7 Signs that You’re Running Out of Spoons

One frustrating thing about energy limiting chronic illnesses like ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia and Lyme disease, is that energy levels can fluctuate from one day to the next. Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory has helped many people understand the concept of rationing out your energy by relating an energy unit to a spoon, but what happens on those days when something is affecting your spoon count and you haven’t realised it yet?

There are 7 things I look out for as warning signs that my energy is running lower than usual

  1. Feeling hungry all the time

One of the things that I’ve noticed can be a good indicator that my energy is lower than I think it is, is feeling hungrier than usual, and eating not really helping that feeling. I think my body still relates fatigue with lack of fuel so tries to tell me to eat when my energy is low. The problem isn’t with the fuel though it’s with the engine not being able to use it properly. When I’m managing my energy well, I don’t get that ‘anxious to eat feeling’ that comes when my energy is running out.

  1. Noticing effort

How much effort you have to put into something is a great sign of whether your energy is flowing easily or not. I aim to do everything I do as effortlessly as possible so that when it becomes more difficult to be effortless, I know that my energy is dropping. I generally use effort as an indicator that either my energy is running low or that I’m using my energy ineffectively.

  1. Feeling pressured or emotional

I often find that a sense of pressure is also a sign that I haven’t really got the resources to do what I’m trying to do. On some days even something as simple as taking a shower can feel like a stress or a pressure. When this happens, I know I’m having a low energy day. That feeling of having to pressure yourself to get something done is a great tip off that the spoons you need for it just aren’t there!

When my spoons are really low and I’m nearing a crash I sometimes feel really close to tears for no apparent reason. This is another sign for me that I’m overtired and I need to cut right back.

  1. Feeling better when you know you shouldn’t

Sometimes getting low on energy triggers the adrenaline response which can actually make it seem like we have more energy. If you can suddenly do things that would normally be a stretch at a time when you know that it’s unlikely that your energy is good, then it’s likely you’re in adrenaline mode. This means you’ll be on emergency energy production and there’s going to be a price to pay!

  1. Mind racing or talking fast

Another indication that you’ve already switched into adrenaline mode, and may be running on empty, is a racing mind. When I inadvertently switch to adrenaline to get me through something that I don’t really have the energy for, I also find myself talking really fast. When I notice these signs, I know I have to take actions to calm myself down and then rest before I crash!

  1. Word finding getting worse

Brain fog is another sign that my spoons are pretty low. And one of the early warning signs is that I have more trouble than usual finding my words and finishing my sentences. I have quite a bit of difficulty with this anyway, but when it’s every other sentence I’m struggling with I know I’m in trouble.

  1. Warning signs that tell you you're running out of energyCan’t think any more

Sometimes, if I get carried away doing some mental task that I enjoy, I suddenly find myself at a point where I just can’t think any more. Once I’m at this point, I know I have to rest, in fact I have no choice in the matter, but it’s a sure sign that I’m running low on spoons and I need to be careful how I spend them for the rest of the day.

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34 thoughts on “7 Signs that You’re Running Out of Spoons”

  1. So glad you posted this. It perfectly describes the state I’m in (yet again) atm! Good to know I’m not imagining these symptoms.

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    • It’s sad how much we doubt ourselves and think we’re imagining things just because we get so little understanding form the outside world. Take it easy and let yourself rest Lesley! Big hugs x

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      • Perfect. Totally agree with everything. It’s absolutely spot on and it’s nice to know when someone else totally understands. Although, I do wish we didn’t have this problem. Thank you for taking the time and energy to do this. I’m 7 years in and only just got to grips with this. Hopefully it will help newly diagnosed to learn it more quickly.

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    • Yes Tamara, I always think that overdoing it is Ok as long as I’ve made it a conscious choice and am happy to deal with the consequences!

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  2. spot on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! thank you 🙂

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  3. 4 and 5!! When I realized these – game changer! I have “educated” my family about these 2 and now they are aware and call me out, encourage me to take notice, recognize and change my behavior if possible

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    • It’s great when you can get support in recognising this isn’t it! So happy for you, that you have such a supportive and understanding family Mary!

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    • I completely related to all of this! Thank you for pointing out the eating as I thought I was just out of control at times! It all fits with what happens to me though and I had realised that I was so exhausted, my body was going into overdrive asking me to eat thinking I’d feel better!

