You wake up to yet another day of work and log on to your computer. The first thing to pop up on-screen: your lengthy to-do list. Seeing this immediately zaps what little energy you might’ve had for the morning.

Now, you’re grasping for what might help. You don’t really have time to make breakfast. Coffee isn’t working. You don’t know how you’re going to make any real progress. Where is that darn charger?

Feeling drained may be related to sustained mental, physical, or emotional stress. During times of stress, high cortisol levels can interfere with the function of your whole body. But no worries — there are plenty of work-arounds!

Research indicates that restorative activities like meditation, exercise, and spending some time in a natural environment can improve physical and mental energy while reducing the risk of developing diseases that are associated with stress.

Here are some practical ways to give yourself a recharge and identify some of your main battery drains.

When your mental or physical battery is dead, you need to unplug from draining activities and plug into recharging activities.

Unplug from (negative –)Plug into (positive +)
8+ hours sitting at a deskExercise: Go for a quick walk during your lunch break or after work to keep your body loose. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity a day.
Staring at screensNature: Get grounded outside. Looking at green spaces could help you recover from stress.
Sensory overload from ambient noise, bright lights, and scratchy clothesAromatherapy: Research suggests that inhaling essential oils is beneficial for stress, anxiety, and sleep quality.
TensionProgressive muscle relaxation: A 2019 study of veterinary students found that this technique improved relaxation.
Shallow breathingDeep breathing: Take in more oxygen to signal to your nervous system that things are calming down.
Afternoon coffee(s)Nap: A coffee nap can actually improve your memory, mood, alertness, and motor performance.
Sitting for long periodsMeditative movement: For a double charge, try meditative activity like yoga or tai chi.
Cutting corners on bathing and groomingHydrotherapy (a fancy word for a bath or shower): Luxuriate in it, exfoliate, and emerge as if you’re being reborn.

Mental recharge

Unplug from (negative –)Plug into (positive +)
Tough conversations at home or at workMusic: Throw on the headphones and let your favorite playlist wash over you for an hour or two.
Analytical and repetitive tasksArt: Take a creativity break. Sketch, color, or grab a glue stick and make a collage.
IsolationFriends and family: A quick video chat could be the boost you need to get through your day.
Ruminating on worriesMeditation: Research suggests that regular meditation decreases anxiety and fatigue while improving attention and memory.
Focusing on problemsGratitude journaling: Take a minute to make note of what’s going well.
To-do listsFun: Play shouldn’t wait until all the work is done, because all the work is never done. Recharge with a fun activity so you can work better.
Imagining the worst case scenarioCreative visualization: Imagine your day going just right to train your mind to expect the best instead of the worst.
Pessimism and mistakesAccomplishments: Start a brag list. Make a big deal of even the small wins to remind yourself that you’re not defined by your mistakes.

Everyone gets depleted at times, but what drains and recharges each of us is highly personal. Start noticing which activities leave you exhausted so you can choose the best activity to counteract the drain.

If participating in Zoom meetings makes you feel ready to collapse, maybe solitude outdoors is your personal energizer. If sitting all day puts you in a slump, schedule regular breaks for stretching or working up a sweat.

No single recharge works for everyone, and your solutions may vary from day to day. Charge up with a marathon of your favorite TV show today and a nature walk tomorrow. Focus on what feels right for you.

Low budget battery charging

The idea of fitting a recharge into your day shouldn’t be overwhelming. Getting your energy back doesn’t have to cost anything or wreck your routine. For most of the suggestions listed above, 5 to 15 minutes will be enough to bring benefits.

Small escapes and deep breaths are free, and any old notebook can be transformed into a gratitude journal.

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The goal shouldn’t be to eliminate draining activities altogether but to build restorative ones into your routine so you don’t hit the “shutdown” stage. If you know the week is full of meetings, scatter your favorite recharge activities throughout the schedule.

Don’t let long stretches of depleting activities dominate your week and then try to recharge all weekend. You’ll certainly feel the imbalance.

Draining activities aren’t necessarily unhealthy or bad, but if you’re too overwhelmed to figure out how to unplug, it’s time to think about modifying the big things for more balance. That might mean having a vulnerable conversation with your boss, your partner, or a therapist to brainstorm new options and get you out of the low battery rut.

Beware burnout

Chronic stress can lead to burnout, which the Mayo Clinic calls “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”

Here are signs of burnout to watch for:

  • cynical, critical, irritable, or impatient feelings
  • lack of motivation to work
  • trouble concentrating
  • lack of energy to be productive
  • lack of satisfaction from accomplishments
  • using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better or numb yourself
  • sleeping too little or too much
  • unexplained headaches, stomachaches, and other physical symptoms
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Once you start paying attention to what drains you and what fuels you, you’ll notice right away if things are out of balance.

Your ability to rest can be a great gauge of how well you’re coping with daily strains. Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. If you’re getting enough sleep and still feel drained, it’s a good sign you need to move some plugs around in your day.

Sleeping too much or too little can also be a sign you need more restorative activities.

If recharging doesn’t seem to work, an underlying medical condition could be slowing you down. Conditions that cause fatigue include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • sleep apnea
  • chronic infection or inflammation
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • persistent pain
  • chronic fatigue syndrome

A doctor can diagnose and treat these and any other issues that could be contributing to fatigue. Seeking help for your low energy may be the most powerful step you can take toward feeling better.

When you can’t recharge your batteries alone, contact your doctor or therapist or dive into one of these resources:

It takes time to figure out exactly what’s draining you and to experiment with ways to recharge. Give yourself a pat on the back for taking the first step: noticing where your energy leaks are.

If consistent self-care habits don’t give you the boost you need, look a little deeper. Talking to a doctor or therapist about how you feel is not a sign of weakness — it’s a great step toward helping yourself live and work better.