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Spoon Theory and Energy Conservation

Energy conservation is an important concept to understand as it can benefit so many people including clients, the aging population, friends, and relatives that may be affected by illness or injury, or even those that just get caught up in everyday life and find themselves without enough time or energy at the end of the day.


Energy conservation refers to the way activities are performed to minimize muscle fatigue, joint stress, and pain. By using your body in the most efficient way and completing tasks systematically, you can save your energy, which can affect your life dramatically as that leaves energy to do things that are meaningful and important to you!


During the energy conservation discussion on the Brainthropology podcast, a great tool to help understand this concept was mentioned called the Spoon Theory. Spoon Theory is a term created by Christine Miserandino, a patient advocate that suffers from an autoimmune disease, Lupus. A friend of hers was having difficulty understanding her illness as “she didn’t look sick.” Christine explained to her friend what it’s like to live with Lupus by laying out a handful of spoons on the table. She explained that the spoons symbolized a person’s energy reserves for one day and that each spoon represented one task that she needed to complete that day. She continued to explain that each spoon, no matter how automatic or trivial, depletes from the energy supply. Examples of seemingly simple daily tasks such as getting out of bed, showering, getting dressed, eating, and many other uncomplicated tasks threaten to deplete the day’s energy at any given moment.


Christine continued to explain to her friend that “when you run out of spoons, you can choose to borrow against the spoons of a future date, but there are consequences. When you deplete your spoons, you are bedridden. You are unable to manage the simple activities of life. When my spoon supply is depleted, my body takes over, and I no longer have a choice of what I want to do. The pain or fatigue cannot be solved by medication or cooled by massage. I am forced to sit, or more commonly, lay down. Once resting, it is only a matter of time before the exhaustion washes over me. Sleep is the only respite.”


This explanation has become a common language between “spoonies” - a now common term describing chronic illness sufferers. This concept helps us have empathy for those affected by illness or injury. Many times “spoonies” have reported feeling isolated by their biological emergency shutdown system because it gets activated by the most simple tasks like cooking a meal, driving to a corner shop, or even having an engaging conversation with a friend or family member as these tasks are enough to activate their systems to shut down until they can recover.


The attached video to this blog offers an additional perspective to the original spoon theory for those who may or may not have an illness, disability, or injury. The presenter encourages us to use this concept for all people, explaining that whether or not your health may be compromised, that at one point or another in life you will find yourself running out of spoons.



At Brainthropology we encourage you, whomever you may be, to practice understanding and compassion when it comes to using your own energy reserves and to have respect when you ask others to use their precious energy.


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