You’ve probably seen the commercials for 5-Hour Energy, the energy shot that supposedly helps you overcome the "2:30 feeling". I know the 2:30 feeling well. But for me, it doesn’t come only with tiredness and lack of energy. Usually it’s accompanied by confusion and anxiety. There are times when I experience it at such a level that I literally can’t get anything done. It’s as if I’m seized by a creative paralysis. I’ve exhibited symptoms of ADHD since childhood (before it was even called that) so I’ve always had to work hard at keeping myself focused. But this was turning into something bigger than that. A few months ago, I finally reached the point where I felt like I might need to get professional help. But I’m a stubborn guy, and I love thinking through things and solving problems, so I decided to work through it myself. I’ve given out a lot of advice over the years. Why does it seem like it’s easier to help other people with their issues than it is to deal with my own?
Whenever I run into a problem that makes absolutely no sense to me, I assume that at least part of it might be spiritual. So in late 2011 I started taking a “spiritual inventory”. But I didn’t stop there. I began to look analytically at every area of my life— including sleep, nutrition, exercise, and prayer—and I discovered some big problems.
My prayer life had become less consistent than it had been in the past. My diet was horrible. I wasn’t exercising regularly and my desk job was taking a toll on my health. I realized I had to do some things differently.
Over the last few months, I’ve gradually introduced some bold changes to my routine. Here are some of the biggest ones:
- I changed the way I ate. No, I didn’t make dramatic changes all at once, but I started tracking all the food I was consuming on a daily basis. It’s amazing how simply writing down what you eat makes you eat healthier. (Tracking your spending helps you waste less money too. It’s the same principle.) I used the program at Weight Watchers Online. (You don’t have to go to meetings with this version of WW.) SparkPeople is a free alternative to Weight Watchers that is similar in its approach. I increased my protein and fiber intake and lowered my consumption of sugar. (Goodbye sugar highs and crashes!) I also added some basic nutritional supplements. As of this writing, I’ve lost 46 pounds with six more to go to reach goal. I weigh the same now as I weighed my freshman year of college. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I’m feeling more energetic now partly because I’m not dragging around an extra 46 pounds.
- I changed my sleeping habits. Honestly, I believe I’m wired to be a night owl. But that wasn’t working for me and I finally faced the truth. So I did the unthinkable. I started going to bed at 8 or 9 and started getting up at 3 or 4. Now I begin the day with Bible reading and prayer, then I get a jump start on the rest of my day by reading, brainstorming, and writing. I’ve found that by front-loading my days like this, I’m getting enough sleep and I’m not tired in the afternoons. I also am able to hit the ground running when I get to work instead of figuring out everything after I get there.
- I ditched the caffeine. I’ve actually done this before and somehow I always seem to gradually go back to it. But this time I think I’m going to stay on the wagon. You see, I was probably drinking a pot or two of coffee per day! But I had trouble sleeping because of the caffeine in my system, and the "2:30 wall" was partly a result of my body (and brain) crashing. I didn’t give caffeine up cold turkey, however. I weaned myself off of it over the course of about a week. (Caffeine withdrawal headaches are the worst!) Now I’m falling asleep quickly at night and I don't experience the afternoon crashes anymore.
- At work, I replaced my conventional desk with a stand-up desk. I’m not sure everyone would like doing this, but I love it. My creativity and productivity have increased dramatically, and I seem to be full of energy all day. I have a whiteboard in my office that I use to brainstorm, and I walk back and forth to use it often. I also like to pace when I think, so I’ve made sure I have room to do that. Supposedly we burn more calories standing than sitting, so that’s another plus.
- I’m more active. I’ve built more exercise into my routine, and I take a couple of quick workday breaks (one mid-morning and one during lunch) to do a few laps around the walking track. I often get ideas there for blog posts and articles so I keep my smartphone with me and keep track of everything using Evernote. (I don’t care how good you think your memory is, record every idea you get somewhere.)
- I pray in the morning and throughout the day. I can’t overstate how important spending time with God has been in helping me make all these changes. I once did my praying mostly at night, but I’ve got to admit, for me, going into God's presence and looking forward to the day ahead has been more effective than reviewing my day with him at night. It grounds me and gives me the right mindset to tackle everything I need to. I’m also learning the value of praying throughout the day and getting God involved in the creative process as I write.
I’m still figuring this thing out, but I’m pleased to say that I haven’t experienced the afternoon crashes for a while now. I’m full of energy, sleeping well, and my productivity at work has grown by leaps and bounds. I’m also more upbeat.
If you’ve been struggling with the same problem I was dealing with, I encourage you to take your own “inventory” and gradually make some changes that will work for you. I’m pretty good at holding myself accountable once I set my mind to something, but that may be more difficult for you, so I certainly recommend getting accountability if you need it—from a friend, counselor, pastor, life coach, doctor—whoever you need to bring in to help you.
What steps have worked for you when you’ve struggled with problems like depression, anxiety, and lack of energy?