live our life is a freedom we all enjoy, but with freedom comes responsibility, and often, the unexpected health consequences take us by surprise. We feel great, until we don’t. We are doing okay, until we’re not. We desire to live a long, healthy, and happy life, but often our choices do not reflect our desires. The sad thing is that we know it. We know we should slow down. We know we could say no. We know we ought to make some changes. It seems that we are just willing to accept our overcrowded schedule and our overwhelming expectations. We will deal with the outcomes later. Our stressful life is not only unhealthy physically, but it can be more mentally challenging than we realize. We can carry the load for a season, but we were never meant to carry it indefinitely. It is unsustainable.  It's why stress-relief seminars, workshops, books, and apps are everywhere. 

You can tell a lot about us by how we spend our money and how we spend our time! It is easy to see what we value or what is most important to us by assessing our financial statement and our calendar. We only have so much time and so much money, but we choose how both are spent! Try some quality time blocking and learn to control what you CAN control.


Always Remember: When we say YES to something, we are saying NO to something else.  

Take care of yourself:

  • Learn to pause. Take 60 seconds to breathe, stand, and stretch.
  • Choose transition time between the completion of one thing and moving to another.  
  • Enjoy some restoration. That’s what weekends are for. Garden, build, clean, go out, enjoy family time, etc. Sunday is the Day of Rest.  Even God rested on the 7th day!  
  • Take a vacation. Get away – leave “it” all behind, unwind, seek adventure, and reward yourself!
  • Get some sleep!  Research suggests that healthy sleep can increase ATP levels. ATP levels surge in the initial hours of sleep, especially in key brain regions that are active during waking hours. Getting your 6-8 hours of z's may result in some A’s at school, or provide the energy and clarity to complete that big project at work!


Exercise + Movement.

This is how we move. Try to stick to a regular exercise routine. Physical fitness can boost energy levels by raising energy-promoting neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which is why we feel so good after a workout. It makes muscles stronger and more efficient, so they need less energy, which conserves ATP. It doesn’t really matter what kind of exercise only that it is consistent daily fitness. JUST MOVE.  Research suggests that 30 minutes, 5 days a week should be our minimum for a total of 150 minutes a week. A regular routine will provide a positive impact for our energy levels as well as our mental health, and we will sleep better too!

Attitude + Thoughts.

This is how we think. Optimism is a tonic. Pessimism is a poison. All great inventions were built by optimists, not pessimists. These are men and women of courage, confidence, respect, and a positive attitude. Whatever we focus on becomes clearer, and everything else disappears into the peripheral. If you are a hammer, everything is a nail. Our constant positive thoughts will breed other positive thoughts. Remember that cortisol (stress hormone) loves negativity.

In neuroscience, the expression “neurons that fire together, wire together” describes “experience-dependent neuroplasticity”—essentially, the concept that our brains are shaped by our thoughts. According to some studies, the synapses in our brains that fire frequently become more sensitive. The experiences we dwell on, and thoughts we focus on, can lead to the growth of new synapses, altering the very structure of our brain. One study I read about negative thinking said, “the brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon.”  You can’t go wrong by adding more hope, joy, kindness, trust, compassion, and generosity to your life! These attributes are attractive to others and can make you popular for all the right reasons!

Nutrition + Fuel.

This is how we eat. Yes, I’m going there! It is a choice. Food is not a good counselor, comforter, or an escape. It is fuel for the systems that provide energy to your brain and body! We must not underestimate the power of the vegetable! Vegetables are responsible for supporting many of our body systems as well as protecting our mitochondrial function. Boost your ATP with healthy fatty acids and protein from lean protein like fatty fish (wild-caught salmon is best), nuts, and clean poultry. This is where you will get nutrients we depend on for energy and maintaining a healthy weight. Carrying excess weight can lead to lower energy levels. The extra pounds mean our body has to work harder to move, so we use up more ATP. It’s better to eat small meals and snacks every few hours than three large meals. I believe in grazing. Large meals cause insulin levels to spike, which then drops blood sugar rapidly, causing the sensation of fatigue. That’s why after eating heavy, we feel like we need a nap! 

Our brain has very few energy reserves of its own and needs a steady supply of nutrients, so fuel your brain with healthy omega-3 fatty acids from fish, olive oil, flaxseeds, avocados, and walnuts. Also, B vitamins and antioxidants are known to support brain health, fight cognitive decline, and support better mental function. Berries as well as green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene.  

And while you’re at it, drink more water.

If our body is short on fluids, one of the first signs is a feeling of fatigue. Studies show that even mild dehydration, such as the loss of 1-3% of body weight can impart many aspects of brain function and can increase feelings of anxiety and fatigue. Although individual needs vary, just drink more water than other liquids throughout the day. You can get some fluids from liquid-heavy fruits and vegetables that are up to 90% water, such as cucumbers, zucchini, squash, strawberries, citrus fruit, and melons, but don’t rely on that. Drink more water.

Spend your money and your time wisely. Move your body. Think positive. Eat real food. Drink water.  Have a good night’s sleep and call me in the morning. 

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– Stephanie Wolfe, NBC-HWC

Health Advisor | Email Stephanie

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