Restoring our energy

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
We’ll need to carefully manage our energy levels as we move back into our new normal, writes life coach Jan Aitken.

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
I thought we’d take a break from the 2020 monthly challenges this month as the year has given us enough already. Today we’ll focus on re-building our energy to boost our resilience as we step out into a new normal.

For many, 2020 will go down in the history books for all the wrong reasons. Here in New Zealand it started fairly typically, but there were soon reports of a virus emerging, and we all know how that’s played out. Thankfully for New Zealand we seem to be tracking well in terms of controlling the spread of the virus.

Alert Level 2 has us pretty much back to normal ... but why does it feel so odd and why is it so damn tiring? Because things aren’t quite the same as they used to be. One thing is for sure, we will not return to normal as we knew it. We will create "a new normal".

Each of us will have some mental and emotional adjusting to do as we re-enter the world of physical proximity to co-workers and reconnecting with friends, neighbours, and loved ones. The stress isn’t solely focused around worries about catching the virus either. Many of us have and will experience a level of chronic uncertainty about the future of New Zealand and the world.

There is still physical distancing, for the vulnerable - self-isolation, financial insecurity, job loss, new ways of doing things and for some, the death of friends and loved ones. All in all enough to make most of us curl up in the corner, if only we didn’t have to carry on. With so much to process and adapt to as the new normal forms it’s important to make sure we manage our energy levels and stay as healthy and well as possible.

When I talk about energy levels I think it is important to identify the different types of energy that we may need in a day.

Physical energy: the energy you need to move your body and physically do what you need to in a day.

Mental energy: the energy you need to focus, make decisions, solve problems, plan and strategise.

Emotional energy: the energy that fuels your moods, feelings and often how we interact with others. It’s the energy you use to deal with all of the events and happenings in your life, both professionally and personally.

Spiritual energy: the energy that gives your life a feeling of purpose and meaning. It may or may not be associated with specific religious/faith beliefs.

So how do we know if our energy levels are running low, what might we experience if our tank is getting close to empty?

Physical energy: feeling tired, exhausted, limbs heavy, feeling sluggish and groggy and maybe, even, a bit unco-ordinated.

Mental energy: inability to focus, distractible, unmotivated, difficulty fulfilling usually easy tasks, forgetful, unable to make simple decisions, trouble getting your words out.

Emotional energy: feeling like crying or being tearful, grouchy, irritable, angry, short tempered, anxious, depressed and unmotivated.

Spiritual energy: feeling as though what you do isn’t useful or important, lack of purpose or feeling disconnected to others, self or surroundings.

You might find some of these show up in more than one type of energy deficit, it can be very personal. The best thing you can do is become aware of what happens for you. There are no rights and wrongs and there may be other things happen that you notice, this is just a guideline.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
How can we refuel? Again, this is a guideline. If you know there’s something in particular that refuels or boosts your energy then add it to the list. We are all different and therefore the remedies might be a little different for each and every one of us.

Physical energy: the "Basic 3" apply here - good sleep, regular exercise and a healthy diet.

Set a sleep routine and stick to it. Sleep isn’t something you can steal time from on an ongoing basis to get things done. Sleep is important for every system in our body. It’s as necessary as the air we breathe.

Get some form of daily exercise (it doesn’t have to be arduous), it’s important for getting the oxygen in and the blood flowing around our body. It doesn’t matter what time of the day, work out what suits you. If you’re in a sedentary job set a timer to remind you get up and move regularly.

Keep your diet as unprocessed as possible. Yes, it might take a little more organising than heating pre-prepared food or buying your lunch/dinner everyday but the payoff is worth it. Food is fuel for the body — the better the fuel in the better the performance. Shop local, shop fresh, maybe visit the farmers market.

Get outside in nature every day, especially as we head into winter. Park a little further away and walk to work, go for a lunch walk, sit in the park for five minutes on the way home, look at the stars. You can keep it simple.

Mental energy: the "Basic 3" still apply.

Most of us will have a natural cycle to our day, we’re better doing somethings in the morning than the afternoon and visa versa. If you can, plan your day around those cycles.

If you’re stuck on a problem then get up and walk around - it frees you up physically and mentally. Likewise, if you’ve been slaving over the same task for a while not making much progress you might want a change of direction and/or pace.

Plan your day, make a list of the three top priorities and work though them. If you finish one, add another on. Review your progress at the end of the day and tweak your approach if needed.

Try to cut out digital distractions — plan set times to check emails, texts and social media. Constant checking is incredibly draining.

Try to make time for some mindfulness, five minutes is fine, deep breathing or a powernap if you can.

Learn to say "no".

Emotional energy: When you notice, breathe very deeply and exhale very slowly, this technique tells your brain you are safe. Set a timer and breathe deeply regularly.

Learn to become emotionally resilient.

Get help for issues that won’t go away and cause you distress.

Create supportive networks and have time with the people important to you.

Be kind to yourself, speak to/act towards yourself as you would your best friend.

Do stuff you enjoy doing.

Spend time in nature, research has shown it’s restorative effects for our emotional and mental wellbeing.

By the way ... the "Basic 3" still apply.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Spiritual energy: Create a life that isn’t just built on work alone. Have fulfilling hobbies and pastimes. Volunteer for an organisation or group. Create supportive networks and have time with the people important to you.

Now that larger gatherings are allowed, get back to your place of worship.

Get help for issues that won’t go away and cause you distress. Spend time in nature. Practise gratitude.

Do what you need to do to make sense of your life. What are your values? What are your boundaries and standards?

Celebrate and spend time with others who share similar religious/spiritual beliefs.

Don’t forget ... the "Basic 3" still apply here too.

Energy is one of the most precious resources we have. If we learn to use it wisely we end up with better energy reserves, a healthier mind and body and ultimately we have more energy to give to others and the things that are important to us. We will have more sustainable energy to spend building the next phase of our lives.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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