6 Principles for Managing Energy with ME/CFS

The way I manage my energy nowadays has become pretty unconscious. If you count both episodes of this illness I’ve had over 8 years of practise. But it all comes down to a few guiding principles.
1. Awareness of energy level
Because of the way my energy level can change on a daily basis, I find it really important to pay attention to how much energy I have. If my energy is substantially lower than my normal then I know I need a recuperation day.  Otherwise I try to pitch how much activity I will do against the relative energy level I have today compared to the last few days. In previous posts I have covered in detail the issues of assessing daily ability level and listening to my body’s messages.
2. Relaxed effortlessness for minimum energy expenditure

It seems to make sense to me that if we don’t have much energy then the more efficiently we can use what little we have, the better. Tense muscles and intense concentration will burn a lot of energy. Things can still get done when your muscles and concentration are more relaxed. Taoism has taught me a great deal in this respect, I have learned that approaching all tasks with an attitude of relaxed effortlessness minimises the energy that’s needed to perform them. In practise this means never rushing; never forcing yourself to complete a task when you’re running out of energy but leaving it for later instead. Doing things with minimal exertion takes time and a laid back attitude. ‘Don’t worry, be happy, things will get done in their own time, it will all work out’. It also involves self-awareness, you need to notice when you are starting to exert yourself, stop, take a breather and rethink: Is there an easier way to do this even if it will take longer? Or perhaps I should leave this for when I’ve got a bit more energy and I don’t have to push myself? I always used to approach tasks aiming for efficiency, now I find that efficiency is best achieved if I aim for effortlessness instead.
3. Pacing
For me pacing is about 2 things. First it means matching your activity level to your energy level. This needs an awareness of your energy level and what you are normally able to do at that energy level without negative repercussions (principle 1). Second it means breaking up activity into small chunks and spreading it out over the day with regular breaks or changes of activity. This is also important even during a rest day. Rest needs to be broken up regularly by a little gentle movement to promote healthy circulation.
4. Choosing and balancing how you spend your energy
Each day I can choose how to spend my energy and I make sure I don’t waste it on situations that don’t contribute positively to my physical and mental health. I carefully allocate my energy to three main areas of my life: health promoting activities, productivity/ creativity and my social and emotional needs, always trying to make sure that I don’t use it all, I like to leave some of my energy for my body to heal itself. Health promoting activities might include preparing healthy meals, taking appropriate exercise, researching more about this condition and how to help myself etc. Productivity/creativity is about feeling useful, managing practical concerns and expressing my uniqueness (being me). See my post on creativity. My social and emotional needs call on me to devote energy to spending time with family and friends, I watch comedy programmes to make sure I laugh every day and sometimes I may need to release my energy to allow strong feelings to flow. What is important is that I choose how to spend my energy, I try to find a balance across these areas and I do my best to avoid situations and people who zap my energy, dragging it away from where it really is needed. I never watch the news, I don’t listen to people who moan, I make sure I don’t get into situations where I can’t rest when I need to or when I’m not in control of how long I’ll be doing something.
5. Alertness to energy draining situations/states
In order to avoid energy draining situations I need to be aware of and alert to them. I need to notice when my energy is being taken from me without me having chosen to use it in a positive way. Tension is a big energy drainer and I try to notice when tension is building in my body and do something about it straight away. This might mean reducing my effort, practising relaxation, or removing myself from a situation.  I also try to notice when I am having to defend myself as this is usually an unnecessary waste of energy. I am happy about who I am and what I believe. Everyone else also has a right to choose what they believe and there is no point in wasting my energy trying to convince somebody of something that they are not open to. Occasionally I might have to defend myself to a doctor or employer or benefit agency but then I will try to plan in advance how to do this calmly and assertively. Another big energy drainer is holding on to a negative emotion. I try to notice when something is hanging around and pay attention to allowing it space to flow. What sorts of situations do you find drain your energy?
6. Energy building activities
I believe there are many ways that we can boost our energy and I am always aiming to do so. I practise yoga, t’ai chi and meditation daily because I believe they add to my energy. In fact I believe that they open me up to the flow of universally available energy that is all around us. I also believe that the way we look at life can boost our energy. The more pleasure we can take from the little things in life, the more gratitude we feel for those little pleasures, the more we can take part in both giving and taking, and the more we can express our unique being without constraints the better this universal energy will flow through us.
There’s a wonderful diagram in a green girl fights fatigue blog post that’s worth taking a look at which represents how to capture energy and prevent it from draining away. (If you don’t want to read the whole blog post scroll down to the bottom to see the diagram).

 

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