Are you a sprinter or a long distance runner? Understanding your energy patterns in midlife

I have always been a sprinter. For a few minutes I can power up, propel myself and hurtle along at high speed. I love feeling my arms cutting through the air, the strength in my legs and an unspoken drive that pushes me forward. The only trouble is that when I finish my heart is pounding, my breath is shallow and I need to stop for a while to recover. At school I remember watching the long-distance runners who just kept going and going and wondered how on earth they did it. 100 meters was enough for me.

This has become a metaphor for my life. I can throw myself into activities, concentrate deeply for chunks of time but if I don’t allow time to step back and recover I can easily burn out. How I have envied the long-distance types who can persevere over longer periods, whose energy is more even, the people that continue to be useful and engaged in life while I need to stop for an afternoon nap. But I know that isn’t who I am and I have learned to accept it.

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Now in perimenopause I have to protect my energy reserves more than ever. For many women going through peri and menopause fatigue is a major symptom, as well as sleep disruption, so anything that helps to regulate energy is worth considering.

Getting to know our energetic patterns is a valuable piece of the puzzle when designing a life that supports us - whether our focus is better in the morning, afternoon or evening; if we choose to dedicate a day to a project or need to spread it over several, or planning the best times to have important conversations. We need to balance the high intensity, high energy times with the need for restoration and slowing down.

When we go against our energetic patterns we run into trouble, and this is hard for anyone whose life is built around external factors – which is most of us – this includes working hours, school runs and other people’s schedules.  And I know personally that once we reach burn out it takes time to recover and rebuild our resilience.

So, what can we do?

·      Firstly, get to know your natural energy patterns. Notice when you feel energetic and when you need some down time. Record your observations over a week.

·      Schedule your most demanding activities during your peak energy times.

·      Schedule in quieter activities when you need to recharge. Unless you plan them in advance and block out the time they may simply not happen.

·      Take a nap - 20-40 minutes is ideal, any longer and you may feel sluggish. The National Sleep Foundation says napping can improve mood, alertness and performance.

·      Try to work with your energy patterns naturally, stimulants like caffeine can give you a boost but may also increase anxiety, heart rate and affect sleep.

·      Natural energy boosts include spending time outside in daylight, eating a protein rich breakfast, choosing whole-grains over white carbs and regular exercise.

·      Stay hydrated. According to a study by the University of Connecticut even a 1.5% drop in hydration can cause fatigue and loss of concentration.

·      Practice mindfulness or meditation which can lower stress levels and improve energy and focus.

·      Connect with loved ones. A Johnson and Johnson study found that the act of having a conversation with a loved one was associated with the high end of the energy scale.