spoon and medicine in a jar

There is hope for a more energetic and productive future for those dealing with a chronic condition that drains their energy and makes everyday life a challenge. 


A decrease in energy and stamina plagues many people of advanced age or with chronic or auto-immune diseases.  Dealing with pain day after day can be exhausting.  In addition, certain illnesses such as cancer and their treatment can make a person stop dead in their tracks and force rest even for the most robust individuals.  For those with an auto-immune condition, you are often dealing with both chronic pain and fatigue due to your illness.



Having to modify your busy life for an extended period of time due to an energy-depleting condition can be distressing for anyone in this challenging season of life


You will need additional tools and the armor of a determined spirit to deal with the new you long-term.  There will be days that this armor will slip, but the trick is to keep soldering on to combat depression and a worsening of your condition.  Don't allow anxiety and stress to eat away the joys you still possess.



This article will give you some tools to keep you motivated to deal with chronic fatigue and hopefully ward off depression.


Tips for Low Energy



1.  Be Realistic- Is it a known fact that your age, condition, or treatment can cause increased fatigue? If so, you need to give yourself some grace and come to grips with the fact that you have a new “normal”.  What you were a year ago may be vastly different than who you are today. 


Accepting realistic expectations is a big part of effectively dealing with your current life.  If your doctor, support group, or research points out that you may fatigue easily, maybe you should take to heart this new knowledge.  Once you are on board with the fact that you may no longer have the energy you did in your 20s, you are on your way to dealing with your current situation.



2.  Listen to Your Body- If your body is telling you that you need to rest, obey its signal to slow down and take a break as needed. We all are used to pushing through fatigue and pain, but your wonderful body was designed to give signals to slow down when necessary.


If you do not rest when you feel the need, your body will eventually compel you to stop one way or another.  Unfortunately, it may mean that you will have a worsening of your condition or develop new ailments that will force you to rest. 


It is wise to heed the call now of your body’s natural defense to rest to recover when necessary.




3.  Planned Rest- We all have much to accomplish each day. Unfortunately, fitting in a rest period typically is the first item on your daily list to be dropped. Downtime might be considered less important or perhaps more selfish than cleaning the house or caring for loved ones.


However, deep down, you know that you need to take a break to feel better and keep going for the long haul. 


One way to ensure that you have the respite your body craves is to establish a “planned rest” every day.  You are more likely to continue this vital habit if you have an established restoration routine.



4.  Inform Key Players- For those worried that others will judge you as lazy for resting, providing friends and family with an explanation ahead of time that you are “required” to rest may help ease your guilt. A simple statement that you need to partake in a doctor-prescribed daily rest will ease the burden of defending your necessary action.



5.  Explore Dietary Changes- Certain foods make you feel tired and blah. Carbs such as white bread, crackers, and baked goods top the list.  Also, foods with high sugar content are guilty of draining energy and vitality.  Consider a more natural and energizing eating plan such as the Mediterranean diet to help to make you feel strong and lively.  Discuss with your physician any dietary changes before starting on a new eating regime.



6.  Get Bloodwork- If you are chronically fatigued, do not accept this fate without first exploring all causes. Talk to your doctor about your state of tiredness and request that they measure your blood counts, hormones, and electrolytes.  Conditions that can cause fatigue, such as low iron or magnesium, should be diagnosed through lab work, so do not feel shy about encouraging your doctor to investigate further.



7.  Consider Supplements- Although there is no magic pill to help to combat fatigue, you may want to try supplements to maximize your optimum health. Just be aware that you can waste a lot of money on commercial supplements that tout quick relief from fatigue.  Rarely will they work as promised.  It is best to consult your physician to find quality vitamins and supplements geared to your individual needs.  Most people can benefit from a good multi-vitamin.


Additionally, your lab testing may signify that you are low on certain vitamins and minerals, therefore necessitating specific supplementation to correct this deficit.


If your doctor is unwilling to discuss supplements, consider adding an integrative health (natural) physician to your medical team.  This type of doctor is an expert in naturopathic remedies such as supplements.



8.  Exercise- Although rest is recommended for chronic fatigue, it is not implied that you should cut out exercise from your daily routine. Exercise leads to increased stamina and a better emotional attitude which helps to energize those who are dealing with a mentally and physically draining condition. Spending too much time in bed or on the couch can be counterintuitive to your potential for optimum health. 


You may need to tailor your exercise to fit your current status.  For those accustomed to running marathons or working out strenuously at the gym, you may find that it is best to cut back to where you are comfortable.  Now is not the time to overdo your work-outs or move through pain.  Once again, listen to your body.  For most of us, walking, yoga, tai chi, and stretching are the exercises of choice to incorporate into our daily routine.



9.  Express Yourself- Suppressing negative emotions resulting from fatigue, and chronic illness can lead to further pain, exhaustion, and mental and physical decline. Even though it is helpful to try and look on the bright side of your situation, you still need to grieve and process all of the hard stuff you go through daily.  Finding a trusted friend to vent your frustrations and disappointment will tap into a healthy release for your negative feelings. 


Other fruitful options for an emotional outlet are:

  • Journaling
  • Music
  • Painting
  • Yoga
  • Prayer
  • Meditation





10.  Stay Stimulated- Last of all, you need to find joy and excitement in your days to keep going day after day. Taking up a new hobby, interest, or volunteer activity will help to spur you on when times are tough.  For those who have a job, you may need to find a new position or way to do the work that enables you to continue with less strain and fatigue. 


The ability to feel stimulated and proud of your accomplishments is a powerful tool to fight the demands of chronic fatigue.  Taking your mind off your troubles through satisfying activities and fun helps to keep you striving towards positive mental wellness.



Final Thoughts- The Spoon Theory


I want to leave you with a final analogy about dealing with fatigue caused by chronic illness.  It is a popular philosophy called the “spoon theory.



Think of your life and daily energy level having a finite supply each morning.  It is similar to a tank of gas, where the more you use, the less is left in the tank with no possibility of refueling.


For people with chronic conditions and low energy levels, we are allotted a certain number of "energy" spoons each day (or gallons of gas in our tanks).


As we use our spoons to prepare for the day, clean the house, cook meals, exercise, and go to appointments, the spoons are exhausted.  If you do not use your energy spoons sparingly, you will run out of spoons before the end of the day and “crash”. 


There is no way to “make more spoons” each day.  If you “borrow” spoons to get through a strenuous day, the next day, you will pay for it by having low energy in addition to other negative effects such as increased pain.


An example is a middle-aged woman with an auto-immune condition.  She typically spaces her daily activities to accommodate the assigned number of spoons that her body prepares each morning.  But one day, her husband needs to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery.  Her well-intentioned plans to sparingly get through her day with her allotted energy spoons are suddenly ruined, and she needs to push through a long and stressful day at the hospital. 



The next few days are challenging for her, with crippling exhaustion and pain confining her to her easy chair and home.  She did not have much choice to borrow spoons to get through this unplanned event, but this story illustrates what can occur when pushed beyond your current and finite abilities.


Being aware of the spoon theory may help you consciously adjust your activity level to get through your days and challenges.  In addition, sharing this idea with friends, co-workers, and family may help them to better understand what you deal with daily.


Chronic fatigue is frustrating but allowing yourself grace and knowing how to self-manage can ease this disturbing side effect for many.




by Donna Reese

Polymyalgia Rheumatica USA-Our Stories Owner and Moderator