It’s exhausting being tired all the time. Everything seems harder, gravity’s pull feels heavier and bed becomes a lethargy-breeding haven. Then along comes the new year and with it the annual push to be reborn as improved humans, as though it were spring. Which it isn’t. It’s dark and cold and we are still recovering from a festive season of too many “shoulds” – should have fun, should party, should have the friends and family over for a super-feast. It is a time when even more than normal is expected of us, says psychologist Dr Linda Blair. Paying heed to all the shoulds goes some way to explaining why many of us feel low on batteries.
While the thought of detoxes, boot camps and resolutions might be as appealing as a turkey smoothie, now is the time to focus instead on how to “say no gracefully, without hurting feelings, when you know you’re at your limit of what you can do”, says Blair.
Executive coach and author Viv Chitty prefers to talk about “depleted energy” rather than low energy, because, she says, “low energy may not necessarily be a negative state to be in”. You could simply be calm, contemplative or deeply listening. Even a feeling of low energy outside those realms is not bad per se. “It means you want to rest and recuperate,” she says. “If you listen to what your body and mind are telling you, you can learn what you really need.”
You’ll know if you have problematic depleted energy, Chitty says, “when you feel unable to focus on work, or to be interested in what’s going on around you. It will affect work performance and relationships, and needs to be addressed.”
Here is some expert knowhow on escaping that blanket exhaustion, along with our writers’ top tips for getting fired up and ready to go.
Don’t be tempted to go into “goblin mode” just because it’s cold and dark. “It’s very easy to feel jet-lagged,” says Dr Renata Riha of the University of Edinburgh’s sleep medicine department, “especially in winter when the days are short, if you sleep in too much.” Instead, get up and be ready to head out once the sun has finally emerged. “Take a brisk walk or even a meander in the fresh air during the hours of light, particularly early on,” adds Riha, who also recommends not keeping your house too stuffy: “Bed socks for cold feet rather than turning the thermostat on.”
Stroke animals and dance
“When you touch another mammal, both of you release oxytocin,” says psychologist Dr Linda Blair. It’s often called the love hormone, but actually, she says, “it’s the safety hormone and the basis of starting to feel better is to first feel safe.” Then dance. “Moving to rhythm is a primitive way to communicate joy,” she says. “When we’re feeling tired and emotional, memories tend to clump by emotion, so bad thoughts like, ‘I don’t have any energy,’ call up other bad thoughts, which make you feel worse.” But if you dance to music that you associate with happy times the opposite will happen. “You’ll feel better, you’ll feel great.”
Identify what fills your tank
Sit down and have a think about what gives you energy and what takes it away, says executive coach and author Viv Chitty. This can include physical influences, such as nutrition, hydration, sedentary behaviour, sleep, rest, your age and the impact of hormones. But it also includes our emotions and thought processes, work, parenting and caring for elderly relatives. “Identify what fills your tank and what empties it,” she Chitty. “You could have a simple diagram on your wall.” Then you can figure out the steps you can take to manage the energy drains and maximise the boosters.
If you want more energy and focus, eat breakfast. “I cannot stress enough the importance of eating breakfast,” says Gavin Sandercock, professor at the University of Essex’s School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences. “Breakfast being defined as proper food that requires cutlery, preferably greater than 300 calories, eaten sitting down.”
Visualise your energy
“Electricity flows through our bodies, igniting everything from the neurons in our brain to cardiac cells that pump our blood,” says Tracy Anderson, fitness pioneer and creator of the Tracy Anderson Method, who famously honed Madonna’s athletic physique. “So when we talk about getting our energy back in the new year, it’s important to remember we never lost it. Alternative ways of thinking about energy can help so, as well as working conventional muscle groups, Anderson likes to focus on her “heart centre” – a phrase more usually associated with yoga. She uses exercises that challenge the mind and body together. A good example is: stand with your eyes open, arms fully extended to the sides, palms facing up and fingers straight. Imagine holding something precious and vulnerable in your hands. Rotate your hands towards the ground, then towards the back wall and, finally, up towards the ceiling, while simultaneously bending into a squat with a flat back. Reverse the hand rotation as you stand up, being careful not to “drop” the imaginary object. Not only will this improve physical health, she says, “but it emphasises the importance of cognitive awareness in overall wellbeing and brings a deeper understanding of the energy within your body.”
Socialise without stressing
Author and illustrator Sophie Lucido Johnson’s newsletter, You are Doing a Good Enough Job is packed with joyful ways to recharge and resist productivity culture. “The festive season teaches us that socialisation is stressful, so people tend to isolate in January,” she says. “Find opportunities to gather in ways that don’t feel challenging, with people who don’t stress you out. Instead of fraught dinners with meticulously planned menus, get together with friends and don’t bother cleaning. Have a singalong or order pizza or have a gathering where everyone just drinks tea and reads books in each other’s company.”
Do the twist
Make time for a “calming and energising” easy, seated twist, says yoga teacher Zoe Speekenbrink. Sit cross-legged or on your heels, rooting your weight in your sitting bones and lengthening your spine. Breathe in and, as you breathe out, twist to your right, taking your right hand to the floor behind you. Bring your left hand to the outside of your right knee. Take another breath and exhale as you move deeper into the twist, from the torso. Inhale as you come back to centre, then do the same on the other side.
Light up your life
Light impacts mood and increases vitality, says Linda Geddes, author of Chasing the Sun, an exploration of how light affects our health and wellbeing. Studies also show light exposure improves alertness and helps us sleep – so get outside or, failing that, give yourself a boost of light therapy with a Sad lamp.
