We’re in the age of self-talk. Wellness gurus tell us to create calm, CEOs use their podcasts to tell us how they manifested their own wealth and amateur runners end up talking to themselves while out on the road far more often that they like to admit. We’re used to hearing how to nurture our sacred chakra energy, but what about harnessing the energy to stay awake at that 4pm Zoom meeting your line a manager just slotted into your diary?
Can you really think your way to increased energy? Is it possible to break through afternoon fatigue simply by telling yourself that you’re not tired?
It sounds simple enough: if we can refuse to ‘give in’ to tears or hang on in there for the duration of a grisly 10k, then surely, it must be possible to beat the yawn. Sure, tiredness can be caused by all kinds of very real factors (poor sleep, stress, nutritional deficiencies), but can it also sometimes just be a feeling we have mental control over?
Gail Marra, clinical hypnotherapist and author of Health, Wealth & Hypnosis, says “absolutely”.
“Fatigue isn’t just about how the body feels – ie aching muscles and creaking joints. Your brain and central nervous system play a huge part in your perception of fatigue,” she tells Stylist.
“How else could you explain the sudden burst of energy when you hear a song you love, when a moment ago, you felt lethargic? Or a dip in energy when you’re enjoying a long walk and you spot a steep hill coming your way?”
Jenny Tregoning, Stylist’s chief sub, has first-hand experience of the mind’s ability to control energy levels. “I used to get really stressed out about my kickboxing gradings, worried that I wouldn’t have the stamina to see it through the fitness rounds at the end – even though I’d done them plenty of times in training.
“A friend mentioned that I just needed to change my mindset. Rather than tuning into my inner critic repeating ‘I can’t do this’ as I sprinted back and forth, she suggested flipping the narrative by saying, ‘I can do this, I’ve done this before.’ I was sceptical, but repeating those words to myself when I was at my most tired was instrumental in helping me power through the toughest fitness challenges of my life.”
While medical fatigue is often physical (as spoonies know only too well), I’ve long suspected that my own 4pm slump is psychological. I’m never tired at 4pm during the weekends or on holiday – when I’m more active – and yet, faced with the final 90 minutes of the working day, my brain goes into meltdown.
For some, however, that mental tiredness is far more chronic. The internet has been buzzing with the word ‘burnout’ for months now – suggesting that for many, the relentless nature of work, current affairs and economic downturn are wreaking havoc on their long-term energy levels.
Marra explains: “Mental exhaustion can be far worse than physical exhaustion. When you’re physically tired you can rest and recover. When you haven’t had enough sleep, you can try to catch up. But mental fatigue can pose more of a challenge. The main culprits of mental fatigue are depression, being overworked, chronic stress and anxiety – all of which will benefit from psychological therapies.
“Chronic stress and fatigue go hand in hand. Stress and anxiety play havoc with your hormones causing hormonal imbalance leaving you feeling drained even when you’ve been able to get some physical rest.”
How to think yourself out of feeling tired
If you’re not at that stage yet but want to feel more awake, Marra suggests trying something she calls the ‘physiological sigh’ or double breath:
- Inhale through your nose with a deep inhalation followed immediately by a short sharp top-up breath.
- Exhale through the mouth with a long and full exhale.
- Repeat two or three times
“Practised enough, your subconscious mind will remind you to boost your energy in this way.”
She also suggests taking some slow, deep breaths - in through your nose and out through your mouth. “As you breathe in, imagine you are breathing in fresh, vibrant energy; visualise it, don’t just think it. As you breathe out imagine breathing out old stale energy. You can give it a colour or a shape. Empty your lungs fully. Repeat five times.”
When should you seek help for feeling tired?
It’s worth saying that feeling tired all the time isn’t normal (unless you’ve got small kids or a specific reason for losing sleep), so if fatigue lasts more than a couple of weeks and starts to interfere with your daily life, talk to your GP. Can’t get an appointment? Marra suggests sourcing a professional therapist who can help you to work out why you’re so tired. If they think it’s a medical issue, they’ll recommend you go back to your GP – but there’s a good chance that they’ll be able to locate the mental or lifestyle factors that are draining your energy.