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Energy Without Caffeine

People tend to consume more caffeine during stressful periods and rely on it to keep going during adrenal fatigue. Caffeine slightly elevates dopamine, the feel good brain chemical, but makes you feel more awake and energized primarily by blocking the activity of adenosine, the brain chemical that makes you drowsy.

The reduction in adenosine activity triggers your stress response, which stimulates your adrenals to pump out more adrenaline and cortisol. These stress hormones raise your heart rate and blood sugar (energy), and sharpen your mental focus, among other things.

All good when used occasionally to keep you alert at the wheel or during some other crucial task, but when you are already chronically stressed, regular caffeine use can become a not-so-good added stress on your system and a further drain on your adrenals if you are experiencing adrenal fatigue.

Using caffeine or stimulants for energy is like borrowing from the bank. If you don’t also make deposits, after a while you’ll be running on empty or at a loss.

What can you do to get energy without caffeine and further stressing your system?

There is only one form of fuel your body can convert to energy–adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Although a small amount is produced and stored in your muscles for quick response, by far most of the ATP your body and brain run on is derived from the food you eat.

Energy is generated through the conversion of glucose, fatty acids and amino acids to ATP in your mitochondria, which act as cellular energy power plants. Therefore, many of the ways to enhance energy promote this conversion process. Having good, steady energy reserves and feeling energized require a lifestyle that supports ATP production.

ATP Energy Support

These same nutrients are also necessary for adrenal hormone production, an important factor in your ability to draw on energy reserves.

Although a healthy diet should provide all of these nutrients, many factors interfere with getting an adequate supply, including stressful lifestyles; excessive consumption of caffeine, other stimulants, sugar and alcohol; smoking; dieting; rigorous exercise; digestive problems; illness; old age; some medical treatments and drugs; inadequate protein intake; etc.

Because even a marginal deficiency of any one of these nutrients will compromise the ability of your cells to produce energy or your adrenals to produce hormones in adequate amounts, taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement can help ensure they get what they need. It’s important that the supplement contains properly balanced ratios and amounts of the B vitamins and the minerals that correspond with how your body uses them. Sustained release enhances absorption of both the minerals and the water soluble vitamins.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise increases your energy and your body’s capacity to generate energy. When you exercise, ATP production rises and new mitochondria (cellular energy power plants) are formed in your muscle cells. More mitochondria mean more ATP and more ATP means more energy for you, plus greater endurance and resistance to fatigue. That’s why you can feel more energized after a workout than you did before you started.

Improve Your Oxygen Intake

While your cells can make some ATP without using oxygen, cellular respiration using oxygen is far more efficient and is essential to human life. Only 2 ATP molecules are produced per glucose molecule without oxygen, comparedto the 32 with oxygen. The oxygen from the air you inhale enters your blood stream and is carried to your cell mitochondria where it combines with glucose to make ATP.

Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of this process exhaled out of your body. Oxygen also plays an important role exercise recovery by restoring ATP levels and helping break down lactic acid into simple carbohydrates.

Mental Energy

Much of modern “stress” comes from feeling unable to change or escape the things in your life that bring you down or stress you out. Motivation, purposefulness and optimism are important elements of feeling energized and energetic. There are a number of ways to enhance self-empowerment and mental energy:

1) Get rid of or minimize energy robbers: People, activities, environments and habits that sap your energy are “energy robbers.” Unfortunately, they are often prevalent in the lives of stressed people and until you minimize their influence in your life, it’s difficult to fully energize yourself. For step-by-step suggestions about how to lessen their drain on your energy, read pages 99-107 of chapter 12 in Dr. Wilson’s book, Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. The most important part is realizing you have some control over your life and taking action.

2) Vacation: Plan and take regular vacations – even if it’s only a few days, preferably experiencing something or going somewhere different than your normal daily life. New experiences bring fresh perspectives and are stimulating.

3) Exercise: Exercise can help you release negative thoughts and emotions while making you feel stronger, more in control and energized.

4) Sunlight: Sunlight increases the release of the brain chemical, serotonin, which elevates mood. Get 10-15 minutes a day of direct, i.e. go outside, sunlight or use a full spectrum light if you live in a cloudy area.

5) Fresh air: Spending even just a few minutes deeply breathing in fresh air can be mentally refreshing and help clear away the negative cloud that tends to accumulate when you have your head down, nose to the grindstone.

6) Social support: People who have a strong social network of friends and/or family they actively nurture tend to be happier and more engaged in life. Make time for people you enjoy and care about.

7) Imagination: Your imagination is one of your most powerful tools for freeing your mental energy from the drain of habitual negativity and anxiety. It takes some practice because you are learning to replace an old established habit with a new one. There are many techniques for doing this so find one that works for you. Below is an example of a simple 2-minute exercise using your imagination that can help free up some mental energy from stress.

