All too often, compromised energy levels are a lingering impact of traumatic experiences, particularly ongoing or frequent traumatic events in childhood.
Compromised energy means that you simply do not have enough energy to tackle certain tasks. In addition, traumatic experiences often prevent people from learning how to manage their energy levels. This encompasses everything from recognizing when you are running low on energy to knowing how to build an energy reservoir and stamina.
Take a quick moment and think about all the energy it took to get through today. Think about the physical energy, as well as emotional and mental energy. Of these three types of energy, physical energy is possibly the most obvious. We have all experienced times when we were simply too tired to engage in a task because our physical energy was just not up to it. Many factors, including sleep, nutrition, exercise, medications, and substance use, can impact your physical energy level.
These factors also impact your emotional and mental energy levels. Emotional energy is used when you interact with emotions, whether in a productive or unhealthy manner. You use emotional energy when you identify an emotion, express it, act on it, calm it, understand it, and so on. Mental energy is the energy you use when thinking, planning, making logical decisions, and following through with your decisions and plans.
When traumatic life events have “stunted” your development of energy management tools, it is important to include learning these skills in your healing work. Broadly speaking, there are three categories of skills you will want to learn for each of the types of energy: the skills necessary for monitoring your energy level, those needed in order to manage your energy, and those that will increase the staying power of your energy.
Monitoring Your Energy Levels
How aware are you of your physical, emotional, and mental energies? Is there one type of energy that you are more aware of? Do you recognize when these energy levels are full and geared up for action, when they are at their midpoint, or when you are close to being empty? Or do you only become aware of your energy level when you are past empty and burnt out? Becoming aware of energy levels before you hit burnout will allow you to refuel before you run out of energy.
Physical energy can be a great one to start practicing these skills with. Take some time throughout the day—maybe every hour or two—and check in with yourself. How awake or tired are you? How full or hungry?
Imagine your energy levels as a gas gauge with marks at full, ¾ full, ½ full, ¼ full, and empty. When you check in with each of these physical experiences, determine where you fit on that scale. Are you past the point of energy, but not quite tired? Are you not full but not hungry? By figuring out where you’re at, you can determine what you need to do to manage your energy and satiation levels: take a nap, go on a walk, eat a snack, say no to the offer of a snack, or whatever works for you.
Managing Your Energy
Once you can identify your energy levels, you can determine what you need to do to keep your energy at workable and beneficial levels. Let’s look at emotional energy. Say your emotional energy is still at the ¾ full mark, despite it being late in the day. Maybe now would be a good time to call a friend and extend support. Maybe you can take time to reflect on, process, or journal about a recent upsetting experience.
If you notice that your emotional energy is close to empty, but you still have a few emotionally taxing tasks to do, it would be wise to carve out a bit of time to refuel yourself. Reach out to an emotionally supportive friend, take a break and head to an emotionally restorative place in nature (even if it is just smelling the neighbor’s roses), or take a few moments to breathe deeply, read an encouraging piece of prose or poetry, and so on. If you become aware that you have experienced several days on empty, you may want to consider dedicating your weekend to replenishing, rather than extending, your emotional energy.
Building Energy Reserves and Stamina
If learning how to replenish your energy reserves is one side of a coin, then building stamina is the other. This skill requires a great deal of gentleness and care: many survivors of trauma push themselves to have too much stamina, not allowing themselves to honor their limits.
With this in mind, building your stamina is nonetheless an important pursuit. Just like building physical stamina, developing a deeper mental energy reservoir requires practice in small increments. When you notice that you are approaching empty, but not quite there yet—somewhere just less than ¼ full—gather your mental energy and sustain your focus and effort for another 10 to 15 minutes. Rather than exiting the activity to replenish your energy level, stay engaged and practice hanging in there. If you simply do not have enough mental energy to stay with your current task, try switching to a less demanding activity that still engages your mental energy.
Use Energy to Bring Healing to Your Life
Feel free to play with these ideas and apply the ones that resonate with you. Practice each type of skill (monitoring, replenishing, and building stamina) with each type of energy (physical, emotional, and mental). Be as creative as you can be and brainstorm additional ways to grow these skills. In so doing, you reclaim crucial abilities and further your healing.
Practice these skills in a safe environment and in a manner that can only benefit you. Never do anything in the name of healing that could actually bring damage to you. As always, keep in mind that you do not need to heal on your own. Reach out to support groups, loving friends, supportive family, and trained professionals. We are all here to help you grow.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.