Feeling That Afternoon Slump? Here's How To Perk Up

afternoonslump_slide1Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Lunch is over, and you’re heading into that last stretch of the workday. But, you’re having trouble focusing on your long, seemingly insurmountable to-do list for the afternoon.
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We’ve all been there. You might even be there right now.
When the slump strikes, you may be tempted to grab a cup of iced coffee. But, that may not be the best solution. While coffee delivers an extra caffeine boost, a recent study found that taking caffeine three to six hours before bed will disturb your sleep cycles — making you even more tired tomorrow.
Fortunately, there are other options. Here are six non-caffeinated ways to boost your energy and productivity for the rest of the day.
Change Up Locations
When I find myself staring blankly at the wall in front of me, I know that it’s time to leave the office. Oftentimes, I’ll work from my home office in the morning, eat a healthy lunch, and then take a walk to break up the post-lunch/late afternoon slump. If I’m feeling so inclined, I’ll change locations and work at a cafe for a couple of hours.
“Changing locations is an amazing technique that helps people who sit still for way too long,” says Dr. Irene Gabriel-Thomas of Silver Lake Chiropractic in Los Angeles. “It gets the blood flowing and wakes you up.”
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More than changing your work location entirely — or even just running a few errands, taking a quick jog or walking the dog — the most important thing you can do for your body is to not sit in one position for an extended period of time.
Studies have shown that you run the risk of significantly increasing your chances for a heart attack, type 2 diabetes, insomnia, arthritis and even specific types of cancer by excessive sitting, says Dr. Gabriel-Thomas. These risks are even apparent in people who are athletically fit and exercise at least two to three times per week, she adds.
If you’re still not entirely excited about getting up constantly when you’re on deadline or in the middle of sorting through an important idea, here’s one more reason to get moving.
“It’s also important for mental stimulation,” Dr. Gabriel-Thomas says. “Excessive sitting will put you in a mental rut.”
Eat A Healthy Snack
The afternoon slump could end with an energetic depletion followed by caffeine and something full of sugar. This quick, artificial energy fix always ends with a crash. Sharon Palmer, a registered dietician, nutritionist and author of Plant-Powered for Life offers a few recommendations for food-related energy boosts that don’t cross into caffeine or sugar territory.
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“The best energy boost is to consume a balanced snack with good amounts of unrefined carbs and protein,” Palmer says. If you consume unrefined carbs — high-fiber plant foods, such as whole grains, whole fruit, vegetables — you gain a sustained increase in blood glucose, which supplies energy to your body’s cells, she says. Here are some that fit the bill:
-Edamame (offers protein + unrefined carbs in one snack)
-Hummus with fresh vegetables
-Tahini with whole grain flatbread
-Apple wedges with sunflower seed butter
-Smoothie: milk (plant-based or dairy), fruit, leafy greens, and flax seeds
-Nuts and dried berries
If you’re not super hungry but do want a quick liquid fix that provides a boost of energy, certified nutritional consultant, Lori Kenyon-Farley, who is also the co-author of The Juice Cleanse Reset Diet and a co-founder of USDA-certified organic juices Ritual Wellness, explains that water and a squirt of lemon can do the trick. “Lemon juice helps flush the digestive tract and encourages the production of bile, helping soothe and speed the digestive process,” she says.
afternoonslump_slide2Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Take A Power Nap
A short, 20-minute power nap in the afternoon when you feel like you’re about to crash is actually one of the best ways to recharge.
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“Twenty minutes is the ideal time because the body recharges in cycles and the 20 minutes of rest for your mind and body will help reset your system, while also allowing you to get a burst in energy, which will enhance your alertness and performance,” says Dr. Gabriel-Thomas.
“Naps reboot your brain, [and] recharge your body,” says Joanne Lichten, author of the forthcoming book ReBOOT: How to Power Up Your Energy, Focus, and Productivity, “There are benefits even if you just relax and don't actually fall asleep.”
Pull Your Ears
“Pinch hard from the top all the way to the bottom on both ears a few times, and you'll instantly feel your blood circulating as if you just did a couple of jumping jacks,” says Brenda Do of Live Gracefully , a Nevada-based holistic health company and community. “The oxygen rush from the increased blood flow will boost your energy levels.”
Ms. Do explains that this exercise increases blood circulation, which delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the cells. Based on acupuncture, this method carries out the chi or qi (body’s energy) through meridians, the pathways through which this chi or qi flows.
“Since it’s believed most of the body’s over 30,000 acupuncture points are found in the ears, rubbing the ears vigorously hits those acupuncture points which then helps break up the chi blockages and restores its natural, balanced flow,” she says. “Sort of like getting rid of a traffic jam on a major highway so that traffic zips along smoothly again.”
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afternoonslump_slide3Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Energizing Yoga Stretches
Take 10 to 15 minutes for a few focused yoga stretches like a tree stand, seated forward bend or child’s pose. If you’re stressed about taking time to do this, just remind yourself that this is the same amount of time you’d spend running down the street to buy a coffee.
Choose a practice area where you won't be disturbed to get the most out of your practice and focus on your breathing, says certified yoga instructor Lesley Fightmater, who offers a specialized video on Yoga for Office Workers that addresses problem areas for those of us who sit at desks for long periods of time.
Take A Break, Meditate
"Mediation is one way to induce the relaxation response — a state of deep calm that engages our parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts the fight or flight response,” says Dr. Molly Maloof, a senior staff physician at GeneSolve, a company focused on helping people realign their body chemistry. “Taking a break every day to meditate allows our body to help heal from the deleterious effects of stress, increase blood flow to the brain and improve our ability to focus."
Lauren Fritsch, CEO and founder of The Coaching Collective, suggests using meditation as part of a daily routine, to “book end” your days, to get through a creative block or even just to destress for a moment — a practice that’s becoming increasingly common in corporate culture. In a recent talk at SXSWV2V in Las Vegas called “Meditate to Innovate! How to Use Mindfulness to Make a Difference in Your Business,” she explained that companies from Nike and Google to Apple and HBO now promote meditation/mindfulness.
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“I use meditation in many of my client meetings both on-site and remote and teach individuals and teams how to incorporate meditation into their business days,” says Fritsch. “Why? Because they're able to activate different parts of the brain that drive divergent thinking and creativity as well as lower cortisol — all of which contribute to greater health and better ideas.”
A 2011 study out of MIT published in the journal Brain Research Bulletin found that people who were trained to meditate over an eight-week period could better control their alpha rhythms (a type of brain wave), which increases focus. In the controlled study, the meditators were able to regulate how distractions impacted them.
To practice a 10, 15, or 20-minute afternoon meditation, first make sure you are at a good stopping place with work. Send that last email, make a final edit on a document, or post one more tweet. Don’t wait until you can’t think straight or you’re staring hopelessly into a screen. Leave the computer and find a comfortable chair or place a cushion on the floor. Make sure you’ll be able to stay in one place uninterrupted.
Through this exercise, you’ll notice which thoughts you’re paying attention to throughout the day, which ones affect your work life, and which ones you’re giving power to or allowing to affect your emotions or actions.
When the bell dings and meditation ends, go back to your work with a clear mind and an end goal in sight.
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