  1. Notice yourself feeling tight and dispirited/drained/overwhelmed.
  2. Close your eyes for a moment and feel what part of your body is the tightest/heaviest.
  3. Imagine the tightness/heaviness has an unpleasant color, sound or feeling (like a hard rock, heat, etc.). Some people are visual, some are auditory, and some are kinesthetic. Just go with what seems most real to you.
  4. Start breathing slowly and deeply, imagining that you are breathing into that part of your body.
  5. As you breathe in, imagine a pleasant is flowing with your breath into that part of your body.
  6. Exhale completely each time, imaging that you are breathing out the unpleasant color, sound or feeling.
  7. Continue until your 2 minutes is up or you notice some release in that area.
  8. Open your eyes, take a deep breath, stretch and continue on with your day feeling a little lighter and more energized.
  9. Repeat as needed – practice makes it easier and quicker to get results.

Quick Energy Boosts

Exercise in morning:
15-20 minutes of low-intensity exercise (like a leisurely walk) if you have a sedentary lifestyle or higher-intensity exercise if you are more active helps get your morning cortisol levels and energy up without the downsides of caffeine. The results of a large study showed that in every group studied from healthy adults to people with chronic conditions regular exercise increased energy and reduced fatigue better than stimulants. (Puetz, T. Psychological Bulletin, November 2006. News release, University of Georgia)

Exercise breaks during day:
Every hour during the work day take 1-2 minutes to get up and stretch your arms, hands, back, legs, feet and neck. Do a few jumping jacks, jog on the spot or do something else that gets your blood flowing, heart pumping and breath deeper.

If you are stressed and wired, snack on a piece of fresh fruit instead of junk food, baked goods or soda.

If you are stressed and experiencing adrenal fatigue, have a glass of water with a little salt (1/8 tsp/8oz. or to taste) instead of coffee or soda.

Mental vacation:
Take a mental vacation every few days by putting aside a few minutes to imagine yourself somewhere you’d like to go. Really put yourself there – feel what the air is like, listen to the sounds, smell the aromas, look around at all the colors, and notice what you’re wearing and doing.

Work with your daily energy flow:
People vary in their daily mental and physical energy patterns. Pay attention to what time(s) of day you are usually the most productive, the most physically energetic, the most tired, and the least able to concentrate. As much as you can, fit your work into that pattern. For example if you are usually most productive in the morning and have a harder time concentrating in the afternoon, try to get your most demanding, detailed work done in the morning and do the more routine work in the afternoon.

Energy Breathing Exercises:
There are many breathing exercises (called pranayama in yoga practice) that have profound effects on your body and mind. Below are two simple ones that bring oxygen to your brain, are physically energizing and help clear your mind. Do them sitting down with your back straight and feet flat on the floor.

Alternate nostril breath: With the thumb lightly closing your right nostril, inhale through your left nostril, counting to 4. Hold your breath for 4. Close your left nostril with your ring finger and release the thumb from your right nostril. Exhale through the right side. Inhale again through the right side. Hold your breath only if you feel comfortable doing so. Exhale through the left. Continue for 5 cycles.

Fire Breath:
In this one it’s important to emphasize the exhalations, otherwise it may make you feel dizzy. If you feel dizzy, stop and take a few slow breaths. To start, open your mouth and pant like a dog. Then, close your mouth and continue panting through the nose. Do it for about 30 seconds then pause and take some deep breaths. Repeat if desired.

Your sense of smell has a potent influence on your mood and energy – just think how the fresh smell of a pine forest makes you feel compared to the stale smell of yesterday’s cooking. Good quality essential oils can give you a quick energy and mood lift. Rub a couple of drops of pure peppermint oil and orange oil together in your palm and deeply inhale the aroma a few times. Try different aromatherapy mood/energy enhancers like French basil, ginger, clary sage, rosemary, any citrus scent, rosemary, cinnamon, etc. until you find the ones that work best for you.

You can easily do acupressure on yourself at work, at home, almost anywhere without special equipment. There are a number of points on your body that can boost your energy when stimulated. To stimulate an acupressure point press down firmly with your thumb or index finger and hold for 30 seconds to  3 minutes (don’t rub, just press steadily). Some suggested energizing points are: Just below the center of your nose, above your top lip, on the outside of your hand between thumb and index finger, on the top of your foot between your big toe and the next toe, and onn the outside of your shin a couple of inches below your knee

Listening and moving to an upbeat song can instantly lift your energy and mood. It doesn’t matter what genre of music it is as long as it energizes you.

Find something that makes you really laugh out loud at least once a day, whether it comes from a joke book, listening to a comedian or just treating the daily dilemmas with a sense of humor.

Digesting your food:
If you typically feel really sleepy or lethargic shortly after eating, the culprit may be in adequate stomach acid and/or digestive enzymes to efficiently break down and metabolize your food. Stress reduces the quality of digestive enzymes because it slows down digestion as it shifts energy and nutrient resources away from growth and maintenance to “fight or flight”. Several things may help:

Some adaptogenic herbs were studied in the Russian cosmonauts and the results indicated that they may enhance stamina and “physical” energy. Adaptogenic herbs can help sensitize and balance your stress response, giving you more energy without resorting to stimulants like caffeine. Although the energy boost with adaptogens isn’t as quick and bold as that of caffeine, it won’t have the energy crash down side and it won’t be an added stress on your system.