Are you full of pep and energy, ready to do more? Or do you feel drained and exhausted? After giving at the office, is there nothing left to give at home? Do you feel as if you are on a treadmill that will never stop, that more things feel draining than energizing?
Feeling chronically drained is often a precursor for illness; conversely, feeling energized enhances productivity and encourages health. An important aspect of staying healthy is that one’s daily activities are filled more with activities that contribute to our energy than with tasks and activities that drain our energy. Similarly, Dr. John Gottman and colleagues have discovered that marriages prosper when there are many more positive appreciations communicated by each partner than negative critiques.
Energy is the subjective sense of feeling alive and vibrant. An energy gain is an activity, task, or thought that makes you feel better and slightly more alive—those things we want to or choose to do. An energy drain is the opposite feeling—less alive and almost depressed—those things we have to or must do; often something that we do not want to do. In almost all cases, it is not that we have to, should, or must do, it is a choice. Remember, even though you may say, “I have to study.” It is a choice. You can choose not to study and choose to drop out of school. Similarly, when you say, “I have to do the dishes,” it is still a choice. You can choose to do the dishes or let the dirty dishes pile up and just use paper plates.
Energy drains and gains are always unique to the individual; namely, what is a drain for one can be a gain for another. Energy drains can be doing the dishes and feeling resentful that your partner or children are not doing them, or anticipating seeing a person whom you do not really want to see. An energy gain can be meeting a friend and talking or going for a walk in the woods, or finishing a work project.
When patients with cancer start exploring what they truly would like to do and start acting on their unfulfilled dreams, a few experience that their health improves as documented by Dr. Lawrence LeShan in his remarkable book, Cancer as a Turning Point. So often our lives are filled with things that we should do versus want to do. In some cases, the lives we created are not the ones we wanted but the result of self-doubt and worry, “If I did do this, my family and friends won’t like me”, or “I am not sure I will be successful so I will do something that is safe.” Just ask yourself the question when you woke up this morning and most mornings this week, “How did you feel?” Did you felt happy and looking forward to the day?
Explore strategies to decrease the drains and increase the energy gains. Use the following exercise to increase your energy:
- For one week monitor your energy drains and energy gains. Monitor events, activities, thoughts, or emotions that increase or decrease energy at home and at work. For example some drains can include cleaning bathroom, cooking another meal, or talking to a family member on the phone, while gains can be taking a walk, talking to a friend, completing a work task. Be very honest, just note the events that change your energy level.
- After the week look over your notes and identify at least one activity that drains your energy and one activity that increases your energy
- Develop a strategy to decrease one of the energy drains. Be very specific how, where, when, with whom, and which situations decreasing the tasks that drain your energy. As you think about it, anticipate obstacles that may interfere with reducing your drains and develop new ways to overcome these obstacles such as trading tasks with others (I will cook if you clean the bathroom), setting time limits, giving yourself positive reward after finishing the task (a cup of tea, a text or phone message to a close friend, watching a video in the evening).
- Develop new ways how you can increase energy gains such as doing exercise, completing a task.
- Each day implement the behavior to reduce one less energy drain and increase one energy gain and observe what happens.
Initially it may seem impossible, many students and clients report that the practice made them aware, increased their energy, and they had more control over their lives than they thought. It also encouraged them to explore the question, “What is it that you really want to do?” So often we do energy drains because of convention, habit and fear which makes us feel powerless and suppresses our immune system thereby increasing the risk of illness. In observing the energy drains and energy gains, it may give the person a choice. Sometimes, the choice is not changing the tasks but how we think about it. Many of the things we do are not MUSTs; they are choices. I do the work at my job because I choose to benefits of earning money.
How your internal language impacts your energy**
Sit and think of something that you feel you have to do, should do, or must do. Something you slightly dread such as cleaning the dishes, doing a math assignment. While sitting say to yourself, “I have to do, should do, or must do_______________.” Keep repeating the phrase for a minute.
Then change your internal phrase and instead say one of the following phrases, “I choose to do,” “I look forward to doing,” or “I choose not to do _________.” Keep repeating the phrase for a minute.
Now compare how you felt. Almost all people feel slight less energy and more depressed when they are thinking, “I have to do,” “should do”, or must do”. While when they shifted the phrase to, “I choose to,” “I look forward to doing,” or “I choose not to do it,” they feel lighter, more expanded and more optimistic. When university students practice this change of language during the week, they find it was easier to start and complete their homework tasks.
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
– Frank Outlaw
Gottman, J.M. & Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Harmony.
LeShan, L. (1999). Cancer as a Turning Point. New York: Plume
*Adapted from: Peper, E. (2016). Increase energy. Western Edition. April, pp4. http://thewesternedition.com/admin/files/magazines/WE-April-2016.pdf
**Adapted from: Gorter, R. & Peper, E. (2011). Fighting Cancer-A Nontoxic Approach to Treatment. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 107-200.
I felt depressed when I looked down walking slowly. I realized that I walk like that all the time. I really need to change my walking pattern. When doing opposite arm and leg skipping, I had more energy. Right away I felt happy and free. I automatically smiled. –Student
Hunched forward at the computer, collapsed in front of the TV, bent forward with an I-pad and smart phone while answering emails, updating Facebook, playing games, reading or texting—these are all habits that may affect our energy level. Students may also experience a decrease in energy level and concentration when they slouch in their seats.
The low tech solution is not caffeine or medications; it is episodic movement and upright posture. In the controlledresearch study published October 5, 2012 in the journal Biofeedback, Erik Peper, PhD of San Francisco State University and I-Mei Lin, PhD of Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan, showed that subjective energy level can quickly be increased.
In this study 110 participants rated their immediate subjective energy level and their general depression level. The participants either walked in a slouched position or engaged in opposite arm and leg skipping (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Illustration of slouched walking (left) and opposite arm and leg skipping (right). Reproduced from Peper & Lin (2012).
Skipping even for even one minute significantly increased energy level and alertness for all subjects. On the other hand, walking in a slouched pattern reduced the energy level significantly for those participants who had high levels of depression as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Self-rating of energy level for the top and bottom 20% of the students’ self-rating of depression. Reproduced from: Peper & Lin, (2012).
For people with a history of depression, their energy level may covertly increase or decrease depending upon posture and movements. When individuals have less energy, they feel that they can do less, and this feeling tends to increase depressive thinking. They also tend to label the lower energy state as the beginning of depression instead being tired. At the same time, the lower energy state tends to evoke depressive memories and thoughts which escalate the experience of depression. This process can be interrupted and reversed by shifting body posture and performing movement.
This study offers a strategy for people with depression to reverse conditioned cues associated with posture that evoke depressive thoughts and feelings. Wilson and Peper (2004) showed previously that ‘‘sitting collapsed’’ allowed easier access to hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative memories than sitting upright and looking up. Posture appears to be aan overlooked aspect in the prevention of depression.
There is hope if you tend to become depressed and experience low energy. Numerous participants reported that after they performed opposite arm/leg skipping they did not want to walk in a slouched position. This suggests that this type of movement my act as a protective mechanism to avoid energy decrease and depression. Some participants with attention deficit disorders reported that after skipping they could focus their attention much better. I recommend being more aware of your body posture during the day and increasing your arm and leg skipping movements.
*Adapted from: Peper, E. & Lin, I-M. (2012). Increase or decrease depression-How body postures influence your energy level. Biofeedback, 40 (3), 126-130.