by Pamela B. Harrell, O.T.R., C.H.T.
As the marathon runner nears the finish line, he gathers the last bit of energy he has. He didn’t get to this point in a 26.2-mile race by blowing all his energy early in the first few miles. He got there by training for the race and knowing how to pace himself so that he would have enough energy left to finish.
While most people will not experience the challenge of running a marathon, everyone experiences the challenge of conserving enough energy to get through days and weeks of daily tasks. Arthritis can complicate this challenge by further limiting your store of energy and interfering with your ability to work, carry out routine daily activities, and enjoy leisure time with friends and family. However, there are some simple techniques that you can incorporate into your life to help you use your energy wisely. These energy-conservation techniques can be grouped under the four “P’s”: pacing, planning, prioritizing, and positioning. Learn these, and you’ll be on your way to finishing your own marathon.
Pacing is key to helping you sustain your energy level throughout the day. It involves looking at an activity and breaking it down into smaller steps that can be alternated with periods of rest. Think about the steps that you need to go through to complete a particular task, and try to work through them at your own moderate speed, without rushing. (You may even find a step or two you can cut out.) If you rush, you may be able to do the activity in less time, but rushing is stressful, and in the end you will have used more energy than you really needed to. If you allow yourself plenty of time to complete an activity and incorporate periods of rest, you will find that you have more energy in your reserves for later.
To properly pace yourself, you must learn to listen to your body so that you can determine what level of activity works best for you. Too much activity can result in excessive fatigue or pain. Too little can cause loss of muscle strength and deconditioning. You need to learn how much you can do before you get tired, so that you can stop and rest before you reach that point. In this way, you won’t deplete your supply of energy completely but will still have some in reserve. You also need to learn the importance of resting your mind as well as your body. If you are sitting down to relax but your mind is thinking about the next activity you need to be doing or worrying about what you are not doing, you may not be getting the full benefit of your rest period. What you want to do is establish a routine that makes your pattern of activity and rest consistent and automatic so that you always stay within your energy limits.
If you need some help with this, you may want to start keeping a diary or journal. By documenting your energy levels at different times of the day, you will begin to discover when you feel your best and when you feel your energy level declining. Write down what activity you were doing when you began to feel your energy go. This will help you learn your own tolerance for activities, and you may begin to generate ideas for simple changes you can make in your daily routine to help you keep your energy levels up.
An activity like doing laundry is a good example of how you can incorporate the idea of pacing into your life. First, break the activity down into steps—for example, gathering laundry from all parts of the house, separating it into different loads, washing and drying the laundry, folding and hanging the laundry, and putting it away. Using the techniques of pacing, you could gather and separate the laundry and put the first load in, then take a rest break while the first load is washing and drying. Then later you could run another load of laundry and sit to fold the first load (sitting requires less energy than standing). Delegating chores to others can also help you to conserve your energy, so you could ask other members of your family to assist with the laundry, especially with putting it away. Simple changes like these can leave you more energy for other daily tasks.
Proper pacing, however, cannot be fully effective without planning. It is essential to look ahead a day, a few days, or even a week or two, to develop a strategy for completing your activities. You can start by making a “to-do list” of activities that need to be accomplished in a day so you can plan the best time to do each activity. If you have more energy in the morning, plan to do your more strenuous activities then. If you feel more energized after a nap or rest period, schedule that time to run errands or do work activities that require more physical or mental energy. Be sure to plan rest times in your day to replenish your energy reserves.
If you want to look farther ahead, use a calendar or planner to schedule your activities over a week so that you can spread strenuous activities out instead of doing them all in one day. First, look at all of the activities you need to accomplish in a week and grade each of them on an energy expenditure level of low, medium, or high. Then spread the high-energy activities over the week so you don’t do too many in one day and end up being exhausted for several days after. Doing too many energy-demanding activities in one day may also lead to a flare-up of your arthritis that you take several days to recover from. By recording a list of activities and planning the best time to accomplish them, you can keep track of what you have already done and what you have left to accomplish. This way, you can gain a positive sense of accomplishment when you look back over what you have been able to do. However, remember to be somewhat flexible with your daily routine. A little flexibility can allow you to participate in activities that are enjoyable and that you otherwise might miss out on because of limited energy.
Last Reviewed on June 27, 2012
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