5 ways to boost your energy levels
Published November 2022 | 6 min read
Words by Lucy E Cousins
At times, the mental load can feel overwhelming for women. We explore five common causes of tiredness and ask a GP for simple strategies to help.
With the end of the year approaching, you can almost hear the women of Australia mentally making yet another to-do list. One that includes the busiest time of the year at work, school-holiday care, end-of-year school concerts and work parties, organising much-needed holidays… not to mention buying and wrapping Christmas presents and sorting out Christmas lunch. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.
According to a recent survey, women do 21 more hours of unpaid work at home a week than men (based on heterosexual couples). That’s more than 1,000 hours a year. A 2019 study found women in heterosexual couples were more likely to be the ones anticipating and planning for the needs of their family, finding solutions and making the decisions.
“There's a lot of pressure on women to look after our children and we see our value in how happy our family is, so we often feel stressed out about that,” explains Dr Ginni Mansberg, GP and author of Why Am I So Tired?
As a result, she adds, women can feel overwhelmed and tired all the time – even after getting 'enough' sleep. “Often what's happening is there's a combination of stress and not looking after yourself, not investing in your muscles, your brain, your sleep,” she explains. “Perhaps you're not eating well, and you’re drinking a little too much.”
If that sounds like you, then you may also be struggling to know if you need help. However, Dr Mansberg recommends not waiting for a definitive sign.
“There is no self-check that tells you, ‘Oh, I'm probably fine’,” she says. “My advice is to go to your doctor and be really open about what's going on.”
That includes, she adds, being honest with yourself about your lifestyle, including writing a food diary; this information helps your doctor understand the whole picture of your health.
However, Dr Mansberg is quick to point out that most women won’t “get the answer overnight”, as the reasons behind fatigue can be complex. Instead, she says, focus on the next steps in your recovery and the day-to-day habits you form.
How to boost your energy when you’re not sleeping well
Nobody feels energetic and happy when they don’t sleep well and insomnia can be attributed to many reasons. Dr Mansberg suggests first finding out if there’s a medical reason, like sleep apnoea, behind it. Sleep apnoea is a potentially serious condition where you stop and start breathing during sleep, and it’s associated with weight gain and obesity. Exploring ways to reduce your stress levels can also help to improve your sleep quality.
What you can do: Studies show that turning off all screens 30 minutes before bedtime and doing regular exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer. You may also want to add in a warm Epsom-salt bath at night, as magnesium has been found to help improve sleep and reduce stress.
For extra help, the Sleepfit app can help identify sleep issues, recommend improvements and offer access to personalised tools. Eligible members with hospital or extras cover* can get a 20% discount on a 12-month Sleepfit subscription.
How to boost your energy when your mental load is out of control
According to Dr Mansberg, the mental load – a term for taking on the cognitive and emotional labour of household responsibilities – is quite a subjective topic. “Your mental load is very individual, and the reality is, some people can have a huge mental load and cope fine. Some people have a fine mental load by normal standards, but they're not coping with it,” she explains.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, a good place to start, she says, is to take a Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale test (DASS-21) ahead of seeing your GP. It consists of a simple checklist you can print out. Although this isn’t a categorical measure of clinical diagnoses, it’s helpful for a doctor to use as part of their assessment.
What you can do: Day-to-day changes to consider include delegating chores (or outsourcing help, if that’s an option), prioritising your self-care, and setting boundaries around work and children. Organisation apps, like OurHome, are great ways of syncing family calendars, delegating chores (and rewarding children for doing them) and also planning shopping lists as a family.
Whether you’re looking for support for yourself or your loved ones, our unique range of mental health and wellbeing programs can help you understand and improve mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety and depression. To support our members with faster, easier access to qualified mental health professionals, we’re offering a free telehealth HealthyMinds Check-in with a PSYCH2U psychologist for eligible members^.
