As winter approaches and the general vibration here in London seems to be one of increasing busyness and stress, in the run up to our Return to Self workshop on November 27th, I wanted to share some insights gathered through my studies and personal experience surrounding fighting fatigue naturally, battling low energy and raising our vitality. I recently spoke on this subject at Stylist Live and it seems we are all battling tiredness of one form or another, be it physical, spiritual or both. There are many tools we can employ to combat fatigue naturally and when we connect to what exactly is imbalanced in our physical and emotional selves, we can start to empower ourselves to take our energy back into our own hands.
Everyday fatigue can manifest itself in both the physical and emotional landscapes. Resistance to rising in the morning, waking feeling unrefreshed, mid-afternoon energy dips and heavy eyelids throughout the day are symptoms most of us have danced with more often than we would like in times of stress and demand. Likewise, feelings of lethargy, stickiness and resistance to productive activity can also find us in their clutches and more often than not the result is that we reach for the nearest stimulant to break the cycle and buy us a little more energy, time and potential.
The stress-fatigue axis
In both my own experience and that of clients, the main driver for this is stress. When we look at the stress-fatigue axis we see that prolonged periods of nervous activation leave our various bodily systems depleted and undernourished. We spend so much of our lives in the sympathetic nervous system (or fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) barely gets a look in. While this autonomous nervous response is ancient, primal, intelligent and designed to help us evade prey or sudden danger, it is important to remember that it is a non-specific response to a perceived threat to our safety. It is this perception of danger that is the key to understanding and untangling our heightened experience of fight or flight mode and the adrenaline and cortisol it produces; for in reacting to all the many threats to our wellbeing that we perceive in daily life, we are perpetuating this nervous activation, at the cost of our energy, vitality and self-awareness.
A shift in perception
And so to begin to understand and tackle fatigue, looking with honesty and compassion at our daily stress levels and ability to handle situations that we perceive as stressful is a fundamental key. Our nervous system is as ancient as mankind and it doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is not: the brain becomes the slave to perceived threats left, right and centre as we open our emails, navigate rush hour, race through our free time and live life increasingly online. Meditation, movement and creative resourcing can all bring us back towards the parasympathetic state – a state of calm alertness – and these are tools I greatly enjoy working with clients to develop and grow, as well as explore both here and in my book.
Understanding modern energetic demands
The fast-paced environment in which most of us live has an unknowable amount of demands on our bodies, spirits and emotions. Each individual has their own set of drivers and triggers that contribute to feelings of fatigue and malaise; below are a few that most of us encounter:
- Digitalisation – the increasing proportion of time we spend looking at screens has a direct effect on our physical systems. Mobile devices and laptops emit blue light, the same light as the sun when it rises and gives the body the signal to stop producing melatonin (the sleep hormone) and start producing cortisol, which gets us up and out into the day. If we are to fully become available to receiving deep and meaningful rest, digital detox in the bedroom and before sleep is so important. On an emotional level, disconnecting from the outside world, the constant invitations to immerse our attention in ongoing tasks, rapidly-moving news feeds, the stories and lives of others on social media, allows a little space for us to pause, check in with the self and conserve that precious prana that leaks so imperceptibly and is so vital to conserve. Daily practice such as putting your devices on airport mode or, even better, not bringing them into the bedroom at all, lays a conscious foundation for better sleeptime habits and deeper rest for mind and body.
- Guilt around not-doing – no child is born with guilt and shame and yet as we become conditioned by the world we evolve in, they gather us in their clutches. While both emotions take many forms, and we each know our own intimately, guilt surrounding “not-doing”, resting and taking time for ourselves seems to be resonating ever-louder within the collective mindset. Modern man and woman have become so many things to so many people, and in many ways we are searching for our misplaced centre, our sense of self, our vital energy – and yet we feel weak if we create the space in which to start finding it. So many of us struggle with a sense of overindulgence if we take time to rest, restore and rejuvenate; altering our attitude towards this and generating self-compassion and respectful self-love is fundamental if we are to regain optimal vitality and harmony within and without. Meditation and yoga can break this cycle and open the door to self-awareness and a more sacred space of self-love. Even five minutes a day sitting with the breath sows the seeds of a devotional self practice that has infinite potential to blossom and grow. Letting go of “should” is one of the greatest mental pathways we can nurture.
- Environmental toxins – while the stress response itself causes oxidation within the body (which leads to fatigue and low energy), in the modern world we navigate we are battling an increasing level of environmental toxins and the oxidation they cause on a cellular level can leave us depleted and lethargic. Keeping up antioxidant intake – through a rainbow of fruit and veggies, leafy greens and more potent natural sources including acai and other berries, rich in anthocyanins – is a simple way to ensure we gain more oxidation-combatting nutrients from our diet. Nature’s bounty comes in a beautiful spectrum and we should eat and savour every hue: it’s intelligent design, not just to please our eye but to aid us in our wellness.
- Mindless eating – the mindset and energy with which we ingest our food is fundamental to the assimilation and absorption of the nutrients and energy it contains. Mindful eating is key if we are to take what we can from nature’s ingredients and achieve optimal energy levels. Taking time to give thanks to mother earth for what she continually provides us with so abundantly, and enjoy each mouthful with the greatest awareness we can, aids our systems in receiving our meals as efficiently as they can. Eating on the move, in front of a screen or at a rapid unconscious pace places strain on our digestive systems and limits the energy and nutrition that we ultimately receive from it. Take a moment to offer thanks before each meal and savour that sweet pause before diving in and receiving all the goodness.
