How I Manage My Many Energy Envelopes
By Kate Morgan
Note: Kate is a ME/CFS and fibromyalgia patient from Toronto. She joined our program in 2014.
A central idea of the self-help program is the concept of Energy Envelopes, meaning both one’s overall limits, called the Big Envelope, and limits in different areas of life, the Little Envelopes.
During the time I’ve been in the program, my Big Envelope has expanded from about 25 on the Rating Scale to 55 now. My Little Envelopes vary; some areas are more restrictive than others. Let me explain and also tell you how I manage my envelopes.
My envelope for physical activity is one of my smallest and most challenging. I can only stand briefly. Bathing and showering are exhausting and require a five to 10 min rest immediately after. I can only do very minimal housework. For example, I load and unload the dishwasher in stages and do the same when putting laundry away.
Before I accepted my physical limits, I tried to push through and live like I did before my illness, but of course that only made my symptoms worse.
What helps me manage this challenging envelope is three regular scheduled rests a day, each lasting 15 to 30 minutes, with additional shorter rests as needed.
Also, I keep the number of steps I take between per day 3,000 and 4,000, stand only for brief periods and keep my heart rate below 96. [For more on why Kate limits walking and uses a heart rate monitor, see her article Pacing Strategies That Help Me.]
To counteract deconditioning as well as to help with stiffness and pain, I exercise in two ways. First, I take two 25-minute walks each week, both scheduled for days I’m not working. And I do gentle stretching in bed or in a chair a couple times a week.
My envelope for cognitive tasks is my largest and the reason that I am able to continue to work four days a week. For the most part, I can easily read, be on the computer, or do things like knitting, for great lengths of time, as long as I haven't been exhausted by overdoing my other envelopes.
I can get fatigued quickly if the activity is extremely challenging mentally, such as balancing the budget at work. But I find that when I'm starting to feel fatigue, if I change the mental activity, say from computer work to reading, I can bounce back from fatigue without needing a rest.
Also, sometimes a change to a physical activity, such as getting up to stretch or walk around, will reduce the fatigue.
My envelope for time with people is my smallest and most challenging. It gets used up quickly by my job. I can manage only five to 10 minutes on the phone before becoming exhausted. In person social events are manageable if kept under one hour and then I need to lie down in bed for a couple of hours.
On the rare occasions I attempt a social event, it has to be at lunch time or early afternoon; evenings don’t work for me.
The only social activities that have on a regular basis are family events. I'm very fortunate that my partner and extended family are extremely supportive and all events are held at our house.
This means I can rest comfortably in my own bed and join the family for short periods of time and then retire to my bed when I need to rest again. In this way, I can participate within my limits and not suffer for days or weeks after.
For a while, I spent a considerable amount of time each day on social media, but then I realized that even though I can spend hours on the computer reading and researching, the time spent on social media could be as draining as in-person social activity.
I developed several strategies in response. First, I now turn off the computer, TV and cell phone by 8:00 pm. Second, I read and/or answer only urgent emails on a daily basis, leaving other emails to read and respond once or twice a week on a non-work day and even then, limiting the time to less than one hour per session.
Using these strategies has reduced my fatigue and improved my sleep, so I have made them part of my daily routine.
Exposure to external stimuli, especially lights, noise and allergens, is probably the biggest trigger for increased symptoms and higher fatigue levels. The sensitivity caused by CFS and fibro are intensified by my severe asthma and multiple chemical sensitivities.
At home, I can control this sensitivity with low level lighting and limiting the amount of time TV and radios are on. At work, I have little to no control, so I manage the exposure by closing my office door when I need a break from the noise, and going to a quiet room throughout the day for rest breaks.
Also, I have found a few restaurants close to home that have a quiet environment for the few times I attempt a social outing.
I was great at handling chaos and emergencies pre illness. Now the slightest hiccup in my day and I can feel everything unravelling inside of me. So my envelope for stress is very small.
Something as minor as going to a new store or anything out of my normal, safe routine can trigger stress levels that are out of proportion to the event. I counteract this response with a lot of breath control, meditation, rests and mindfulness practice. Still, I have to be very, very careful with this envelope.
I find that extreme emotions of any kind, positive or negative, increase my stress and create fatigue. My response is to aim to keep my emotions “middle of the road” in order to avoid an energy crash.
Also, I use two strategies to create positive emotions. First, I start my day by recording in my journal one thing I am looking forward to that day. In addition, at the end of the day I enter five things I am grateful for. Some days (depending on my symptom levels) its really hard to find five.
However, I have noticed that consciously switching my mind at the end of the day to something positive is very rewarding and also helps me to sleep better.
Keys to Living within My Energy Envelopes
The main tools that help me to live within my Energy Envelopes are:
Learning to live within my Energy Envelopes has substantially reduced the push/crash cycle, to the point that I have an occasional flare up of symptoms, but not crashes, and my quality of life has improved considerably.