These days, working long hours is seen as a badge of honor. Having little time to relax has become a source of pride that people frequently refer to when discussing work. You might hear about a hospital worker enduring 36-hour shifts, start-ups that use all-nighters to get ahead, or a company employee who burns the midnight oil to stay competitive.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” seems to be the popular rallying cry of today.
A lot of the remedies we use to counteract low energy are immediate and have a short-term effect. For instance, a grueling week’s work is remedied by downing energy drinks to stay afloat. A grumbling stomach is fixed by ordering a cheesy pizza dinner.
These are quick methods that keep us going through long hours. The problem is, they aren’t sustainable in the long run. It’s like treating a wound with a band-aid: it’s fine for now, but something’s got to be done about it sooner or later.
Enter the Concept of Energy Surplus vs. Deficit
Think of your energy levels like a bank account. A healthy account has a sufficient amount of funds, where more money is deposited than taken out. Run your account into the negatives, however, and you face penalties that drain your account even more. Too many lapses in payments and your account can shut down completely.
Let’s refer to these account balances as energy surpluses and deficits.
Energy surpluses are actions you take that result in positive energy levels over a period of time.
For instance, getting a good night’s rest every day of the week will give you an energy surplus. When you’re able to fall asleep quickly and enjoy a high quality level of sleep, it improves your overall health and gives you the energy needed during the daytime.
On the other hand, energy deficits are actions that result in insufficient energy levels over a period of time.
Working long hours every week can drain your energy and your overall health, as is the case of numerous stage performers who get carted to the hospital due to exhaustion. Besides, productivity drops off sharply after 50 hour work-weeks, making those extra hours spent working mostly ineffective.
Energy deficits can also be caused mentally from feelings such as stress and worry. Bad moods and anxiety drain our ability to focus on activities and can even trigger physical pain, such as heartburn and stomachaches.
Now, either inputting energy or spending it isn’t bad in itself. Both are necessary to function on an everyday basis and make progress in life.
But the key idea here is balance. While an energy surplus indicates that you’re practicing habits that keep your well-being in check, you also want to make sure you’re spending energy on the things that will help you improve in the long run.
Moving towards an increasing energy deficit, though, means you’re setting yourself up to possibly crash. Your health is taking a toll from thinking and working too much, without getting enough replenishment to make up for it.
From time to time, we need to step back and evaluate our funds.
How to Figure Out the Amount of Energy Funds You Have
Unfortunately, unlike a bank account, we don’t have a number that shows us how well we’re operating. But if we look closely, we can see signs that indicate where we’re at.
- If you tend to wake up and look forward to your day, then you have a positive outlook, which translates to a better well-being.
- Being able to concentrate on your daily activities means you’re getting enough time to relax.
- If you’re focused on the present, as opposed to worrying about the past or future, it’s a sign that you’re spending your energy productively on tasks within your control.
- Making a habit out of eating mostly junk food and take-out meals leads to fatigue and long-term health problems.
- Feeling on edge and getting irritated easily can be caused by worries over uncertainty, and shows that some events in your life are causing high levels of mental strain.
- Dizziness and trouble concentrating means that you probably need to get more sleep and enjoy healthier meals.
While we all have moments where we feel tired or stressed, having these feelings build to the point of depression or exhaustion is your body’s way of telling you that your energy bank account is in need of replenishment.
Move Your Energy Balance Upwards
Overworking yourself and constantly stressing doesn’t make you more creative, more productive, or happier. Instead, they do the opposite.
So if you want to perform at your best, practice strategies that keep you in a positive state of mind and enable you to stay in control of what’s happening.
Here’s what you can do:
- Dump the stress out. Finding ways to offload worries that you can’t do anything about can help keep you focus more on what you can control. Try breathing exercises, writing out your worries, or jotting down things you are thankful for in your life.
- Rest. If you can’t think through a problem or feel dizzy, a nap can make you feel much better and help you think more clearly afterwards. On a similar note, getting at least 8 hours’ sleep a night improves your decision-making skills and concentration.
- Exercise. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which trigger positive feelings. If you’re feeling down, try taking a walk outside to boost your mood and energy levels.
- Be selective. If there’s something on your to-do list which isn’t that important after all, it’s okay to say no. Saying no to the activities that don’t push you in the right direction or aren’t very exciting gives you more room to focus on the activities that will get you where you want to be.
Release those thoughts and activities that you feel obligated to hold onto “just because”. There’s no need to feel guilty or irresponsible.
We all have limited energy and unlimited things we can do. The question is: what are the few things that you can and want to focus your energy on?