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How to Beat Exhaustion at Work

Amy Bergen profile image

Amy Bergen

A man lying down on a bench outside.

Who hasn’t felt tired at the office? Our bodies react to mental and physical stress in similar ways, so even if your job isn’t particularly physically demanding, you may still be experiencing that sleepy, exhausted feeling by the end of the day.

Whether you’re facing a post-lunch slump, a long to-do list, or the day after a sleepless night, sometimes you need an energy boost. Read on for tips on how to stay alert, energized, and engaged.

Move, regroup, and recharge

  • Grab water instead of coffee. Caffeine may be your usual go-to when the slump hits, and while coffee can be a good energy boost, it is generally short-lived. Other types of hydration, however, fuel your body over the long term, so keep a glass of water nearby, or better yet, get up and talk a walk to the water cooler.
  • Take a walk. Movement gets the blood flowing and perks up the brain. A brief walk, or any exercise you have the time and space to do, is a great refresher.
  • Move once every half hour or so. Sitting still for hours at a time can make you more, not less, fatigued. If your job is mostly sedentary, try taking regular breaks to look away from the screen and leave your desk.
  • Nap during your break. The twenty-minute power nap comes medically recommended by physicians who study sleep. Make sure to set an alarm near the twenty-minute mark; if you sleep too long, you’ll have trouble waking up.
  • Set a goal. Facing a million equally urgent tasks can make anyone feel tired. Plan what you want to accomplish, step by step, and you’ll find it easier to focus.
  • Tackle the easiest tasks on your list. A midday slump is a good time to answer emails, finish some overdue reorganizing, or complete any other task that doesn’t require a ton of mental energy. You’ll get into a rhythm before you know it.
  • Eat a healthy snack. Food is one of the most basic sources of energy. Fuel yourself with some protein or slow-burning carbohydrates.
  • Breathe deeply. In addition to being a proven stress-buster, deep breathing improves circulation and lowers blood pressure. It’s one of many simple calming techniques you can use in the office.

Come to work prepared

There’s plenty you can do at home to ensure a productive workday from start to finish.

  • Get the right amount of sleep. The medical recommendation for most adults is seven to eight hours a night. Too little sleep and your body runs on a deficit all day. Too much, and your feelings of grogginess can spike.
  • See some daylight. One way to get yourself on a more regular sleep schedule is to spend time outside. Sunlight influences our sleep and waking cycles. A half hour (or as much time as you can spare) outdoors before work can help your body stay in a more alert state.
  • Stimulate your senses. If you’re able to control the lighting in your work area, keep it well lit, open the windows, or use a sun lamp. This simple step can help you stay motivated all winter, especially in cold or rainy climates. A welcoming smell (like a preferred essential oil) or your favorite music can also help to amp up your energy level.

Is it exhaustion or something more?

If sleepiness regularly affects your work, consider any underlying causes:

  • Is it stress? The social-impact sphere can be a challenging place to work, and compassion fatigue is a reality for many workers in the helping professions. Stress can keep you up at night and make you want to retreat into sleep during the day. Try reframing any negative thoughts or reevaluating your workload if you’re experiencing constant stress.
  • Is it fatigue? With fatigue you’ll often notice significant changes in your energy and ability to concentrate or complete everyday activities. When exhaustion combines with other symptoms, like body aches or a change in mood, it’s time to see a doctor.
  • Is it insomnia? About half the adults in the United States experience insomnia. Consistent trouble falling and staying asleep over several nights could indicate you’re one of them. A sleep disorder, like ongoing fatigue, may require a medical intervention.
  • Is it depression? If you’re feeling irritable, hopeless, or apathetic as well as tired, depression could be the culprit.

Idealist Career Advice has tips for anyone facing depression or work-related trauma.

Amy Bergen profile image

Amy Bergen

Amy Bergen is a writer based in Portland, Maine. She has experience in the social impact space in Baltimore, Maryland, the educational museum sphere in Columbus, Ohio, and the literary world of New York City.

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