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  • Writer's pictureReflective Resources

E is for energy

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

I have been thinking about energy recently – or more specifically the lack of it and it is clear that there are a lot of things that can increase or decrease our energy levels. When I first thought about energy I began thinking about it in terms of physical energy but then on reflection I decided that mental or emotional energy, particularly with reference to the energy of the situations that you find yourself in or the energy that people bring to or take from relationships or scenarios is perhaps just as important if not more so.

It is very difficult to become our best selves when our ‘brain energy’ is depleted. Our brain comprises of 2% of our body weight but burns 20% of our energy reserves every day and when we are exhausted and our energy levels depleted - we lose access to our executive function because the body is “judicious in its use of fuel”. Brady Wilson

When our brain is full of energy, we can focus our attention more easily and regulate our emotions, notice connections, predict outcomes and make good decisions etc but when our brain is exhausted the opposite occurs.

Simply put, values are energy. They motivate us, so that we want to move toward the people and things we feel share our values – and away from the ones we feel do not. Our values direct how we prioritise things in our lives, how we make decisions and what actions we take in every moment.”

Our energy levels are also connected to our values. Some values have been instilled into us since early life and may stay with us, others have become important or have consciously been chosen to replace our original notions. There are many different values and each and every person will have their own priorities and different combinations creating their own personal hierarchy and their own definitions because as Robert Zend says

People have one thing in common; they are all different”

Everything we experience or do either gives us energy or drains us. Getting the balance between ‘work, rest and play’ is essential for functioning at an optimum level and protecting all our energy levels – but particularly our mental and emotional energy because you can be physically fit and healthy, but if something (or someone) is draining you mentally, you're going to feel bad and are more likely to react rather than make considered responses and be less inclined to make healthy choices.

We expend energy in different ways and we all use it up at different rates according to our own personal situation, life experiences or particular health issues. When we are feeling emotionally drained, it makes simple tasks like getting up, washed, dressed, feeding ourselves, making a simple phone call etc seem like an insurmountable mountain and being there for others is one step too far whereas others when feeling full of zeal or ‘the joys of Spring’ could do this without a second thought and add in exercise and a 1001 other activities to boot!

The spoon theory is a metaphor that is used to describe the amount of mental or physical energy a person has available for daily activities and tasks. The theory was developed by Christine Miserandino as a way to express how it felt for her to have lupus. She used spoons as a visual representation of units of measure to quantify the amount of mental and physical energy a person has available for activities of living and productive tasks throughout a given amount of time (e.g. a day or week).

Each activity requires a number of spoons, which would only be replaced as the person ‘recharges’ through rest. A person who runs out of spoons has no choice but to rest until their spoons are replenished. This is not to say that rest is certain to give a person more spoons because for many people with chronic illness, sleep does not perform its normative function of restoring energy. Also, many disabled individuals may have sleep difficulties, resulting in a continued low supply of energy.

Christine Miserandino uses the metaphor to show how she was forced to plan out her days and actions in advance, so as not to run out of spoons (energy) before the end of the day.

The spoon theory is not limited in its application to those who have a disability or a hidden illness, there are many of people who suffer form periodic non-chronic fatigue and/or mental exhaustion, though when it is expanded to other uses, it is important to remember the privileges a person may or may not have cf to someone with a long term disability, eg they might have the possibility of having time off work, having a nanny to help with a new born baby, having a partner to lighten the load etc etc

The things you do either give you energy or drain you. Choose wisely.” Anonymous

So how do we protect our energy?

The first step stems from self-awareness. We need to cultivate a sense of our emotions and be in tune with our body and how it is responding and how we are reacting. When we feel irritable, have repeated headaches, or are feeling generally out of sorts, emotional or just not like ourselves, these are all signs of stress sapping your energy.

“Energy is contagious, positive and negative alike. I will forever be mindful of what and who I am allowing into my space.” Alex Elle

We absorb energy from other people, situations, different environments etc . By becoming more aware of our mood and the places, people or situations that change our energy or trigger a negative energy shift, we will be able to protect it better.

“Everything is about energy. The way you feel around certain people will tell you if this connection needs to be stopped or not.” Anonymous

It is important to ask ourselves who and what changes our energy. i.e. Do certain interactions leave us feeling emotionally exhausted? Do we find ourselves saying ‘yes’ to things we don’t really want to be doing, just because we want to be polite, or because we feel obligated to do them etc?

In his podcast ‘How to Set Boundaries’ Rob Dial refers to people as being a battery or a vacuum. ‘Batteries’ charge you up and increase your energy whereas ‘vacuum’s’ drain you mentally and physically.

It is important to remember that most of the people who do drain our energy aren’t aware of what they’re doing and are not doing so intentionally. It is particularly useful to remember this when responding directly to these people so we don’t respond inappropriately or unhelpfully out of frustration, fear or anger.

