What about spoons? Am I still just hung up on my massive Thanksgiving dinner from yesterday? Or all the dishes that my mom pulled out of the dishwasher this morning?
Believe it or not, no! I'm talking about ENERGY! So how do spoons and energy work together? Well, if you're a person with an autoimmune disease, you may have already heard about the spoon theory. I learned about it years ago from a patient of mine who has multiple sclerosis. Basically, spoons are a tangible way to grasp how much energy you have available to you in any given day. You start with 10, and the goal is to make sure you don't spend all your spoons with one or two activities and be totally wiped out by 10am. If you want to read more about it, check out this article: https://www.webmd.com/multiple-sclerosis/features/spoon-theory
I do not personally have an autoimmune disease. But I have used this theory to teach energy conservation techniques to so many of my patients, some with autoimmune disease and some without. Ever since seeking treatment for my mental health, I have been re-evaluating my day to day routine, both during and outside of my time at the hospital. Even without an autoimmune disease, there is a limit to my energy especially when I'm spending 8 hours of my day caring for patients.
During the pandemic, I developed a really bad habit of spending all 10 of my spoons within my work day because I felt that it was my responsibility to give my patients every ounce of my energy every single day. I would have nothing left for myself or my family. Let me paint a picture of what this actually looked like. I would have fits of road rage all the way home, plop down on the couch as soon as I walked in the door, and have to muster up the strength just to get up to use the bathroom or get ready for bed. My husband was becoming more like my caregiver than my partner - making me eat dinner every night and physically putting me in the shower when I would go 5 days without taking one. Sometimes I felt like I was taking spoons from the next day to get through the night and I'd start the next morning with 7-8 spoons instead of 10. It was a vicious cycle and I honestly don't know how I was getting through each day. I quickly found out that my routine was not sustainable and I started having pretty frequent panic attacks.
As a healthcare provider, I always felt that I had to give, give, give. Unfortunately, if you give all 10 of your spoons and don't refresh them, you begin running on empty, and then you can't care for anyone. So how can we as healthcare providers refresh our spoons? I think it looks different for everyone.
If you clicked on the link for the article I shared above, you probably read that people with autoimmune disease need to sleep to refresh their spoons. I have become a firm believer in the importance of sleep. My next day looks very different if I have 4-5 hours of sleep versus 7-8 hours. With less sleep, I'm much more irritable and distracted, and much less productive. With more sleep, my day feels SIGNIFICANTLY easier. I am able to actually enjoy socializing with my coworkers, I go the extra mile for my patients, and sometimes I even get more units of productivity than I anticipated. At home, I take care of myself, eat dinner, shower, and then feel more empowered to continue to go to bed at a reasonable time.
Sleep is not the only way to refresh your spoons. I have found so much value in the concept of self-care. For me, self-care includes swimming in the mornings, journaling, playing with my dog, reading at lunch, watching a TV show with my husband, taking a hot bath, eating a fulfilling meal, calling a friend or family member, or cleaning my bedroom. All of those things take time and energy, but it's a positive way to spend my time. Donna said it best:
My spoons do not just reflect my physical energy, but my mental, social, and emotional energy as well. I find that when I swim in the mornings, it depletes some of my physical energy but rejuvenates me in other ways so I can have a more enjoyable day. I also find that swimming releases that physical energy in a positive way so that my anxiety is more manageable. When I journal in the mornings, it puts me in a better headspace no matter what I have planned for that day. I know I've spent time working on myself and it allows me to feel much more able to care for others. My spoons stretch a little further when I replenish them throughout the day. That also means I don't have to take spoons from tomorrow and be set up for failure the next day. That vicious cycle comes to an end when you actually take care of yourself.
This pandemic has been the most challenging time of my life, especially working in healthcare. I'm sure I'm not the only healthcare provider who has had to re-evaluate their habits to make positive changes for a more sustainable routine. The spoon theory has been one way for me to consider how I feel each day and adjust my routine to make each day the best it can be.
I want to hear what you think! Have you heard of the spoon theory before? Do you have a different way to evaluate your energy levels through the day? What are some things you do for yourself to replenish your spoons? Thanks for reading! Let's start caring for ourselves first so that we can continue to care for others.