How many spoons have you got?
Christine Miserandino is credited with first talking about spoon theory, and it’s most often referenced in connection with chronic illness. If you’re not familiar with it, the basic concept is that when we wake and get up at the start of our day, we all start with a certain number of spoons in our possession, representing the amount of energy we have. As the day progresses, with chronic illness, through every action (sometimes even a conversation) you have to give away one of your spoons. So, getting out of bed - one spoon; taking a shower - one spoon; brushing your teeth - one spoon, etc.
When your spoons have gone, so has your energy - none left to do some of the nice things you want to do. So, if there’s something in your day that you have to have the energy for, you have to forgo something else. Maybe washing your hair isn’t an option today, as you know you have to sort out your bills. In truth, this concept can be extended to everyone, as when we’ve run out of energy, we can’t do anything else, but, for someone with chronic illness, the supply dwindles much more quickly simply undertaking basic tasks. This can vary wildly from day to day and can take an enormous amount of energy simply planning a day.
Now, you may not have a chronic illness, but this concept can apply very powerfully for anyone with challenges around their mental health. Many people don’t have to consider giving away a spoon if they have to get on a bus; for some, the anxiety created by this scenario is so great that it might use up several spoons. For many people, choosing something to eat doesn’t require losing a spoon; for others, the range of unhelpful emotions they experience around food can be very disabling, and require the loss of a spoon. In this way, someone with poor mental health can very quickly use up their supply of spoons and find themselves in a situation they feel they can’t cope with, sometimes a seemingly ordinary situation with which they would deal easily on another day. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in that they then expect a similar situation to cause the same reaction, and they use up lots of spoons anxiously waiting for it to repeat. Or, they simply avoid any circumstances that might risk being in the same position, thus making their world smaller to hold onto their spoons.
So, if you have ever been in this position where you feel you need to conserve your mental energy or mental spoons, what can you do? Again, we can learn from those dealing with life-limiting chronic illness and pain. The rule is, generally, to find what works for you.
Six ways to conserve and utilise your energy
1. Pace yourself. Understanding your mental and emotional energy levels (although they may vary from day to day) will allow you to decide how you want to spend your spoons. Ensuring, for example, if you know you’re going to need energy for a meeting, plan some time in the morning when you can prepare properly so that you feel more positive about it. Balance your expenditure with your rest as much as you can.
2. Understand what your triggers are. If you know what circumstances can cause you to spend more spoons, you’ll be able to work on finding solutions. So, if going to certain places causes you anxiety, arrange to take someone with you, or go when it’s quieter so you can feel more comfortable there.
3. Sleep, rest, and relaxation. Whilst rest doesn’t necessarily mean sitting doing nothing, certainly doing things that don’t put you under any pressure can help you relax.
4. Find things that make you feel good. When you understand what does make you feel good, make sure you build these activities into your day. Whether it’s going for a run, crochet, reading, or seeing a good friend, make sure you recharge your spoon supply regularly.
5. Your diet is really important too. Eating foods that boost your brainpower is important. However, enjoying a treat can be helpful too.
6. Considering medication with your GP. Whilst medication may not be the answer for everyone, sometimes it can provide support whilst you’re dealing with issues.
If simply making a choice here is difficult, or you can see that one of the suggestions might help, but not sure how to make a start, a good coach/therapist can often help. Sometimes simply speaking to someone outside of your usual family and friends brings new perspectives and helps move things forward now you have some options you might not have thought of before.
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