Why You Must Respect Your Energy Like a Bank Account

November 9th, 2009

Woman Tired from ExerciseMost people struggle to get out of bed each morning and rely on stimulants to get them through the day. Despite this, they pack each day full of activity and force themselves to do things that they don’t have the energy for. It seems that nearly everyone is guilty of this to some extent which is why it’s so important to realize how much this can affect your health and wellbeing.

Americans are getting an average of less than 7 hours of sleep each night and are busier and more stressed than ever. The physiological burden of dealing with an unprecedented number of activities and responsibilities each day and the excessive amount of stress that they create increases our need for sleep each night, but despite this increased need, many of us are compounding the problem by sleeping less.

A Tired Nation Headed for Trouble

We’ve spent millions of years sleeping in accordance with a natural circadian rhythm based on the rising and setting of the sun. In contrast, it’s been less than a century that we’ve enjoyed the convenience of artificial light as we know it today. In this short period of time, our sleep habits have changed so much that they can no longer adequately support our lifestyles, especially with the fast pace of modern life.

Many people are relying on coffee and other stimulants to get them through the day, and by doing so, they’re compensating for their lack of wellness and are jeopardizing their health in the process. When this continues for a long enough period of time, it can cause chronic problems like adrenal fatigue that can take quite some time to recover from, and even worse, lead to more significant health issues.

Your Energy Budget and Why it’s Like a Bank Account

We each have a unique capacity for physical activity and stress, and this capacity is very much affected by our lifestyle habits. Some people, such as traditional Tarahumara hunters who run as much as 100 miles in the blazing heat while hunting, have incredible capacities and a seemingly endless supply of energy. However, most people have much more restrictive capacities and a much smaller supply of energy. In fact, many of the people living the busy, stressful, and unhealthy lifestyles that are so common today become fatigued from simply walking up a hill or a flight of stairs. Despite this, they still approach life as if they had the capacity of a Tarahumara hunter.

Through my experience with chronic fatigue syndrome, I know as well as anyone how frustrating fatigue can be, how it can affect your mood, and most importantly, how it can limit your life. To avoid the unpleasant effects of fatigue and overexertion, it’s important that you appreciate the limits of your capacity and respect them just as much as the finite balance of your bank account.

If you’re tired more often than you’d like, you’re not respecting your limitations as much as you should be. Just like a bank account, you want to maintain an energy balance that always leaves you with plenty of reserve. It’s important to make as many deposits as you can by following healthy lifestyle habits and to minimize withdrawals by avoiding unnecessary stress and exertion that you can’t afford.

Increase Your Energy Balance With Deposits from Healthy Habits

Despite their popularity, energy drinks and supplements are not an effective way to increase your capacity for physical or mental activity. Instead, you need to give your body the opportunity to recharge itself by following good sleep habits and eating nutritious food. In my opinion, these are two of the most fundamental and important ways to promote good health and enjoy the abundant energy that it provides.

It’s also helpful to include relaxing and refreshing activities in your lifestyle such as enjoying nature, meditating, listening to soothing music, or participating in rejuvenating forms of exercise such as tai chi or qigong. These activities will help keep you relaxed and give your body more opportunity to recharge and repair.

Being able to easily get out of bed each morning and have an abundant and balanced amount of energy that lasts throughout the day is extremely satisfying. It’s really not that difficult to achieve and is really nothing more than a byproduct of optimal health. However, most people would rather look for a quick fix that they’ll never find instead of dedicating themselves to achieving this level of health and satisfaction.

Preserve Your Energy Balance by Avoiding Unnecessary Withdrawals

With the convenience of artificial lighting and the advancement of computers, the internet, and a number of other technologies, it’s easier than ever to push ourselves beyond our capacity. We’re always in search of ways to do more in less time, and many people are pressured at their job to be more productive. In fact, many companies are expecting some of their best workers to do the jobs of two or three people. These people often have a lot going on in their personal lives as well, and the combination of it all creates a tremendous amount of stress and consumes a considerable amount of energy and physiological resources. This is how many people live on a day to day basis, and it’s a significant withdrawal from their energy balance.

To make matters worse, many people believe that strenuous exercise is a good way to relieve excessive stress, overcome fatigue, or lose weight. While it’s certainly true that exercise promotes good health, it can actually be harmful to a body that’s already overwhelmed. With the overburdened lives that many people live, it doesn’t take much exercise at all for this to be the case. Despite this, many people are exhausting themselves and compromising their health by doing too much cardio and following excessive exercise programs like the P90X.

Regardless of how much you sleep and how well you eat, it’s still absolutely necessary to minimize your mental and physical stress. Whether your frustrated, worried, angry, doing physical labor, or exercising, these are all forms of stress that are a physiological burden and will increase the need for rest and repair. As such, they each act as a withdrawal from your energy balance. Too many withdrawals will leave you deep in energy debt and you’ll likely become exhausted, run down, and susceptible to illness. To avoid this, eliminate as many sources of stress as possible and only engage in the most important or rewarding physical activities.

Living Within Your Energy Budget

It’s absolutely critical to appreciate the fact that you have limits. Just because you have a friend who works a lot of overtime, barely gets any sleep, exercises much more than necessary, and feels great, this isn’t justification for you to adopt the same misguided habits. People who are able to sustain such a lifestyle are the exception and there carelessness will likely catch up to them eventually. Don’t make the mistake of estimating your capacity based on what other people are able to do. Instead, pay close attention to how you feel so that you can accurately assess your own capacity.

At my most frustrating stage of chronic fatigue syndrome, I couldn’t even do a light 20 minute bike ride without it making me exhausted for several days. This is the type of low intensity exercise that a healthy individual should be able to do every single day with it actually improving their energy rather than taking away from it. After years of pushing myself beyond my limits, I had to learn the hard way that I can’t do as much as most other people. Fortunately, I now have much more capacity, and living a truly healthy lifestyle is what has given me this luxury.

Don’t stay up late just because it’s the weekend, don’t work long hours unless you absolutely must, don’t force yourself to exercise just because it’s your designated workout day, and do your best to not be uptight about things that really don’t matter. When you’re about to do any of these things, ask yourself if you really have the capacity for it at that exact moment and if it’s worth a reduction to your finite energy balance.

For more information on the healthy lifestyle habits that will increase your energy balance and minimize withdrawals from it, sign up for my free course, 7 Simple Steps to a Leaner, Happier, and Healthier You.

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