Invest in Yourself this Year with a Personal Energy Budget!

Happy New Year! It’s time to review your budget and investments! Don’t skip over this blog; I (Joette Zola, Occupational Therapist) am referring to your energy budget and investing in yourself, much more interesting topics!

Have you ever stopped to think about the amount of energy you need for  a single day and how that compares to what you are actually using? Your energy is not infinite and I believe it is helpful to think about it in terms of a budget. Our budgets vary from year to year, even day to day. Individuals that are navigating through life with a diagnosis of cancer can have different expenditures (life demands) than they had prior to diagnosis and their budget may feel smaller as they invest in healing and recovery from procedures and treatments. It is important to notice and account for the energy you’ll need to manage your emotional health needs as well as the needs of those around you.

Taking inventory of the resources you need to get through an average week is a good place to start. Make a list of the routines and task that you need to accomplish in a typical week. Ask yourself: are the demands realistic? Equally important: are the demands sustainable? Many individuals can muster through a day, but overspending on a continuous basis takes a toll. It can be useful to notice patterns: for example, if you are receiving chemotherapy, energy levels may vary and routines and expectations may need to be adjusted.

When we spend beyond our “minimal balance”, penalties start to accrue. Take a moment to write down symptoms or penalties that you encounter when you overspend, such as  increased errors, feeling irritable, headaches, or increased time needed to complete tasks. When you are completing your daily life tasks with penalties, it can take a lot more rest to get your energy level back above the minimum requirement for good performance.

Investing in good self-care can increase your budget. Do not put your own needs last. Areas that need attention for people to perform at their best include the following:

  1. Restorative sleep. This can be challenging due to pain, anxiety, menopause symptoms and more. If this is an area of ongoing concern, talk with your care team about options. If this occurs infrequently, make sure you adjust your expectations the day after poor sleep so you can stay within your budget.
  2. Consistent nutrition. This too can be a challenging if you are experiencing nausea or a change in your appetite. Planning and having easy to make options can help. Setting alarms that remind you to eat can be a good strategy if your appetite is low. Remember to talk with your care team if this is an area of concern.
  3. Stress management. Having time and energy for stress management is very important. Identify the activities that help the most and plan time for them. Explore resources available to you when needed.
  4. Exercise/ movement. It can be very hard to prioritize exercise when fatigue is a factor. Making time to get moving is not only recommended as essential in cancer care; it can help you increase your energy budget over time. Be compassionate with yourself and start with small steps.
  5. Brain Engagement. It is important to have enough activities and challenges to keep your brain engaged, but not so much that it is overwhelming. This tight rope can be difficult to walk. Taking time to identify what you want to invest in and what you want to minimize or release can help you prioritize which activities matter most.
  6. Social Connections. Having individuals that we relate to as part of weekly routines is an important and a good investment. Understanding the frequency and length of time together can help keep you on budget.

Taking breaks throughout your day is a great strategy to avoid penalties. Pausing to check in with yourself helps. If you can take a break before the penalties hit, you will recover faster and perform better.

Considering what kind of tired you are can help you maximize the benefits of short rest. Understanding the different types of fatigue you encounter can help you choose the break that will deposit the most energy into your account. Examples are below.

  • Physical fatigue. Get some food and/orwater, take short naps, sit quietly, or watch a show.
  • Mental fatigue. Go for a walk, do some stretches, meditation, or complete a mindless task such as washing the dishes.
  • Emotional fatigue. Reach out to an uplifting friend, check out the Firefly Sisterhood’s webpage, journal, or exercise.

Fatigue can be a one of these, or a combination of them. It is important to notice the fatigue and get curious about what your mind and/orbody needs.

Your energy is a very important resource. Be mindful of your current budget, prioritize your expenditures by focusing on activities and tasks that have meaning for you.  Invest in care of self to help your budget grow. Take breaks proactively and intentionally so you can have energy for the roles and tasks that matter most to you.

Written by Joette Zola, Occupational Therapist at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. “I have had the privilege of leading the Cognitive Cancer team and being part of research opportunities at the Institute which has given me the chance to connect and work with individuals with cancer and the organizations that support them. In my time off I love to hang out with my family and friends; preferably at the lake.”

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