How to manage common energy pitfalls every decade of your life
All sorts of life experiences can sap your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy levels. As we get ready to reset our clocks for the end of daylight saving time, we spoke to energy management pros about the most common life-stage stamina suckers and how to overcome them.
Everyone feels tired sometimes, whether you’ve just wrapped up a big project at work or you’re trying to power through the day after a night of bad sleep. But if you feel exhausted day in and day out, there’s something else going on—and it isn’t always solved by just getting more shut-eye.
“People often think about energy as being purely physical, but it also has emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions,” says Jennifer Lea, a performance coach at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute (HPI).
So what does that mean exactly?
According to Lea, your physical energy reflects how tired your body feels. Emotional energy relates to how negative or positive you are feeling, while mental energy is a measure of how well you’re able to focus, be creative and make decisions. And spiritual energy speaks to whether you feel a sense of purpose in your life.
“The four different energies are interconnected, so if you are low in any of the dimensions, it can bring down the others, which can make you feel exhausted,” Lea adds. That’s why you might feel totally drained after a stressful day at work, even though all you did was sit in a chair. “But the flip side is also true,” she says. “By improving one area, the others get improved, too.”
Ready to learn how to get more energy, through both small microbursts of effort and longer-term changes in thinking? Whether you’re in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s and beyond, we’re spotlighting the most common energy-sapping culprits—and how you can work to overcome them so you feel your best, every day, in any decade.
In Your 20s …
Common Energy Pitfall: Burning the Candle at Both Ends
“A lot of people in their 20s work pretty long hours—you want to show your bosses that you’re a superstar employee. You’re also probably super-social, meaning you stay out late a lot with friends,” says Chris Jordan, Director of Exercise Physiology at HPI. “What makes this worse is that, at this age, you’re also probably really good at ignoring fatigue.”
In other words, you pull an all-nighter, wake up groggy, grab a coffee, push through your day and do it all again—even though you might be struggling.
What to Do About It: Stop Putting Sleep Last
In this case, it really is an issue of sleep getting put on the back burner, so it’s important to change your mindset from thinking it’s something you can simply ignore.
“You need to realize that to be innovative and creative at work—which will position you for a promotion—you have to be getting enough rest, not staying up until super-late hours,” Lea points out.
So how do you actually get better sleep?
Create a simple bedtime routine where you put down your phone at the same time each night and do something low-tech, like reading a book. It also helps to make sure your bedroom is dark, cool and quiet—an ideal environment for shut-eye.
In Your 30s …
Common Energy Pitfall: Balancing a Career … and Marriage … and Kids ...
“At this point, you’re in second or third gear with your career, and then kids tend to come along and turn your world upside down,” Jordan says. “Children bring chaos, which can be demanding on all four aspects of energy. You’re knocked off balance by the unpredictability and challenges, you experience a loss of control—and you feel absolutely fatigued.”
This is also when people start putting a lot of pressure on themselves to be perfect in all facets of their lives. “You worry that you aren’t being the best parent, that you’re not good at balancing career and family, and that you’re not keeping up with your friends,” Lea explains. As a result, you may overthink and torture yourself over every single decision and thus feel drained.
What to Do About It: Go Easier on Yourself
“You should consider creating habits to make your life easier and more energizing,” Jordan says. “Habits are incredibly helpful because they’re unconscious, automatic and effortless.”
Spend some time identifying the values, goals and people who matter most to you. As long as you make decisions based on those things, you won’t worry so much if you’re messing up on the other stuff.
Maybe you commit to a daily healthy breakfast habit, such as eating oatmeal with fruit to give your body some energy first thing. Or you swing by the gym for 30 minutes in the evening before you pick up your kids from day care. The more routine and scheduled these little behaviors are, the better you’ll feel.
To help curb the mental fatigue that comes with obsessing over every little decision, you need to give yourself clarity of purpose. “Spend some time identifying the values, goals and people who matter most to you,” Lea suggests. “As long as you make decisions based on those things, you won’t worry so much if you’re messing up on the other stuff.”
Lastly, you can shore up more emotional energy by taking a moment to appreciate the craziness. You heard right.
“My wife and I have five children, and one thing we did right was to really try to value each moment,” says Dennis Charney, M.D., Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges. “Even when you’re busy and have a lot going on, try to look around you and appreciate it all.”
In Your 40s and 50s …
Common Energy Pitfall: Putting Your Health Last
“This is an interesting phase of life,” Jordan says. “You’ve climbed the corporate ladder and you have success, but you also have great responsibility. You’re worried about financial things, like paying for your kids to go to college and making sure your family is taken care of—all of that places a lot of stress on the energy system.”
As a result, a lot of people forget about taking care of themselves.
“Personal health drops to the bottom of the list after finances, family, work, elderly parents—all of that,” Jordan adds. “That’s why a lot of people in their 40s and 50s start to see health issues, like high cholesterol or diabetes, and have zero energy.”
Health problems can also make you feel more negative and frustrated, leading you to feel emotionally tired. Add to that the hormonal changes that are likely going on—menopause for women and lower testosterone levels for men—and it’s no wonder you’re so tired.
What to Do About It: Prioritize That Other VIP in Your Life—You
“It’s the oxygen mask analogy on an airplane,” Jordan says. “Put it on yourself first, so you’re able to take care of those around you.”
This can be as simple as getting up from your desk every hour and walking around for a few minutes. “Our research shows that this doesn’t just give you more energy throughout the day, but also when you get home,” Jordan says.
You may also need to minimize stress, which can cause significant hormone changes. Figure out what makes you feel calm, relaxed, positive and optimistic—maybe it’s meditation, time with family, alone time or a vacation—and make that a life priority.
Even better, aim to get in moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise and resistance training at least three times a week, don’t go more than four hours without eating and sip water throughout the day. “All of these actions can help boost your energy, as well as your happiness levels—you feel good knowing you’re doing something for your health,” Lea explains.
You may also need to minimize stress, which can cause significant hormone changes on top of what you may already be experiencing. Lea’s suggestion: Figure out what makes you feel calm, relaxed, positive and optimistic—maybe it’s meditation, time with family, alone time or a vacation—and make that a life priority.
If you’re feeling upset about a chronic health condition, do what you can to have a positive attitude. “Optimism is important when fighting a disease,” Dr. Charney says. “Find a support group and role models who have dealt with a similar condition, and don’t be afraid to lean on friends and family when you’re feeling down.”
In Your 60s and Beyond …
Common Energy Pitfall: Feeling Like You’ve Lost Your Purpose
You’ve waited decades to enjoy this special time in your life: retirement! But with all that newfound freedom can come a caveat: All of a sudden, you don’t have work—the main thing that’s been driving you for years—and, in a weird way, that can sap you of energy.
“The emotional and mental dimensions of energy were taxed while you were working, but if you haven’t figured out your new purpose, that can affect your spiritual energy,” Jordan explains. “You don’t have a real reason to get out of bed in the morning, so you just feel lethargic.”
What to Do About It: Be Prepared With a Retirement Plan
“Don’t wait until the moment you stop working to start thinking about how you’ll spend your retirement,” Dr. Charney says. “Plan ahead for a second life that allows you to feel satisfaction with what you do. Maybe it’s volunteer work, physical activities, travel or doing things you never had the time to do before.”
Lea agrees. “This is when you start to search for meaning and identity that isn’t tied to your job,” she says. “Who are you when you aren’t what you do? What legacy do you want to leave behind? What’s the next opportunity you want to chase after? If you keep a growth-focused mindset and look at this time as an opportunity, you’ll naturally feel more energized when you wake up in the morning.”