Our bodies are great at sending us signals when something is wrong. We just have to learn to read them. Whether you wake up exhausted, feel like you're dragging your feet throughout the entire day, or always hit that afternoon energy slump, there are reasons to investigate further.
The standard North American diet is full of opportunities for improvement. With an emphasis placed on simple carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, and rice); sugar (juices, sodas, and baked goods); and saturated fats (deep-fried items, meats, and butter); it comes as no surprise that overall nutrient intake is low. In the busy lifestyles of our fast-paced "go-go-go" society, quick and easy meals are often the norm
These quick and easy meals are usually void of substantial healthy nutrients, but high in calories. This means that although we feel full, our bodies still crave nutrients, and this will trigger a hunger response that doesn't have to do with being hungry. When we fuel our bodies and mind with the right nutrients, energy is more balanced and cravings are kept in check. Having a diet full of fruits and vegetables is a great way to ensure nutrient intake is high.
Poor digestion is another big cause of nutrient deficiencies. Even if you are eating all the right foods, your gut has to be able to break down your food properly and absorb nutrients from it. The phrase "you are what you absorb" is a much better analogy to the commonly heard "you are what you eat." Symptoms such as frequent bloating, excess gas, constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux are indications that your digestive tract may not be functioning optimally.
Common nutrient deficiencies include iron, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 (especially if you are a vegan/vegetarian). Although water isn't a "nutrient" per se, inadequate intake can also cause fatigue. Be sure to compensate for caffeine items such as coffee, which can dehydrate you further.
The thyroid is a small but mighty gland that sits at the base of your throat. This gland is involved in numerous processes in the body, including metabolism, body temperature, digestion, period health, cognition, and skin health. A low-functioning thyroid (hypothyroidism) can be a big contributing factor to fatigue, sensitivity to cold, dry skin, heavy and/or irregular periods, resistant weight loss, and anxiety/depression. Often, the thyroid will become dysfunctional due to stress, impaired gut health, and autoimmune conditions.
There is a genetic component to thyroid dysfunction, so it may be a good idea to get assessed if you have a family history. If you have reason to suspect a thyroid concern, speak to your healthcare professional about getting a full thyroid panel checked through blood work.
Health is comprised of your physical, mental, and emotional realms. Unfortunately, our physical health often takes precedence over our mental health, sometimes simply because it’s more externally visible. As such, it's important to distinguish mental and emotional energy from physical energy. For example, an excess mental load can result in burnout fatigue. This can cause mood fluctuations (including being quick to anger and impatience), feeling "wired but tired," and feeling overwhelmed when decision-making. This can also cause difficulties sleeping, which in turn results in poor mental, emotional, and physical energy because our bodies aren't able to properly restore from the previous day.
Sometimes, what we deem as fatigue is actually mental and emotional exhaustion from depression or anxiety. A key question to ask yourself would be, "Am I lacking motivation or the physical capacity to do what I want to do?" The latter describes a lack of physical energy. Lack of motivation and disinterest in things that used to bring you joy are signs that your mental health may need tending to.
Many physical concerns, such as unrestful sleep despite adequate hours of shut-eye and brain fog, can be signs of depression or anxiety. Although it can be scary to face, you are not alone. Mental health concerns have skyrocketed throughout the young and old alike, and have been increasingly evident throughout the COVID pandemic.
Stress (Hpa Axis)
The hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis describes the link between the brain and the adrenal glands. While stress impacts all body organ systems, the adrenal glands are a key player in regulating the stress hormone called cortisol. Stress is not inherently a bad thing. It’s a great driver for productivity and allows our senses to heighten in dangerous situations to get us to safety. When the body's stress response is activated, it quickly mobilizes resources so that they are readily available for use. However, when stress becomes chronically high without adequate support for restoration, it begins to rapidly deplete the body's resources to keep up with demand.
“When we don't allow our bodies to properly restore, we take from the bank of health and spend it on things that don't really matter.”
This can result in a whole range of symptoms, including (but not limited to) fatigue, anxiety, depression, constipation, poor wound healing, acne, migraines, and hormone imbalances— including irregular periods and impaired thyroid function. It's important to have healthy stress management techniques in place and find something that works for you. These can include exercise, meditation, journaling, quality time with loved ones, and immersing yourself in hobbies.
Poor Sleep Quality
Sleep is one of the most underrated factors of health. Having a good night's sleep is crucial to allow our bodies to restore, heal, process waste products and toxins, and improve cognitive function.
It becomes very easy to not prioritize sleep when other responsibilities seem more urgent, or when social media and TV distractions are strong. When we don't allow our bodies to properly restore, we take from the bank of health and spend it on things that don't really matter.
your sleep quality is poor. Proper sleep hygiene—which includes avoiding screen use in the evenings, keeping the bedroom dark and cool, and keeping a regular sleep routine—is important to set the stage for good sleep.
Blood Sugar Regulation
A common cause of the afternoon energy slump is a crash in blood sugar levels. The "grab ‘n’ go" foods many people often turn to are usually high in sugars; these foods make our blood sugar levels rapidly increase to give us a boost of energy, but they also rapidly crash, causing that afternoon energy slump.
What we fuel our bodies with matters. It’s not simply about getting a certain number of calories in, but rather having the right mix of foods to stabilize our blood sugar levels to prevent that crash. Having foods that are high in protein with healthy fats, such as eggs, nuts and seeds, fish, and lean meats, is key in keeping blood sugar stable.
The human body was built to adapt, but it doesn't necessarily always adapt in ways conducive to long-term health. Many people feel run down, yet continue to push through because they can—but this doesn't mean that they should. As a society that wears burnout, exhaustion, and "being busy all the time" as badges of accomplishment, we often forget that we don't have to feel or be this way.
Take some time to listen to the signals your body sends you, and start making deposits into your health bank.