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  4. I have most of these issues every day. Didn’t know I was on constant spoon shortage, I thought it was just the way we all feel all the time. No wonder I always feel I should be patting myself on the shoulder for just making it through getting up in the morning :/
    Thanx a million for the post! <3

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    • Sounds like you need to reassess what you can do in a day Mia. It can be really frustrating that it’s often a lot less than we think. Definitely keep giving yourself a pat of the back for all the things the just get you through the day, they are big achievements when you have so little energy!

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  5. one of mine is my eyes, I can read small print when I am well and when i am low everything is a blur, thanks for this post

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  6. Thank you for explaining how we know when we’re running out of spoons. I have experienced 1 and 7 a lot, but haven’t connected them that my bod y is telling me to slow down. You talk in everyday language that is easy to follow and understand.

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    • Thank you Anita, I hope that slowing down when you need to brings your more stable and increasing energy!

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  7. I got it Julie, especially the #7 Can’t think any more. It happens to me when I’m totally exhausted but still doing my work. It’s unhealthy to stress out too much. Take a nap. It makes a huge difference when you rest and continue your work afterwards.

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  8. they are all good but I need to work on #4 and I have had fibro for 20ish years…smh will I ever learn? probably not.

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    • Don’t be hard on yourself AnnaJo, we have years of programing that pushing through will get results, It’s so easy to grab on to a little extra energy without questioning it. It’s tough to learn completely new ways of dealing with life to adapt to the illness, it’s always a work in progress! Good luck! Julie

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    • I’ve had ME/CFS for 29+ years and wish someone had told me early on to pay attention to all of these signs. I can relate to every single one. Now that I see them in print I’ll be more aware of when I need to rest. Good job!

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  9. Wow. Thank you. Finally, a site with some very practical tools, scales, recording systems …so necessary when my head is so foggy. Why do we doubt ourselves so much? I noticed the hunger/food thing recently but thought ‘no, it can’t be that’. And #7 … well all of them actually… taken me 20 years to start noticing and linking. Wow. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I hope you’re taking extra special care of yourself, Julie, at this time xx We’re all in it together xxx

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    • Thank you for your kind words. It takes a while to notice new patterns when we had years of our body responding in different ways! wishes of improving health and happiness to you! x

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  10. This is absolutely spot on ! I actually am aware of some of the things I do that dont help , but struggle to stop and take note that I’m in need of rest . I’ve always been very independent. Now sadly my body just stops me in my tracks as though its saying nope not today!! So my days of pushing through are done . Great article as always .

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    • Thank you, So glad to hear the your pushing days are done! I was also really independent before the illness and had to learn to let go and accept help.

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  11. Seeing the word “effortless” was jarring. It’s rare anything feels effortless or easy, but I guess the push, push, push mentality is why I’m here! Thank you for this helpful list.

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    • Thank you Cheryl,

      It can be extremely challenging to cut back what we do enough that we effortlessness becomes possible. My experience is that when I have let go of enough to be able to approach things with relaxed effortlessness it have managed to slowly build back my energy and achieve more in the end.

      I can understand how jarring it could be though, as it’s a totally different way to be successful/achieve anything than how we went about things when pre-illness!

      Best wishes for letting go of the push, push, push!

      Julie

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  12. Thankyou for this, this is excellent. I can relate to all of this. This is the first real job I have had which has lasted for over a year now. It is really testing me, I’m not sure how long i can continue as I am becoming increasingly exhausted and I’m in so much pain I cry! I try to rest at every opportunity but it is so difficult. I envy people who were on lockdown but I was a key worker. Every day is a constant struggle to get up and on Mondays I always wish for the weekend again! When I try to go to sleep, I close my eyes and my eyeballs dart from side to side and I feel a heightened sensitivity. My mind is racing too fast day and night. That’s why I love peace and quiet. 5,6 and 7. I tend to shy away from people as I have such a problem finding the words to say , even stringing a sentence along as I can’t think. It upsets me so much! Sometimes I feel so stupid when I can’t think of the name of something so easy like ‘label’. I see people very suspicious of me like I’m on drugs or I am drunk, especially when the slurred speech occurs because I am just not able to function anymore. (Sorry about the lengthy comment)

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    • Hi Julie, Sorry to hear of your struggles, I can understand how nice it must be to have a real job last over a year but it really sounds like it’s using too much of your energy. Is there any chance you could ask to reduce your hours/ do shorter shifts? Big hugs, Julie x

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