Many acute illnesses and chronic conditions cause fatigue (tiredness), which can affect your ability to carry out your usual daily tasks and activities. You might find that fatigue becomes worse during the day so that you run out of energy and are unable to do the things that matter to you. Or you might find that particular tasks cause overwhelming fatigue.
Fatigue can affect you physically, mentally and emotionally, so you might start to feel quite down – especially if you do not have enough energy for enjoyable activities, such as seeing friends or family.
This is where energy conservation strategies will help!
The aim of energy conservation is to balance your energy levels throughout the day and enable you to manage your daily tasks.
The first step is to identify your triggers:
- When do you feel more tired e.g. morning, afternoon, evening?
- What makes you feel more tired e.g. bathing, dressing, cooking?
- Is your tiredness linked to feeling short of breath?
- Is your tiredness affected by sleep patterns or emotions?
- Make a diary of your observations and note your own pattern of fatigue.
The next step is to consider the “5 Ps” of energy conservation and apply these to your daily life:
- What activities are most important or essential for today?
- What tasks can be postponed to another day or delegated to others?
- Think about all the tasks you need to do during the day/ week and plan on a diary or calendar how to spread them out.
- Be guided by your daily pattern of fatigue; if you have more energy in the morning, try to plan more tiring tasks then.
- Schedule regular rest breaks, don’t wait until you’re tired to have a rest.
- Gather & organise all items before an activity (e.g. dressing) then take a short rest before you begin.
- Avoid activity for 1 hour after meals.
- Take regular breaks; if you stop to rest BEFORE you are exhausted, you’ll be able to continue or restart the activity and carry on for longer.
- Try having a short rest every hour or lie down to rest in the afternoon if you have been busy in the morning.
- Maintain a steady pace and don’t rush.
- Avoid doing too much on days when you have more energy, as your fatigue will likely be worse the next day.
- Maintain an upright posture and avoid twisting/ bending.
- Minimise arm movements, keeping your elbows low and close to your body.
- Sit instead of standing e.g. whilst showering, dressing, washing up.
- Consider small aids/ equipment for use during daily tasks e.g. perching stool, shower stool, long handled aids, “helping hands” (ask an occupational therapist for advice on these).
- Consider using a mobility aid, such as a Zimmer frame or three-wheeled walker (ask a physiotherapist for advice).
- Give yourself permission to ask others for help – if you get support with routine tasks you might have more energy for enjoyable activities.
- Give yourself permission to rest at regular intervals and postpone non-essential tasks.
As you recover from illness, you will gradually be able to do more and therefore increase your activity tolerance. It is helpful to set small goals for yourself and record your progress so that you are able to look back and recognise how far you have come. You can aim to do a little more every day, just avoid overdoing it as this will set you back. Remember you have had a serious illness and your body needs time to recover.
Please refer to the section "Developing Exercise Tolerance".