Lori Bernstein dreams about spending her after-work hours hiking with her dog, or taking a cooking or ballroom dancing class with her partner, Jeff. In reality, Bernstein is so physically and mentally exhausted by 6 p.m. each day that she isn’t able to enjoy any of these activities. “I am never very active in the evenings,” the 43-year-old says. “That’s a problem, because the evenings are when Jeff and I are together. He often wants to go out at night, but I never have enough energy.”
For Bernstein, the average workday begins at 5 a.m., when she pulls herself out of bed and gets ready for her job as a courier. After six hours of sorting, hauling, and delivering packages, Bernstein hits the gym, where she does one hour of aerobic exercise and lifts weights. “When I’m in the car on the way to the gym, I never feel like working out,” says Bernstein, who goes there at least four times a week. “But I always feel so much better when I do.”
Bernstein’s courier job, which she’s had for 20 years, is taxing—both physically and mentally. Along with walking a lot, lifting heavy boxes, and sorting through mounds of packages each day, Bernstein must work—and drive—under constant deadline pressure. “The job is stressful, particularly when I have to drive in the snow,” she says.
Making matters worse, Bernstein suffers from allergies triggered by dust, mold, ragweed, grass, and trees. Her allergy symptoms include clogged sinuses, impaired breathing, and itchy and watery eyes. The allergies also seem to drain her energy levels.
Bernstein has tried to combat her fatigue (and the effects of her allergies) by drinking plenty of water—downing at least two glasses first thing each morning. She also eats a balanced diet of mostly natural and organic foods, including fruits, vegetables, hummus, yogurt, brown rice, poultry, and soy. Although she doesn’t drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages and limits her sugar intake, Bernstein does indulge in a little dark chocolate almost every day. Rather than eating three big meals, Bernstein nibbles on smaller snacks throughout the day. “My work is very physical, and I feel hungry all of the time,” she says.
Bernstein’s daily vitamin and supplement regime includes calcium and vitamin B. She also takes nettles and quercetin, both natural allergy remedies, and antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E with selenium, Co-Q10, and a green-source multivitamin.
Although Bernstein tries to get at least eight hours of sleep each night, she often wakes up feeling tired in the morning. “I always seem to want more sleep.”
Bernstein’s body may require more than eight hours of sleep to function properly, says life coach Gloria Silverio. “She could experiment with taking a 30- to 40-minute nap during the afternoon, or going to bed a little earlier,” Silverio says.
Bernstein may also want to consider changing jobs within her company or looking for a new career “that doesn’t require as much physical exertion or isn’t as stressful,” Silverio says. “It is important that she be involved in a career that is not constantly draining her energy.”
Silverio suggests Bernstein add balance to her life by scheduling time for activities she enjoys, such as walking her dog, or going to a movie with Jeff. “Lori says she never does things that are fun,” Silverio says. “By making time to do things she enjoys, she will have more energy to handle her many obligations.”
Reducing the number of “tolerations” in her daily life would also be helpful, Silverio adds. “A toleration can be a messy desk, a dirty car, or even a button missing from a favorite jacket,” Silverio says. “The list of things that we tolerate is usually quite long, and not handling them can zap our energy. By working to get rid of her own tolerations, Lori will have more energy to do the things she wants to do.”
According to naturopathic physician Debra Rouse, the good news for Bernstein is that she is already doing many things right. Bernstein supplements her healthy diet with important vitamins and other nutrients, drinks plenty of water, and eats several small meals rather than three big ones each day. “Many of the foods Lori eats are healthy; she will just want to make sure she isn’t eating things that convert to sugar too quickly, leaving her hungry in no time and drained of energy,” Rouse says. Good choices would be foods high in protein and complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. These foods burn more slowly, balance blood sugar levels, and sustain energy for an extended period of time.
In addition to Bernstein’s current supplements, Rouse suggests she take 600 mg of magnesium a day. “Magnesium will help with the allergies as well as support her adrenals, along with the B vitamins she is taking,” Rouse says. “I would also add flaxseed oil or a fish-oil supplement. More stress requires more good, essential oils in the body, and more protein. Both oils and protein are important components that make up every cell in our body. When our bodies are stressed, we place more demand on the function of our cells.”
To rule out the possibilities of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism—both of which can exhibit symptoms of fatigue when left unchecked—Rouse says Bernstein should also ask her doctor to check her thyroid levels.
Herbalist Kim Erickson suggests Bernstein find ways to be kind to her body and incorporate relaxation into her life. One way to do this would be to indulge in regular massages, Erickson says. “Because massage can be costly, perhaps Lori and Jeff could take turns giving each other aromatherapeutic massages at night, using essential oils, mixed with almond or grape-seed oil. Geranium, citrus, rosemary, and marjoram essential oils can all help the body recover from fatigue. Lavender oil is good for easing stress.”
Erickson also suggests Bernstein take an “energy bath” in the late afternoon to revitalize her mind and body for the evening ahead. To make the bath mixture, add 1 tablespoon of almond oil to 5 drops of lavender oil, 4 drops of peppermint oil, and 3 drops each of grapefruit and lemon grass oils, and then add to cool bath water, Erickson says. “After 15 minutes, Lori should get out of the tub and briskly dry off with a towel to stimulate her circulation and energy levels."
For Bernstein’s allergies, Erickson recommends taking 25 mg of butterbur (Petasites hybridus) twice a day, in addition to the nettles and quercetin she currently takes. “A recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that butterbur is as effective as [the prescription allergy medication] Zyrtec at easing allergy symptoms,” Erickson says. (It’s important to note that the butterbur preparation used in the study was a trademarked product called Petadolex, which has had certain toxic compounds removed. Using any form of butterbur that has not been certified free of these compounds is not recommended.) “Allergies can really wear you out, and it’s good that Lori is using natural remedies instead of prescription drugs, which can cause drowsiness.”
Because Bernstein is physically active at work and then exercises at the gym for at least an hour most days, she may actually be asking too much of her body, says yoga instructor Rainbeau Mars. “If Lori is too tired to work out, she shouldn’t force herself,” Mars says. “There are other ways to enjoy exercises that may be more balancing.”
One such way would be for Bernstein to begin doing some yoga stretches at home, says Mars, who suggests vinyasa flow, ashtanga, or power yoga. “These types of yoga increase blood flow and oxygen throughout the body,” Mars says.
Yoga poses that could help boost Bernstein’s energy include sun salutations, plank, cobra, downward dog, and lunges, Mars says. “With proper instruction, inversions and backbends are great for energy, as well.”
Freelance writer Carlotta Mast is a regular contributor to Delicious Living.