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Managing Your Energy

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Updated: January 10, 2007

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Does this scenario sound familiar? You get up one morning and, surprisingly, feel a little better than usual. Almost giddy with excitement, your mind quickly scans the list of chores you’ve been too sick to take care of. You eagerly begin…clean the house, do the laundry, work in the garden. By midday, you start to sense that your body is getting tired, but the adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment spurs you on. You push yourself to make use of every little bit of energy you can muster before you collapse into bed. The next morning, you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by the proverbial Mack truck. For the rest of the week, it’s all you can do to drag yourself from bed to bath to sofa.

Most of us with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome are so sick and tired of being sick and tired, that whenever we get even a hint of extra energy, we go overboard. It’s hard not to. For a few brief hours we almost feel “normal” again. But, as tempting as it is to go all out on a good day, it’s exactly the wrong thing to do. We would never think of handling our finances like we handle our energy. If we spent our entire paycheck on the day we received it, we’d have nothing left to live on until our next payday. Just as we budget our money, it’s essential that we learn to budget our energy.

Living Within Your "Energy Envelope"

You may be familiar with the envelope method of handling your finances. It’s not used as often in this credit-card age, but it is a simple, effective way of living within your budget. Here’s how it works. You set aside one envelope for each item in your budget (rent, utilities, food, etc.). Each payday, you place a designated amount of money in each envelope. When an envelope is empty, you’ve spent your allotted budget for that period of time. Anything else you need in that category either has to wait until the next payday, or must be taken from another envelope. Of course, the problem with taking money from another envelope is that you will run short when that particular bill comes due. For example, if you run out of money in your food envelope and so take $50 from your rent envelope, when the rent comes due, you’ll be $50 short.

What does the envelope method of budgeting have to do with your energy levels? You can start budgeting your energy, just as you do your money. Until you are able to build an energy reserve, you’ll have to budget your energy on a daily basis. Each day when you awaken, assess your energy level for that day. Realistically decide how much you think you can do that day and mentally picture putting your day’s worth of energy into an envelope. Every time you expend energy for something, imagine taking a portion of your energy allotment out of the envelope. When your envelope is empty, it’s time to stop for the day.

If visualizing is not your thing, you might try writing tasks for the day on pieces of paper and actually put them into an envelope, removing each task as it’s accomplished.

Using the “Fifty-Percent Solution”

Once you get the hang of living within your energy envelope, you can start building an energy reserve – a kind of energy savings account. Rather than using up all of your energy each day, begin following the “fifty-percent solution.” When you make your energy assessment for the day, only do fifty percent of what you feel like you can do. If you feel like you can exercise for 20 minutes, only exercise for 10. Instead of consistently depleting your energy each day, you will slowly begin to build a reserve.

Not continually pushing your body to its limits allows it more time to heal and build strength. According to Dr. William Collinge, author of Recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Guide to Self-Empowerment, the rest you get on a good day is of a higher quality than the rest you get on a bad day. Eventually this additional quality healing time will pay off with more energy on a regular basis.

Sources: Campbell, Bruce. The CFIDS/FIbromyalgia Toolkit, A Practical Self-Help Guide. Lincoln: Authors Choice Press, 2001.

Collinge, William. “Promoting Recovery: The fifty percent Solution.” ProHealth. 5/25/06.

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