If you have a chronic illness and are constantly battling a host of onerous, annoying symptoms, you’re not alone. If you’ve been told that these symptoms are just a normal part of having a chronic illness, you may not have a complete picture.
Although most people exhibit symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, and brain fogginess, these symptoms may actually be your body’s way of communicating a critical message to you: “Hey, listen up! You’re expending too much energy and doing way too much. If you keep up this crazy pace and deplete your resources, you’re going to get a rude awakening with worsened symptoms.”
You see, your body is very intelligent. It wants you to heal but it also wants to protect you from further damage. It wants you to live inside your energy envelope.
The best way to understand this phenomenon is to understand how the energy envelope works. Within it, there are three different aspects of energy: (i) available energy, (ii) expended energy, and (iii) symptoms. Available energy (sometimes called the perceived energy level) refers to the amount of energy you have available at any given time. Each person’s energy level is different and depends on many factors including your age, activity level, type and phase of your condition, and so on.
Expended energy refers to the amount of energy you use or lose on a daily basis. This too is very individualized. People expend energy through emotional exertion and physical activity. This energy is replenished through rest and decreased by stress. Therefore, the more stressed you feel, the more fatigue rears its ugly head.
The last element, symptoms, varies in intensity depending on the individual. One may experience fatigue, brain fog, pain, weakness, and/or disorientation. In essence, a person experiences a host of symptoms that diminishes the harder they work. Even though symptoms and pain levels vary, the energy envelope is constant.
Take, for example, a person with fibromyalgia who is in the middle of a flareup. Let’s say they continue to work outside their energy envelope (doing dishes, cleaning up the house, working a part-time job, making dinner, and taking care of the kids). Although they may desperately need to rest, they refuse to do so. They push on despite the warning signs. As a result, they will likely feel more fatigued, achy, and irritable. On the other hand, if that same person recognizes the symptoms of a flare-up and gets help with their household tasks, decreases their work hours, and rests when they need it, they will stay within their energy envelope and symptoms will improve or, at the very least, stabilize.
The important thing to remember is that everyone has certain energy levels that they deal with; however, individuals with chronic illness have less energy than healthy people. By being aware of these limitations and guarding against energy drainers, chronic illness warriors can limit flare-ups and improve symptoms.
By respecting energy levels, heeding warning signals and resting, individuals can have a fulfilling and wonderful life inside the energy envelope.
Have you ever lived outside your energy envelope and experienced heightened symptoms? If so, did living within the energy envelope help? Or, did it worsen your symptoms?