Pump up the volume
Listen to the most obnoxious song you can as loudly as you can get away with. Play All I Do Is Win by DJ Khaled to your children on the way to school – it’ll be like they’ve been electrocharged. Is the energy constructive or destructive? Who knows? But we do know loud music releases dopamine and adrenaline – and it’s a lot of fun.
Start a Nap Club
A nap is both illicit and wholesome; a sweet spot. Make it an event. Get your nicest blanket. Nap deliciously, on the sofa, for no more than 20 minutes. Crucially, text your friends. The first rule of Nap Club is: talk about it, a lot. Discovering your friends are slumping mid-afternoon will make you feel less useless. It may also energise you. Nothing turns around a bad night’s sleep like hearing someone else had a worse one.
Go to bed earlier
Sleep is important, especially as you get older, so why not experiment with an earlier bedtime? This week, try going to bed an hour earlier than you usually do. What are you going to miss? Newsnight? You’ll get over it.
Do things you don’t want to, eagerly
Plans made in excitement can find us feeling less than enthusiastic when their due date rolls around. It’s good to be realistic, yet we often expend more energy complaining about insufficient energy than we do on the journey or social effort. In all probability, you are going to do the thing, so do it with your whole heart. Don’t see family and friends resentfully, because they’ll feel it. Get the most out of whatever these occasions offer – there’s always something. You can complain afterwards, if you still want to. Most times, you won’t.
Turn your home into a spa
A bath, with candles. Body scrub, face masks. Relaxing playlist. Above all, permission. Set aside an afternoon or evening. If they’re not awful at it, get your partner to give you a massage. The best things in life are not free, but you can definitely get all this for about £10.
Change the lights
When LED bulbs start to fail, the light they give out sort of… sours. The temperature of the room falls. Recommended: Philips Dimmable A60 LED bulbs.
Eat fashionably seasonally
People who eat seasonally are forever telling others they should, too. They don’t really want them to, though, as then they wouldn’t be special. But here’s the rub. We all should eat seasonally – and not just for point-scoring. Fruit and veg that travel the fewest miles come loaded with the most nutrients and zingy minerals, and will supercharge you. Think of it as seasonal fashion. Apples and Jerusalem artichokes are very in right now.
Perfect a new but useless skill
Learn the Eurasian screech owl call; or a magic trick; or how to walk a coin across your knuckles, or play Eye of the Tiger by flicking your cheeks. A nice, sedentary, time-intensive trick that will garner you minor, perhaps odd, but still significant kudos at parties.
Stop buying new clothes
It’s easier than you think, now there’s Vestiaire and Vinted. Make the seller an offer they can’t refuse – on Vinted you can offer up to 40% below the asking price.
Get some sheepskin inner soles
When winter is properly bedded in, £5 for a spring in your step is a bargain.
Scent your bedroom like a hotel
Either splash out on a luxe diffuser or make your own water spray with ingredients like witch hazel with lemon, clove or lavender essential oils.
Drink more, achieve more
Drink way more water than you usually would. Sure, hydration is good for energy, but nothing focuses the mind like really, really needing a wee. Why not set yourself a task, and refuse to allow yourself to go to the toilet until it’s been completed? You’ll get it done in record time.
Make like a squirrel
In a recent TikTok, actor Jennifer Garner became hysterical laughing at how many packets of nuts she had squirrelled away in her handbag (eight). Garner has the right idea though: research on their benefits appears constantly, for both physical and cognitive health. Eat nuts!
Plot a (very) slow art crawl
Get more beauty into your life: if there’s an artist whose work you enjoy, explore where you could see more of it, then plan trips over the next year, or even decade. If you love Bellini, say, there are beautiful works of his in London, Birmingham and Glasgow. But why not start dreaming of a trip to his hometown of Venice, too? Living in the moment is great, but having plans to look forward to can really switch the lights on when things feel dark.
Create professional boundaries
Nothing depletes a person like receiving a work email out of office hours, and knowing you’re expected to reply promptly. Set up an out-of-office at the end of every working day, basically saying: “I’ll reply to this tomorrow when I start work again.” Suddenly you have tons more time to spend on other things, like fretting that your boss is going to fire you for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Anyone who is planning to throw off the laziness and gluttony of the past month will be thinking about getting fitter. But plodding round the streets, often in the dark and the rain, is no fun. Instead, next time you are in the office, head for the emergency stairwell and start running up the stairs, two or three at a time. It’s high intensity, builds speed, power and cardiovascular fitness, and helps with agility, balance and foot speed. It also means you can boast about being on the cusp of a new fad: vertical marathons.
Scream your head off
If you are feeling stifled, take a lesson from the tantruming two-year-old and let it all out at the top of your voice. There’s good evidence that “primal scream therapy” works on many levels, but you don’t need to worry about that. Just go to a field, garden, park or cupboard under the stairs and shout as loud as you can. You will feel instantly empowered.
Avoid dry January
Do we need to say more? Yes, drink in moderation, but denial is going to give you the opposite of a well-needed boost.
Go for a swing
This has to be the easiest of all. Next time you walk past a playground, pop in and sit on a swing. The zen-like repetition, the feeling in your tummy, the sheer silliness of it is wonderfully life-affirming. Better still, it’s good for you, you are outdoors and you’re living in the moment.
Contributors: Emma Beddington, Stuart Heritage, Martin Love, Rhik Samadder and Eva Wiseman