Joyful Aging by Carole Carson: Fatigue and You— 4 Kinds of Energy Vampires
Are you tired of being tired? Clearly, aging joyfully is impossible when you’re dragging.
Each of us starts our day operating within an “energy envelope,” a term researchers use to describe the body’s finite available energy. They’ve found that individuals who spend no more energy than they have available enjoy better health and a better quality of life.
In contrast, individuals who regularly overspend their energy supply end up with medical issues, including ongoing fatigue.
THE SIZE OF OUR ENVELOPE
The size of our energy envelope is determined in part by heredity. But researchers suggest that heredity is only a minor factor.
Since that’s the case, we may be tempted to blame a lack of energy on an aging body. For sure, our bodies change over time at the cellular level through damage or a decrease in efficiency. And hormonal changes affect our bodies’ systems and responses as well.
Once again, however, researchers tell us that being older accounts for very little of our energy loss and that retaining 80% of our energy as we age is normal.
4 MAJOR ENERGY VAMPIRES
So, what is causing our energy envelope to shrink?
1. Medical issues, from acute liver failure to the Zika virus, trigger fatigue. More recently, COVID-19 long-haulers have reported struggling with bone-crushing fatigue.
Similarly, medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, pain drugs and heart drugs, can make us feel tired. In addition, many other drugs, whether prescription or over-the-counter, including antihistamines, slow us down.
2. Lifestyle choices can reduce energy. Eating mostly processed food, drinking sodas and energy drinks, consuming excessive sugar and neglecting vegetables and fruit are examples. Being dehydrated, not exercising regularly (or exercising too much), consuming alcohol (even a glass of wine with dinner), getting inadequate sleep, or consuming too much caffeine can also drain energy.
3. Our mindsets can deplete our energy, particularly if we are depressed, habitually worried or chronically angry and harboring grudges. Likewise, so can social isolation, perfectionism, an inability to say “no” to all requests, unrelieved clutter and a negative outlook. Plus, excessive stress consumes enormous energy.
4. Interactions with others can lift our spirits, but some people —called energy vampires — drain us. Their negativity, anger or verbal aggression is exhausting. And if you’re an introvert like me, too much socializing is tiring.
WHAT WE CAN’T AND CAN CONTROL
While we can’t ignore our medical conditions or the medications we may need to take and their negative impact on energy, we can audit our lifestyle choices, our mindset and our relationships to see if they are depleting us. Once we are aware of our personal energy vampires, we can take steps to expand our energy envelope by making different choices.
The good news is that making energy-enhancing choices isn’t so much about self-control or willpower as it is about having the imagination to envision living with less fatigue and, at the same time, foreseeing the consequences if we continue to make poor choices.
George Bernard Shaw articulated how this process works when he said, “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”
I’ve struggled to manage my energy, partly because “rest” has always been a four-letter word. Plus, I have a lifelong habit of trying to do too much coupled with an anxious awareness of the finiteness of time. But since I’m tired of being tired, I’m experimenting with Shaw’s prescription.
I saw no point in making a list of what I was going to do differently because a list wouldn’t trigger change. Instead, taking a tip from an expert on how to change habits, I wrote a short essay in which I described someone who was determined to increase her energy.
I included notes about her daily habits, like staying hydrated and learning when to rest. To inspire this person, I included a Ugandan proverb: “Even the mightiest eagle comes down to the treetops to rest.”
Every morning, I read this profile of my imaginary person. I also read it again once or twice during the day to remind me of the choices she makes.
So far, the changes I’ve made by using her blueprint, although not 100% consistent with hers, are definitely helping. I’m curious about the long-term impact of this experiment.
If you’ve recently suffered from unusual fatigue, I urge you to see your doctor. But if you simply want to increase your energy by adopting healthier habits, then you might want to try this approach.
If you’d like a copy of my essay to use as an example, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you decide to experiment with this approach, I hope you’ll let me know what happens.
Carole Carson, Nevada City, is an author, former AARP website contributor, and leader of the 1994 Nevada County Meltdown. Contact: email@example.com.
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