Take one look at America’s flagging energy levels and, to use a term Tina Fey coins in her best-selling memoir Bossypants (Reagan Arthur Books), we’re one “blorft” nation—a condition the 30 Rock star defines as “completely overwhelmed … and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.” Fey goes on to say that she’s been blorft for the past seven years. She’s hardly alone: According to the American Psychological Association (APA), nearly 44 percent of us report being stressed to the point of exhaustion. But before you let that sad stat take an additional toll, consider the alternative: Waking up with a passion for life. “Having energy means you feel a great deal of joy,” says Los Angeles psychiatrist Judith Orloff, M.D., author of Positive Energy (Three Rivers Press). “It’s not just about achieving things, but loving life.” With our 21-day program, that energy can be yours. In just three weeks, you’ll master the fundamentals of getting fired up: reducing stress, eating right and optimizing exercise. So don’t just sit there. It’s time to banish the blorft!
WEEK 1: SQUELCH STRESS
According to the APA, our major stresses revolve around money, work and family. “It’s not our grandmother’s stress,” says Roberta Lee, M.D., vice chairwoman of the department of integrative medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, and author of The Superstress Solution (Random House). Because we’re perpetually under pressure, our fight-or-flight response gets stuck in “on” mode. “You’re in a constant high-emergency state where your body thinks you’re being attacked by a tiger in a jungle,” says Orloff. Talk about exhausting! The good news is, you can reverse the cycle—not by eliminating stress, per se, but by becoming more relaxed and resilient in the face of it. That’s your focus for the next seven days.
DAY 1: Attack your angst. Research shows that people who process negative experiences on paper are happier and healthier when compared with those who simply ruminate—so get out a journal and write down the details of anything that’s bothering you. Then, brainstorm ways to improve issues within your control. If money’s a problem, can you refinance debts or slash expenses? If work’s overwhelming you, can you delegate some duties? In the case of family troubles, would you consider therapy? Next, write down the things you’re most grateful for. A University of California, Davis, study reveals that taking stock of the positives lifts energy levels, and can even relieve pain and fatigue in the chronically ill.
DAY 2: Soothe your symptoms. Many of Lee’s patients come in with stress-related ailments—migraines, low libido, brain fog—with no clue what’s causing them. So notice how your body responds to angst (when you take on an onerous task and get a headache, for example). For particularly painful or persistent problems, talk to your doctor or try a program like mindfulness-based stress reduction (learn more at umassmed.edu/cfm).
DAY 3: Check your bed. Sleep deprivation can cause countless health problems, including depleted energy levels. Most people need seven to nine hours of shuteye a night but aren’t getting that, says the National Sleep Foundation. Common issues include an uncomfortable environment and multiple interruptions (from partners and pets to allergies and angst). For a more restorative night’s rest, try proven strategies like going to bed and waking up at the same times (even on weekends); making the bedroom as dark as possible (try using a sleep mask); setting the thermostat to about 69 degrees; getting a good pillow and sheets; limiting caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon; and avoiding stressful evening activities (no horror films or midnight checkbook balancing!).
DAY 4: Log off. Information overload, as well as the pressure to instantly respond to calls, emails and texts, inspires a kind of exhaustion Orloff calls “techno-despair.” She suggests taking hourly breaks and regularly monitoring your electronically influenced moods (are those Facebook updates giving you a boost or making you blorft?). Then, set limits on your screen time and even (gasp!) shut it down completely whenever possible. A simple “I’m not available” email auto-reply might just equal instant energy.
DAY 5: Suck and blow. Just a few minutes of deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve— the largest nerve involved with the relaxation response, says Lee. To do it: Breathe in through the nose to a count of four, hold for one second, then exhale through the mouth to a count of five. Repeat four times morning and night for calm and steady energy
DAY 6: Set limits. When was the last time you said “no” to something? “Part of protecting your energy is learning to set boundaries,” says Orloff. This is especially relevant with people Orloff calls “energy vampires” like complainers and drama queens. From now on, when you encounter such soul-suckers, instead of wasting energy nodding in agreement (or literally agreeing to something you’d rather not do), simply say, “I can’t talk right now, I’m eating lunch/ exhausted/busy.” You’ll feel lighter the moment you do.
DAY 7: Be a giver. Of course there are plenty of people who deserve your help, and studies show that being charitable packs potent mentalhealth benefits. “People think they’re too busy to help others, but doing so is one of the most rewarding destressors,” says Lee. Try matching your skills and interests with others’ needs through sites like idealist.org, volunteermatch.org or Volunteers of America (voa.org). Turning your concern and compassion into action could light an inner fire you didn’t know you had.