The idea of resting before you get tired may seem odd to a non-ME/CFS sufferer but it is a really important concept in energy management. In general we have to get our heads around the fact that rest isn’t just about recovery for what we’ve just done, it’s as much about saving energy for what we still want to do.
Each day we only have a certain amount of energy available to us. We have to learn to asses where our limit is each day and spread out our consumption so that it lasts throughout the day. We can recycle some of this energy if we are careful, but if we exceed our limits we crash. For me pre-emptive rest is about planning to make sure I have enough energy left for when I need it. It can also be about trying to prepare myself for times when I might want to use a little more energy than I normally would. I find the following model helpful:
Our energy is provided by little battery packs in our cells. Under normal conditions these packs will recharge themselves recycling certain substances and using others provided by our body’s maintenance team. When they can’t recharge fast enough to meet demand they have the ability to switch to an emergency production process, but unfortunately this means they lose some of the substances they normally recycle, putting them out of order until the maintenance team bring them some more. It seems that with ME/CFS lots of these battery packs are out of order so we have less energy available to us. With short activity periods and regular rests we can optimise the energy available to us by giving our battery packs time to recharge and hopefully avoiding the need for them to switch to emergency production. By changing activity we also give particular cells time to recharge their battery pack whilst we use energy in other cells. Unfortunately if we try to use too much energy and put even more battery packs out of order we crash. It will take at least a couple days for the maintenance team to rebuild the substances that our battery packs need, to get them back into working order.
I like to see pre-emptive rest as an opportunity for the maintenance team to get as many battery packs up and running as it can manage and to build up stores of the raw materials for the recycling process. Unfortunately the picture is a bit more complex than this because we all know that resting doesn’t cure this illness. Many of our battery packs are out of order for other reasons than over work and will need other things (essential fatty acids? vitamins? a healthy immune system?) to get them back in working order. However to optimise the functioning of the ones that are working pre-emptive rest is an important tool.
I use pre-emptive rest when I’m working. Most of my shifts are in the evening so I always make sure I spend most of the afternoon resting, even if I feel ok. (I also find that a bit of gentle yoga before work also boosts my energy levels). On the odd occasion that I do a shift in the afternoon I make sure I rest in the morning. I find that really frustrating as morning is usually my most energetic time of the day but I know I won’t have enough time to recycle my energy if I use it up in the morning. I also use pre-emptive rest when I’m planning a busier than usual day. I hope that by resting the day before I’ll optimise my resources for the day after. This is particularly important when I’m planning to spend time with friends. I know that when I’m enjoying myself I tend not to pay as much attention to pacing and resting as I should! In those situations I also plan on a restful day afterwards as I know my limits will be so much lower and I’ll be more susceptible to crash.