About 6 weeks ago, I returned home after 3 months away from my family. While I enjoyed parts of my time alone, like always having a clean apartment and not having to pick up after anyone, being away from my husband and kids was difficult. Upon my I return, I wanted to express my gratitude for their support and to soak up and give back as much affection as I possibly could.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of others that needed my time and energy as well. Work projects that were pending my return are coming at me fast and furious. Friends want my company and I want to reconnect with them. And I am trying to maintain some of the habits I established over the summer. But the extra time that I had available in DC to focus on my needs has flown out the window. As a result I am feeling incredibly overwhelmed.
Mental and physical energy are both taxed when we are juggling many priorities and dealing with life stress. Managing energy is an important skill to master. If our energy becomes too depleted, we have diminished capacity to handle stress. Compassion towards ourselves and other becomes a monumental effort.
The level of water in a well depends on the inputs and withdrawals. If a village is pulling water for a large variety of needs and there is no rainfall to refill it, then the well will run dry. In times of drought, we become more conservative in our water withdrawals….shorter showers, quicker dishwashing, turning off the water while brushing teeth, and so on. When rains come, conserving water becomes less important.
Think of energy the same way. When life takes withdrawals, we need to find ways to refill the well.
Sleep – The most important and most effective way to replenish energy is a good nights sleep. Many believe they can function on 5-6 hours or less, but research has shown that the average adult needs 8 hours a night. Try it for a week and see how much more patience, love, happiness, and ability to focus that you possess. You will likely find you need more sleep than you realize.
Healthy Eating – I am guilty of turning to junk food to handle stress, but I have learned that this only compounds stress because it puts nutritional stress on my body. And it does nothing to refill my energy reserves. Focusing on lots of fresh vegetables, whole grains and fruits, and plant-based proteins provides the body with the nutrients it needs to keep the fires burning strong.
Exercise – Exercise takes physical energy, but most of us use more mental energy throughout the day than we do physical energy. Fatigue often comes because our brains are taxed. A brisk walk, hard gym session, or good run clears the brain and leaves us with more energy afterwards than before. Starting the day with a workout lays a foundation for a more positive day. Exercising at lunch resets the clock for a better afternoon. And exercise at the end of the day sheds the day’s stress allowing for a more relaxing evening. Find the time of day that best serves you and make exercise a priority.
Hobbies – Spending time doing something you enjoy is critical to maintaining energy for the harder tasks in life. Cultivating a hobby will provide you energy by shedding other life stress, bringing you joy, and allowing your mind to relax. Try for at least 10 minutes a day doing something that simply brings you joy. For me, this is reading a book, writing, or playing a good board game with my family.
Meditation – a 5-10 minute meditation session is a great way to clear the mind and reset your body. Not only does it give you energy back, it plugs any energy leaks by helping shed negative thoughts and mental distractions. I find that a 10 minute meditation mid-afternoon is a good as a cup of coffee.
Introvert vs. Extrovert – Determining if you are introverted or extroverted is a great help in figuring out how you replenish your energy reserves. Introverts are not always shy or anti-social. Rather, introverts regain energy from alone time, while extroverts get energy from being with others. I am an introvert. I love being with others, but find it exhausting. I need time alone to replenish my energy. If I don’t get any alone time, I find myself running on empty very quickly. Because I know this, I will often eat lunch alone if I have meetings all day, or take a hot bath and read alone after the kids go to bed.
Implementing these strategies on a daily basis will keep your well of energy full. A full well will keep you resilient in times of stress. Identifying areas that are sucking the well dry is equally as important as refilling the energy well. If you find yourself running low, examine your daily habits and determine where you are leaking energy. Are you not getting enough sleep? Are you giving to much of yourself to others or not spending enough time with loved ones? Are you using your free time to binge watch Netflix at the expense of exercise and meditation?
Worrying and Negative Self-Talk– A friend wisely told me once, “Worrying takes energy. It is better to reserve that energy for positive things.” Because our energy reserves are limited, it does not serve us to spend that energy on worrying or negative self-talk. Rather, focus the energy you have on staying mindful.
Netflix binge – While it may seem relaxing to veg on the couch watching the latest House of Cards, a Netflix binge does not replenish your energy and it takes valuable time away from exercise, meditation, and sleep. Rather than spending hours on end watching TV, take a nap or go to bed earlier, get exercise, or spend time talking with a loved one.
Caffeine, sugar and other artificial sources of energy – When we use caffeine, sugar, or other artificial sources of energy, we are robbing Peter to pay Paul. A limited amount is sufficient, however if you find yourself relying on these to get through the day, examine your priorities and make sure you are getting enough sleep and investing in other energy replenishing strategies. You will find these giving back much more and not asking for repayment down the road.
You will quickly discover areas where you have a leak in your energy well. Perhaps it is a slow leak which is easy to patch. Maybe it is a large leak and will require more repair time. In either situation, once you find the leak, you will find that implementing these strategies will refill that energy well.
The journey continues…..