Looking at something green can help counter fatigue.
Sometimes caffeine or sugar might seem like the only fix for that 3 p.m. slump. But in some cases fatigue has more to do with the mind than with the body, according to Roy Sugarman, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist in Sydney, Australia. Use the right techniques and you can get a solid energy boost—even without that afternoon latte. Here are seven steps to try, based on tips from Sugarman and recent medical research:
1. Stand up and move.
Your brain equates being seated to being stuck and responds by restricting energy. If you have to sit for long periods for work or other reasons, try standing up every 45 minutes and performing a few lunges. “Nothing too strenuous, but these stretches can give you more energy by telling the brain that you’re still mobile,” says Sugarman, who serves as director of applied neurosciences at Athletes’ Performance, a company that trains professional and Olympic athletes. Or even better, see whether a stand-up desk is an option. We’re testing some right now and will report on them soon.
2. Spread out your tasks.
Whether it’s paperwork or physical errands, break your workload into small, manageable assignments that you can spread over the course of a day or an afternoon. That helps you avoid the “push/crash” cycle, in which you do too much all at once, then are exhausted for a while. For best impact, try to alternate mental tasks with physical ones.
3. Light it up and cool it down.
The ideal lighting for any work space is bright but indirect; overhead light shining straight down on you can cause glare and eyestrain, according to ACOEM guidelines for fighting fatigue published in 2012 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Aim lighting toward the walls or ceiling instead, and keep the thermostat set at 68° F to 72° F, because temperatures that are too high can slow down your mental function.
A Taiwanese study found that office workers reported feeling less nervous or anxious when a plant was visible nearby. That’s an important benefit because anxiety can burn up a lot of your energy. The study’s authors stated that nature’s beauty aids in recovery from mental fatigue and “generates opportunities for cognitive restoration.” And other research has linked vegetation to increased productivity. Not a plant person? Simply looking at objects with bright greens and reds—a wall hanging, for example—can have a similar effect, Sugarman says.
5. Rock out, then have a chat.
“Music, even of low intensity, seems to prevent performance decrements over time,” according to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM). Stay stimulated by playing soft background music, especially if it helps cover up the continuous hum of an air conditioner or other white noise, which can induce drowsiness. The organization also recommends socializing throughout the day via “actively involved” conversations; no eavesdropping on others’ conversations or relying on only electronic communications.
Letting your head droop puts strain on your neck, making you achy and tired.
6. Check your neck.
If you need another reason to sit up straight, consider this: For every inch your head tilts forward, the amount of weight your neck has to support doubles, a chore that could affect your daily level of fatigue. Whether sitting or standing, keep your shoulders back, your spine straight, and your head held high above your neck.
7. Fake a snooze.
A quick nap is a great way to restore energy, but it’s not always practical in the middle of the day. Instead, simulate the effects of a nap using this breathing strategy: Try taking quick, short inhales followed by slow, drawn-out exhales for at least 3 minutes and no more than 20. “When we breathe in, it puts our nervous system into a fight-or-flight mode, meaning we’re using energy,” Sugarman says. “But when we breathe out, it signals rest.”
Following that breathing pattern triggers benefits similar to those you’d get from a nap. If you work at a desk, try to find a quiet spot somewhere else to do the exercise; breaks taken away from your desk can be more beneficial, according to workplace experts.