Airline pilots have an expression – ‘excess capacity’. Excess capacity is the ability for anyone to cope with additional stress and pressure in their lives.
Someone who is stressed and having difficulty dealing with their normal everyday life has very little excess capacity, very little ability to cope with any new stresses that might come their way. Most, if not all, of their ‘capacity’ is used to deal with their day-to-day life – their job, their co-workers, their family, their commuting time, etc.
Someone with a chronic illness, like Lupus, generally starts their day with less ‘excess capacity’ than the average person would. Dealing with the symptoms of a chronic illness, like Lupus, requires a lot of effort and uses a lot of energy leaving far less capacity for that person to easily deal with everything else in their life. The less capacity a person starts their day with, the less capable they are at handling additional stresses that come their way. It’s easy to see why a person with a chronic illness will often find themselves struggling what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis is often far more than their capacity to cope.
Christine Miserandino describes this ability to cope as the Spoon Theory. Every day, a person with a chronic illness has a limited amount of energy to spend on their daily tasks. Ms. Miserandino uses spoons to visually illustrate the units of energy a person with Lupus has. While the average person has more than enough spoons to get through a normal day, let’s say 25 spoons a day, where a person with an auto-immune illness would have far fewer spoons, let’s say 14 spoons a day to deal with their daily tasks. It becomes far too easy for someone with a very limited amount of energy every day to feel like their life is spiralling out of control!
So, how does a person who feels overwhelmed actually free up some capacity so they can live a relatively normal life?
From my experience and perspective, there are two things that can be done to free up some capacity:
1) Reduce the amount of ‘capacity’ you currently are using. I know, not an easy task for someone who starts the day with lower energy levels than most people do. Find something that you feel you have to do every day that you can either stop doing or modify it so the task become far more enjoyable.
Bag it, better it, or barter it.
Bag it. Stop doing this task completely. The house doesn’t have to be cleaned on days you are not feeling well. Your kids and spouse can help make dinner and clean up. Grocery shopping can be done online and either picked up or delivered. Skip visiting family members or others who drain your energy, stress you out, cause you to flare, etc.
Better it. Turn your tasks into something better for you, something more fun, not so difficult. This is a great place to identify your passions and your core values and see if where you can apply these to tasks that decrease your energy or stress you.
Barter it. Trade tasks you don’t like do, or tasks that stress or challenge you, for tasks that energize you or that you like doing. For example, if you don’t like making dinner but you are expected to make dinner every night, but don’t mind doing dishes which is a task your children normally do, then teach your children how to make dinner.
2) Expand the amount of capacity you have. While expanding the amount of ‘capacity’ you have may not be easy, it can be done. Stress, anger, frustration can use up a lot of your energy, which quickly uses up any excess capacity you might have.
Relaxation practices like meditation, listening to music you love, creating a self-love practice based on your passions and core values, etc., can reduce stress, release anger and frustration, and boost your energy. This type of practice is best started on your good days, when you feel like you can cope, perhaps not easily but at least you can cope.
As someone with an auto-immune illness, it’s important to maintain ‘excess capacity’ in order to cope with unexpected flares and challenges. In fact, it’s often this lack of excess capacity that sends a lot of people with auto-immune illnesses into depression, feeling like they can’t take any more.
Working pro-actively to lessen the impacts of an autoimmune illness helps give us a small sense of control over a life that is often out of our control. And even small steps can lead to big gains.
Live well, Lupies!!