Targeted nutritional support
While every body and system is different, and individuals will always require a targeted nutritional and lifestyle protocol for optimal return to vitality, there are some things we can consider in our diets which support us energetically and help combat fatigue naturally.
- Embrace breakfast – breakfast is the most important meal and skipping it is a shortcut to waning energy levels and unwelcome blood sugar fluctuations. Smoothies, chia and bircher are great allies for those of us in a rush and even some fruit or oatcakes with a dollop of nut butter is enough to keep blood glucose levels stable as our busy days unfold.
- Eliminate stimulants – this is the single most important thing we can do if we are to give our bodies a chance of rebalancing and re-finding optimal vitality. Refined sugar, caffeine, alcohol and smoking all buy us borrowed time and energy and if we are to fully and honestly commit to fighting fatigue, they have to go. When our blood sugar jumps, we release cortisol – the stress hormone – and what we ate for a boost ultimately leaves us feeling tired, low and irritable. Gradually phasing them out can be gently and considerately planned, and feelings of deprivation and lack do nobody any good; creating imaginative ways to fill these blanks with clients is something I greatly enjoy – for there are many and they’re not as hostile as you may think…
- Support detoxification – with so many stress hormones circulating round our systems, foods and processes that encourage their proper elimination are vital for keeping energy pathways clear and allowing our prana to fully flow. Dark green leafy vegetables are one of the best sources of fibre and other helpful nutrients, and including as many as possible in your daily meals will have an instant effect on bowel elimination. Epsom and herbal baths are also a lovely way to support detoxification and also a perfect time for slowing down, connecting to the breath and body – perhaps with some essential oil and candlelight to soothe the nervous system; bath time is one of my most deeply revered rituals and a beautiful chance to return to you in a warm, nourishing and sacred space. Hydration is also key and we should aim to drink at least 2l of good quality water a day.
- Mitochondrial support – mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells and there are many aids we can employ in nutritional therapy to support them in times of stress and fatigue. Each individual will have their own specific needs, to be assessed in a clinical consultation, but essential nutrients we can become aware of include B vitamins, EFAs, CoQ10, Magnesium and carnitine – vital for mitochondrial function and most densely found in red meat, avocado and tempeh.
- Nurture gut health – one of the main effects of flight or flight mode is that it reduces the blood flow to our digestive systems. Prolonged activation of it therefore compromises our gut health and in turn limits our nutrient absorption. In looking at fatigue, assessing the digestive system is key and a fully supportive protocol can have dramatic effects on reducing fatigue and increasing overall wellbeing. Manifestations such as irregular, congested or over frequent bowel movements, acid reflux and bloating can be common symptoms that go hand in hand with low energy.
Slowing down and cultivating mindful self practice
Outside of the clinic space, something we can all do, no matter what our medical history or current physiological setup, is cultivate more awareness and presence in our daily life through meditation and ritual. This devotion to the self, to our own inner sky, which so efficiently governs our physical state and responses, is perhaps the most nourishing tool we can employ in terms of energy and healing.
In focused meditation and self inquiry, we connect to our own innate ability to heal ourselves and this sacred conversation with the self can be immensely powerful. Often we would do well to seek outside of ourselves for guidance around health and healing, but equally often if we slow down and tune into what our bodies are telling us, the answer is within closer reach than we might think. This carries tremendous potential for the individual, and places the keys to our wellness firmly in our own hands.
- Nature bathing – I say it time and time again, and living in the city it feels more prescient every day: immersing ourselves in nature is one of the gentlest and profoundest ways to efficiently recalibrate, ground and re-energise. When our nervous systems connect to what my teacher affectionately calls the “healing green”, we nurture the return to the parasympathetic state and allow our bodies to drop down into a more relaxed frequency. Finding a spot in nature, even if just a park or small garden, and lying in stillness to attentively listen to the songs and rhythms that surround us, is a beautiful way to reconnect to the source of all our life force and energy. Barefoot earthing if it’s not too cold is even better: when we touch the ground with our feet, exposing all their thousands of specialised pores, we are open to absorb the earth’s electrons. These can act as antioxidants within the body, flooding inflammation, fatigue and low vitality with new life force. Focus on the breath, and connect to the ground with each toe, heel and pore of your feet: let nature root you in the here and now.
- Making an altar – an expressive space for memories, intention and purpose, creating an altar is a lovely opportunity to focus our attention on what we are grateful for, what we want to manifest, and give definition to our sources of inspiration. When we feel low, fatigued and overstretched, it can be all too easy to lose sight of our dreams and passions and all the love and beauty that surround us. Remembering and meditating on this within the framework of an altar, we remember what is important to us, what gives us energy and nourishment, and invite ourselves to explore our internal terrain with clear intentions.
- Creativity – along with the guilt of not-doing often comes a sense that creativity for creativity’s sake is pure indulgence: our precious time and energy would be better spent working or completing the day’s to-do list. This is such a misconception and there is infinite energetic potential in creative pursuits. In therapy we call it resourcing: re-centering the self through activities which make us feel free, happy, present and rewarded. From painting and ceramics to weaving, singing, cooking or writing, allow yourself time to practise creating for creativity’s sake and notice how the journey unfolds. It is not about how it looks, sounds or seems, but about the process and the nourishment that lies within it.
It’s important to remember that while it can take just a few weeks or months to burn ourselves out in the modern world we live in, the path back to vitality is a process that unfolds more slowly. It requires patience, awareness, commitment and fistfuls of self-compassion.
It can often be the start of a beautiful journey of discovery.