Once we have identified when we are not able to be the best version of ourselves the next step is to identify what is at the root of these feelings and responses and then take conscious steps to set boundaries to protect ourselves.

“It is your divine right and your spiritual duty to protect your energy field from unwanted influences. In the wise words of the Mahatma, ‘Do not allow anyone to walk through your mind with their dirty feet.’” Anthon St. Maarten

In order to set boundaries, we need to know and define what our boundaries are. By protecting our boundaries it allows us to manage our energy and channel it where we want rather than allowing others to influence how we ‘spend our spoons’ and potentially drain and deplete us; our needs are as important as the needs of others.

Learning to detach ourselves from other people’s negative emotions, particularly if they treat you as an emotional dumping ground is crucial. ‘Drains’ tend to spout a monologue about the same negative things over and over and over again, while also refusing to listen properly, to accept any feedback or to work on improving the things that they are constantly complaining about. NB This is completely different to making yourself available to a friend in a crisis who needs a friendly ear or a sounding board.

Any time we react to situations, it is often our ego at work e.g. when we feel the need to offer our (often unasked for) opinion about someone or something; or trying to ‘fix’ someone's opinion of ourselves. Before we react, we need to learn to pause and not let our ego dictate how we use our limited energy. Instead, whilst pausing, we should ask ourselves whether the issue is even worth any of our valuable energy in the great scheme of things. Definitely easier to know the theory than to do in practice at times!

Self-awareness is concerned with our thoughts. We are what we think so if we constantly focus on how stressed, tired or busy we are then our body will respond accordingly. Defusion and mindfulness are useful tools to help us to step back from our thoughts and become aware of what we are feeling, what our ‘thinking self is telling us’, the self-talk that we are using and how the attitudes and behaviour of people around us are subconsciously affecting us.

We need to become aware of what ‘triggers’ us and look for ways to overcome, avoid situations, or defuse our responses. When we consciously tune into self-awareness, gratitude and positivity, using our observing self to take over and seeking to limit the time we are exposed to negativity, life becomes so much easier and our energy levels increase.

“Remaining in the wrong environment will drain your energy.” Germany Kent

Clutter will also sap our strength. De-cluttering our homes, work areas and our head is a powerful way to protect our energy. Maintaining a solid, grounded mental state is difficult when we are surrounded by physical and emotional clutter on all sides. Cluttered environments often lead to more disorder, chaos and stress. It is worth taking the time to get rid of things that aren’t contributing positive energy and helping us live to our full potential… this could include physical clutter, negative social media we follow, unsubscribing from junk mail, not watching certain programs that raise our anxiety levels, spending less time with ‘drains’ etc We need to return to simplicity and create oases of calm

We protect our energy best by having the confidence to listen to our intuition by paying attention and limiting our exposure to anything and anyone that causes us to feel ‘off’.

“Sometime we just have to protect our own peace to enjoy ourselves” Shaneika Marie

Having more energy doesn’t just happen by stopping the negative, once we have identified things that drain our energy and have reduced our exposure to these things, we need to make conscious, active choices to choose more of what makes us healthier and happy whether this is by ‘going somewhere in our heads’ to our ‘happy’ place, eating healthily or physically creating the time we need to be still, to reconnect with nature and ourselves i.e. filling the gap with things that increase our energy and increase our feelings of positivity, happiness, peace and calm.

Just as someone draining you negatively affects your energy, so being around happy people (batteries) can make you feel comfortable and will have a positive effect. Our energy levels improve when we move towards people, groups and activities that make us feel good and remind us to be grateful about the good things in life. By spending increased time with those who leave us feeling energized it makes it that much easier to protect ourselves from the influences of those who don't.

On a practical level, we can seek to increase the amount of quality sleep we get, exercise more, eat healthy foods, hydrate more, maintain meaningful social connections and avoid unhealthy choices e.g. cigarettes, and limit others e.g. alcohol, sugar, time spent available to others via the phone etc and generally practice other forms of self-care.

“Energy is contagious: either you affect people or you infect people.” Anonymous

My final thoughts are that we all have a responsibility for the energy that we bring when we interact with others

Be a positive energy trampoline– absorb what you need and rebound more back.”

Dave Carolan

Some questions to think about/or discuss below:

How much energy do you waste reacting to negative influences, throwing it away on things that just don't matter?

How easily are you drawn into an argument over some pointless thing? Or into a conversation with someone who you know from experience won’t alter their standpoint or monologue?

What boundaries do you need to place around yourself to protect your energy levels?

What practical steps can you do to increase your energy levels?

If you want to reflect more on this subject, here is a link to get you started:

Life engenders life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” Sarah Bernhardt

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