The personal energy budget: recognizing limits

Resting Sheep

The present is a satisfying time and place to be. The pleasure I find in my work is also providing a new lesson about relaxation.

For many years anxiety and depression limited my energy, holding me back from doing many things I needed or wanted to do. I don’t believe those limitations were wrong. It was a check and balance system identifying what I could handle, what took too much energy and what aspects of my emotional organization and environment needed improvement. Now I’ve fixed so many things that I no longer encounter those limits, at least very seldom. I still know and respect my own limits. But when an opportunity arises, I’m more likely to accept it than balk at it. This new energy balance has persisted for 15 months.

Recently, I’ve started encountering another limit at the other side of my energy: the long side rather than the short side. It’s simple mental exhaustion, in which I have to stop working. I encountered this several times in February because I would work though the weekends — not a full day, but maybe three to six hours on Saturday and Sunday. In consequence, exhaustion would hit midweek.

Two weeks ago, on Thursday, I got up, tried to write and had to go back to bed four times before realizing I wouldn’t be able to do any work and had to take the whole day off. Unpleasant emotions did not present themselves. My brain simply refused to supply the level of concentration needed for work.

After a day’s rest, Friday was remarkably productive.

It’s amusing to observe this unfamiliar aspect of myself unfold. Never in my life have I enjoyed working as I do now. Occasionally in the past a personal project, like self-publishing a chapbook of poetry, would consume all my time and enthusiasm for several weeks. When it ended I was always exhausted and the familiar listlessness of depression would take over again.

Now it’s becoming easier to distinguish weariness from the Slough of Despond. The solution is simple: just unplug myself for a day. There’s no need to lose enthusiasm for what comes next. There will be more and better work two months and two years from now. It’s something to look forward to at every turn.

There’s a wee part of me that wishes I were even more energetic, that I could run a little harder and longer before losing steam.

But at 50 years, I’m stronger and happier than I was at 46 or 31 or 24, overall I enjoy how I’m spending my time, and evidently my body still has things to teach me about balance. Really, I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve always believed the best things in life are worth working for.

What is your personal energy budget? How do you know when you’ve reached the limit? What do you need to recharge? How do you balance the need for rest and relaxation within your work routine?

3 thoughts on “The personal energy budget: recognizing limits

  1. Great blog post, Van. Like you, I try not to beat myself up the days I don’t have much steam, but remind myself that I need to make deposits in my energy level before I can withdraw later. Recharging is so important because we cannot operate on empty. It is an important and difficult lesson to learn though!

    1. Deposits and withdrawals — that’s a good metaphor, Melody. It’s one I learned to use (long ago) about intimate relationships, too. We need to give at least as much as we expect from others. It must also be true of ourselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *