Learning to Refuel

How often do we use food to try to satisfy a hunger that has nothing to do with a physical need for nutrition? Consider for a moment, two common yet different states of being: fatigue and depletion. When we find ourselves exhausted or depleted, it’s tempting to reach for familiar, comforting foods that are off plan and really not a solution to either problem.

We are now over a year into the COVID pandemic. Things are finally starting to get back to normal but some of us are still dealing with the residual fatigue and depletion. These are real issues that can make it difficult to succeed in the pursuit of a healthy, balanced life. If you have ever struggled with using food as a crutch, there is a real danger of getting derailed. It is worth spending a few moments to consider how to face this challenge of feeling either fatigued, depleted or both.

Let’s start by exploring the difference between these two states. Fatigue is when a muscle (or even your mind) has been used almost to the point of failure and it requires rest to recuperate. Contrastingly, depletion occurs when our inner, emotional resources have been drained. Depletion may have nothing to do with physical exertion. For example, you can be depleted without feeling physically tired…and you can feel physically tired and yet be elated, not depleted.

It may help to visualize it this way. Consider an empty glass…

No matter how long it sits “resting” on the counter, it cannot magically replenish on its own. It needs to be filled up by some external source. Similarly, your body and mind are also “containers”, and just like the glass and when they are empty they need to be filled up. However instead of “food”, it is your emotions, your intellect, and your spirit that are the contents required to fill you up.

Now you can only give emotional, intellectual, and spiritual output for so long. If you are not also receiving emotional, spiritual and intellectual INPUT, you will quickly become depleted.

When we are around others who are overflowing, we often feel energized.. On the other hand, depleted people who need others to fill them are often the individuals who drain us! But here’s the problem: Because fatigue and depletion can feel the same, we often misdiagnose our condition.

We think we are fatigued, so we rest. But in fact, we might be depleted, in which case no amount of food and rest will restore our inner resources. When we are depleted, we need restoration rather than rest or relaxation. As wonderful as rest and relaxation can be, like food, they are not the contents we need.

For many of us, we’re not just exhausted, we are depleted. We are depleted because after almost a year and a half of pandemic life, our usual channels of restoration have not been readily available to us. We are normally restored when we connect with others, through the exchange of energy, conversations and personal interaction. While virtual communities have kept us going, they do not restore our inner resources in the same way that personal connections do.

So how do you know if you are fatigued or depleted and if you are depleted, what can you do about it? Fatigue generally applies to your body and your mind. You need to fuel your body to overcome fatigue. However, depletion generally applies to your emotions, your intellect, and your spirit. Depletion can mimic the feeling of physical or mental exhaustion. The difference is that depletion cannot be resolved with rest, relaxation or food.

The way to treat depletion is with restoration, not with relaxation. While relaxation is a passive state of “not doing”, restoration is a deliberate choice to engage in activities which add energy instead of consume energy.

Need a place to get started? Here are some examples of restorative activities: regular prayer or meditation; walking in nature and pausing to notice all the sounds, sights, and textures around you; reading something beautiful or inspiring rather than useful; physically meeting and spending quality time with loved ones for nothing more than connecting and sharing; listening attentively to music that is harmoniously complex and rich in sounds and themes; applying your mind to a challenge totally unrelated to work; regular journaling. Use this as an opportunity to check in with yourself. You got this!

References: Adapted from David Lapin’s blog article on Fatigue vs Depletion

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