How to boost your energy when your self-care has dropped off
If you’re so busy taking care of everyone else that you can’t remember the last time you put any energy into your own wellbeing, Dr Mansberg advises going back to basics.
“Start with your quality of sleep (your doctor can help you with that), because if you don't have enough sleep, you're going to crave junk food. You're going to compensate with alcohol. You're going to be too tired to do exercise, and then you'll be beating yourself up even more,” she says.
What you can do: Add in some simple daily self-care habits like journalling, which has been proven to improve wellbeing in people with anxiety. Also schedule in some catch-ups with your most like-minded, positive friends; this kind of connection is associated with an increase of mood-boosting endorphins.
For tense shoulders and a way to soothe stress, book yourself a massage. If you’re eligible you can claim remedial massage through your extras cover and your mind and body can benefit from a range of health benefits including a reduction in stress, better sleep, increased feelings of relaxation and a boost of energy. To find out if your extras cover includes remedial massage, check your cover.
How to boost your energy when your body is depleted
Overexerting yourself, a lack of sleep and even postpartum effects (which can last years) can contribute to a feeling that your body is in some way depleted of vitamins. However, before you begin taking supplements like iron and vitamin D, Dr Mansberg says to consult your doctor.
“With my clients, initially I take a thorough history and do an examination,” she says. “You can't just launch into blood tests without knowing the person in front of you or what is really concerning them.”
What you can do: Focus on eating a healthy, well-rounded diet that prioritises your five daily servings of vegetables and fruits. Exploring ways to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep and exercise will also help.
We’re also here to help. GP2U is an online video GP service which can make it easier for you to speak to a doctor without having to visit a clinic. This can be helpful if you’re struggling with your mental load. All HCF members with health cover can access a standard GP consultation (up to 10 minutes) for a fee of $50. See hcf.com.au/gp2u for more information.
If you struggle to eat a healthy diet, and have diabetes or a heart condition, eligible members# can get help through The COACH Program, where our dietitians, nurses and pharmacists provide up to six phone-coaching sessions that help you increase your physical activity, develop healthy eating habits and improve your overall health and wellbeing.
How to boost your energy when you’re in perimenopause
The balance of hormones in our system varies as we age, especially during perimenopause (the time when your body transitions to menopause) and around the time of menopause. And while you can do blood tests to detect hormonal levels, Dr Mansberg doesn’t recommend them.
“There’s no blood test for perimenopause and we don't need one for menopause,” she says. “Blood tests are specifically unhelpful with this, and we strongly do not recommend them, because they're very unreliable.”
What you can do: Find strategies that soothe your mental health. According to Dr Mansberg, during perimenopause and menopause women are at “high risk” of anxiety and depression. As well as speaking to your doctor for clinical solutions (like hormone replacement therapy and lifestyle changes), studies have shown yoga, particularly yoga nidra (a deeply relaxing type of yoga), can be helpful in women with hormonal imbalances. Meditation is also useful; a study found it can improve issues related to mood and sleep, along with body aches and hot flushes.
Don’t feel you need to struggle along by yourself or push yourself to exhaustion to tick everything off the list as the year closes. Put your hand up and ask for help and support from friends and family. It’s also helpful to book an appointment with your GP to get on top of tiredness or exhaustion if it is ongoing or becoming unmanageable.
For mental health support, call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or access free online counselling 24/7.
If you're struggling with depression or anxiety, and need to speak to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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* Excludes Overseas Visitors Health Cover. The cost is $23.90 for 12 months for HCF members (RRP is $29.90).
^ 1 HealthyMinds Check-in available per member per calendar year. Service is available free to all members with hospital cover. Excludes extras only cover, Ambulance Only, Accident Only Basic and Overseas Visitors Health Cover.
# To be eligible, members must have a heart-related condition or diabetes and must have had hospital cover that includes heart conditions and vascular system for at least 12 months. Excludes Ambulance Only, Accident Only Basic cover and Overseas Visitors Health Cover. Clinical eligibility applies.
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