In mid-December 2021, I was sitting on the couch with my husband when I turned to him and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong. All this year, I haven’t had the energy for or interest in things I normally love, like gardening and decorating for Christmas. I just want to sit here and zone out in front of the TV.”
Honestly, there were probably a lot of things that added up to this feeling – grief from losing our two amazing, beloved dogs in the same year, dealing with the stress of a pandemic, the busiest couple of years I’ve ever had professionally, the exhaustion of adopting two new puppies (you have to watch them like a hawk!) and a few other personal stressors.
Wisely, my husband responded with, “You think it would help to talk to someone about that?” Luckily, I had a call with my coach coming up the next week, and I made a mental note to make this topic the focus of our session.
(Important note: Low energy and lack of interest in things you normally like to do can be signs of depression, so please talk to a mental health professional if needed. It’s a sign of strength to get professional support – seriously. Many of the smartest, strongest people I know say they’ve benefited from therapy.)
I described to my coach what was going on – I was getting plenty of sleep and trying to take care of myself like I always have, but my energy seemed to drain quickly, and by the time I was done with work or the “have tos” of being a responsible adult, I didn’t have anything left for the things I enjoy. My coach listened intently, then said, “You know, this kind of reminds me of my laptop. Once I unplug it from the wall, the battery doesn’t last long. It just doesn’t hold a charge anymore.”
That pretty much summed it up: My battery just wasn’t holding a charge like it used to.
I know there are others out there in this same situation, so while I can’t claim to have a magic pill to fix it, I’ll share the plan that came out of my coaching call – and maybe it can help you, too.
Step One: Identify What Charges Your Battery and What Drains It
This step is pretty straightforward: You’re just making two lists. Title the first list “Energy +.” Write down everything that brings you joy and gives you energy. My list included things like:
- Eating healthy food
- Listening to good music
- Reading fiction
- Playing with puppies
- Muay Thai
- Working on puzzles
- Spending time with friends and family
- Watching funny movies
Next, create your second list and title it “Energy -.” This time, write down everything that seems to take (or drain) your energy. For me, it was things like:
- Overscheduling weekends
- Social media
- Constant phone notifications
- Being around negative people
A couple of important notes here: First, you’ll notice that “volunteering” is on both of my lists! That’s because the volunteer work I do can sometimes be emotionally draining. So it can drain my energy, but at the same time, it can give me a sense of purpose and add energy that way. If you have things like that, just put a little star next to them.
Second, just because it’s on your “energy drain” list doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be a part of your life, or that you can easily get rid of it. Certain things in life (like work, cleaning the house, taking care of aging parents, paying bills, etc.) can drain energy but be necessary or unavoidable. It’s just good to know what adds energy and what uses it so you can be more intentional about your energy.
Step Two: Take Your Battery in for “Repair”
Whether it’s a laptop, phone or something else, we’ve all had an experience with a battery that stopped holding a charge, right? And to fix it, we generally have to replace the battery, which means the device has to be out of commission for a while. Now, unfortunately, we can’t just swap out our own personal batteries, but you DO need to take yourself out of commission for a bit and give yourself a chance to do an initial battery boost.
Take a look at your calendar, and choose at least two days (more is better) as soon as possible to focus on your battery. Maybe you can get away on a vacation, but it’s not a requirement. Here’s the plan for that time:
- No work
- Avoid things on your energy drain list as much as possible
- Fill your days with things from your “adds energy” list
Here are a few other recommendations:
- No social media
- Turn off all notifications on your phone (except those from important friends and family) and leave it in a central place throughout the day. Don’t carry it around with you.
- Drink plenty of water – most of us don’t get enough, and it impacts way more than we realize. (A favorite quote from the book The New Rules of Aging Well says, “Any feeling you have, start with water: if you can’t concentrate, if your partner’s voice is irking you, if you feel unable to cope, if you have a headache.”)
- Don’t take time off with your spouse or family – they may bring you joy, but I think it’s also easy to focus on them instead of the things that bring YOU energy, and YOU are the focus for this time. If you’ve got kiddos, maybe they can stay with their grandparents or friends for a day or two.
- Make preparations so you’re not distracted by work. Let your team know you’ll be gone and unreachable unless there’s an emergency (and be clear about what IS an emergency – most things aren’t), make sure to set up an auto-response email and voicemail letting clients know how they can receive immediate assistance, and tie up any loose ends before you go.
When the days come for your initial repair, allow yourself the space and time to focus on what brings you energy, and trust that charging your battery will truly serve everyone else in the long run.
Step Three: Plan for an Intense Battery Maintenance Period
In normal times, a weeklong vacation or few days of focusing on what brings you energy might be enough. But when your battery won’t hold a charge, you need some intense battery maintenance on top of what you normally do. I’m planning on a good six to 12 months of this intense maintenance for myself. Here’s what that includes:
- Prioritize movement, sleep, hydration and nutrition. These four things are pretty much the cornerstones of health. You don’t have to run a marathon – just get some good movement in every day. Make sure you have a good bedtime routine so you can fall asleep and your body is able to rest. Drink plenty of water. Eat foods that nourish your body. You’ve got one body, so take care of it.
- Regular “battery boost” days. Go ahead and schedule regular days (I’m starting with one per month) where you do the same thing you did during your initial repair – don’t work, avoid energy drains and do things that bring you energy.
- Planned periods of “slowness.” If you haven’t read the book In Praise of Slowness, I highly recommend it. (You can also watch the author’s TED Talk for an overview.) We live in a world obsessed with speed and rarely stop to consider if that speed is even necessary, or what the consequences of going faster and faster really are. I’ve found a nice antidote is to deliberately plan periods of slowness in my week. We’ve implemented “Slow Sunday evenings” in my household, where we cook dinner and then spend time doing things like working on puzzles or playing card games – things that seem to slow down time and help us be present.
- Reduced screen time. Ugh, technology – we love it, but it can be awfully addictive and stress us out. Ever realize that you’re staring at your work email or a social media feed but don’t remember actually pulling out your phone and opening the app? I’m starting by implementing one tech-free(ish) day per week where I’ll turn off all notifications on my phone except those from friends and family, leave my phone on the desk in the kitchen and avoid all other digital devices. With new phone settings and apps available, this is easier than ever. And hey, if it works well, I may do this all weekend.
- Plan your weeks with your energy in mind. Remember those lists you created? For this “intense maintenance” period, you need to be really, really intentional about adding in more things that give you energy – every day, every week. At a minimum, choose two extra small things you can do each day (listening to music, journaling, meditating, etc.) and one bigger thing you can do each week (painting, going on a date night, playing basketball, etc.) ON TOP of what you would normally do for yourself.
- Go on mini-vacations. Maybe it’s a weekend at a cabin within a few hours, maybe it’s exploring a nearby town with wineries, maybe you’re camping with the family, perhaps you’re headed to the beach for a three-day vacation. I think it’s ideal to have at least one “mini-vacation” per quarter where you totally get out of your normal environment and do something new. It doesn’t need to be expensive or far away – just go somewhere to get out of any “ruts” and gain some new perspective.
So, will it work? I can’t totally say yet – I’ll let you know in six months or so. But I will say that I had my “initial repair” days and found them incredibly beneficial. I could feel a spark start to return to my soul. And I’ll tell you what – more than anything, it feels good to have a plan to get my battery back to normal.