Feeling heavy can be because of stress—let’s face it, I am a startup founder, physician, and mama, so sometimes life feels just a little hectic!
Other times my body feels heavy when I wake up because I fell down the NYC social rabbit hole called the cocktail hour—even one a night adds up, disrupting my sleep , screwing up my sensitive digestion, and slowing down my metabolism. Or it’s just that I’m spending too much time at my computer and not enough time moving my body.
When the body feels heavy, exhausted, and like it needs a good cleanout, it can manifest itself in a few ways. It could be that your chest feels heavy, your head feels heavy, your legs feel heavy, or you have a general sense of fatigue or malaise. Of course, there’s not going to be just one singular factor in feeling heavy or fatigued. Here are some reasons why your body feels heavy and how you can better optimize your exercise, digestion, and mindfulness to feel lighter and more energized.
It may be difficult to pinpoint exactly why you may experience either that sudden feeling of heaviness in the body or a more ongoing heaviness. There could be an underlying condition related to your thyroid , insulin processing, or even your mental health. If any of the following symptoms sound like yours, it’s worth scheduling a consultation with a Parsley Health physician to learn more.
If your thyroid is underactive especially, (a sign of hypothyroidism , which can occur because of an autoimmune deficiency or lifestyle factors) it can slow your metabolism, and contribute to feeling heavy and sluggish as well. Not only that, but an underactive thyroid slows other metabolic processes in the body, including digestion. That can result in GI issues like bloating and constipation, and even difficulty with weight management. Because of that, the feeling of heaviness may increase.
Allergies or intolerances to common foods, like dairy and gluten , can be triggers of inflammation in the body. That could be another reason why your body feels heavy and bloated, especially from a digestive standpoint. The inflammation caused by the allergy or food intolerance can contribute to intestinal bloating. With an intolerance specifically, it may be more difficult for the GI tract to break down the food you’re intolerant of (dairy is a big one), and that can lead to GI distress and discomfort and bowel irregularity. Whenever your body is working overtime to digest that food, you might experience that heavy, bloated feeling.
Another sign that your metabolism is not working as it should is insulin resistance, which could lead to the development of diabetes. Basically, your body’s cells are resisting the action of the hormone insulin, which prevents glucose (the fuel the body produces from carbohydrates that you eat) from moving into the cells from the bloodstream. When glucose is unable to get into your cells and be properly utilized for energy, you’re likely to feel heavy, fatigued, and sluggish. Glucose is essential for your cells to carry out their regular processes and create energy. If you have insulin resistance, the body is less efficient at producing energy, leaving you feeling heavy and tired.
Your iron levels, or lack thereof, might be a factor in feeling fatigue or constant tiredness. Anemia might contribute to sluggishness and exhaustion because of iron deficiency. Without sufficient iron, your body lacks what it needs to produce hemoglobin, a molecule that helps distribute oxygen throughout the body. And enough oxygen equals energy, so without being adequately oxygenated, you might feel a noticeable lack of energy.
A feeling of heaviness can also have a connection to your mental health. One key symptom of depression may be a lack of energy, fatigue, or heavy feeling (it may be that your chest feels heavy consistently). There may be other external factors at the root of depression, but internally it’s linked to an imbalance of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters help regulate energy, appetite, motivation, and pleasure, so when someone is depressed, it’s common to feel heavy, tired, unmotivated and not like yourself.
If you struggle with persistent anxiety , it’s common to feel jittery or panicky in the moment, but chronic stress and anxiousness can actually slow down certain processes in the body and add to feeling heavy. Because anxiety can cause the body to be in constant “fight or flight mode,” with the sympathetic nervous system activated, it can produce too much cortisol , a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. When you’re chronically stressed or anxious, the body may struggle to regulate cortisol and can experience what’s called “adrenal fatigue .” That can lead to feeling heavy and slow.
Whenever I feel stressed, lost, angry, hungover, tired, anxious, or sad, I return to my mat. My yoga practice brings me home to who I am and why I’m here. It stimulates my parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest side of the nervous system, and allows my body to heal, my immune system to function, digestive tract to absorb food, and adrenals to restore. Find what exercise works for you and commit to moving at least 150 minutes a week.
Healing really begins from the inside out, so it’s no surprise that what you eat truly matters when you’re trying to reset. At Parsley Health, we recommend a core diet that’s gluten -free, dairy -free and heavy on plants. I find this Paleo -style of eating extremely nourishing and look forward to jump-starting my day with our Avocado Power Smoothie recipe, which includes Parsley’s delicious vegan protein with 26 grams of protein .
When it comes to lunch and dinner, I’ll turn to protein and veggie-packed recipes. When I’m too busy to cook, I’ll grab wild sockeye salmon over greens or a plate of roasted veggies from an organic take-out spot. I also make sure to hydrate with my favorite go-to kombucha from Pilot and lots of water.
Since unhealthy digestion can be a source of why you’re feeling heavy and bloated, you may need more than just whole foods to troubleshoot. Supplements may be a key part of your full-body reset. I recommend gut-healing supplements like our 30 billion count Parsley Probiotic with the most studied and proven beneficial strains, and a vegan digestive enzyme to help you absorb the powerful nutrients you are taking in.
Setting aside time each day for a meditative practice, whether it’s writing down what I’m grateful for or doing a meditation , has been integral in maintaining my mental well-being. Not only does a practice like meditation lower cortisol levels, but it also reduces inflammation , which is at the core of a number of health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
In an ideal world, I’d have 20 minutes set aside each day to meditate, but when I’m pressed for time I’ll commit to at least 10 minutes, following with a gratitude list. Sometimes it’s really simple things like my husband’s cooking that will end up on my list or sometimes it’s more abstract things like being part of a community of creators who remind me I’m not weird for seeing things that don’t exist and making them a reality to share with others. If you’re new to meditation, start small with just five minutes a day and aim for consistency.
Some people may need more personalized care. If you need to figure out what’s causing acne , headaches, allergies , or digestive problems like gas and bloating , we recommend getting to the root of food sensitivities and healing inflammation with a Parsley Health clinician and health coach. A clinician can run specialty diagnostic tests , including hormonal, gut health , cortisol, and heavy metal testing, which can help uncover the underlying cause of your symptoms of tiredness and lack of energy. Then, your clinician can review those test results with you and tailor a treatment plan of nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle changes.
With your health coach, you can go even more in-depth with your symptoms, keeping a journal tracking patterns around when these symptoms arise to get a better idea of the source of the issue (for example, acne or headaches may occur at a certain point in your menstrual cycle and indicate a hormonal imbalance or digestive issues might occur when you eat a certain food). Your health coach can then review your journal so you can discuss those patterns together and make the necessary adjustments to your health habits.
Once you work with your Parsley care team to target your symptoms with nutrition and changes in your lifestyle, you’ll experience the reset your body has been craving, and that heavy, tired, sluggish feeling will be nowhere in sight.
Dr. Robin Berzin is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin completed medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.