When you hear the words “energy conservation,” what do you think of? If you were paying extra close attention to your faithful OT during your hospitalization, you may recall that energy conservation refers to certain strategies that help you complete important daily tasks without completely tiring out first.
We OTs tend to stand atop our soapboxes to remind about the importance of energy conservation. And that is because we find it to be a vital part of your recovery! When you save your energy, your body accomplishes more, and often more efficiently. You are also likely preventing falls and other injuries down the line, as being too tired can make you less balanced and accurate.
Use these strategies to save energy in your daily life:
- Prioritize "have-to's"
- Make an action plan
- Take rest breaks
- Use your envrionment
- Use technology
Prioritize important “have-to's” in your day.
Think about what things absolutely must get done today. Write out a list of things you have to/want to do, and then put a number by each task to show order of importance. For example, if you must do laundry before you are on your very last pair of skivvies, that may make it to the top of your list. If you want to do some gardening or yard work, that could go down the list a few spaces below your “have-to's”. That way, you can figure out if you have the energy left over to do the gardening once the “have-to” tasks are completed.
Lay out your outfits in advance to save energy in the morning. Opt for hassle-free clothing like sweatpants, pullover shirts, and slip-on shoes.
Make an action plan to accomplish the “have-to's.”
Change the way you approach a task, like sitting down for parts of it (or all of it!) instead of standing up. Set a goal for the day, like “I will get one entire load of laundry washed and dried this morning.” It even helps to write it out if you can, so that you stick to the plan! Thinking up how to actually be successful with something (especially if you need to do it differently than you did before) goes a long way toward saving your energy. Part of your plan can go hand in hand with your priority list: “if I get the laundry done this morning and don’t feel too tired, then I will go visit my friend at her house in the afternoon.”
Minimize standing, lifting, and carrying by doing daily chores while seated at a table.
Figure out how and when to build in rest breaks.
This may sound simple, but part of your action plan should include rest breaks. If you plan ahead and build them in, you will ensure you have set aside enough time for the activity and the rest break, and won’t feel rushed. Get in the habit of asking yourself “on a scale of 1-10, how tired am I after I do this thing?” That way you will have a better idea of how often, or after how many minutes of a given activity, you will need to sit or even lie down. Pick your resting position or furniture! You may need to have dining room chairs set up around the house so you can take a seat quickly, or you may need to save enough energy to walk back to your bed.
Use your environment.
Rest heavy objects on countertops, and slide them along (on a trivet or hot pad if needed) to where they need to go whenever you can. If you are using a walker for mobility, consider purchasing a walker tray or walker bag to ease carrying things. Position chairs close to areas you access frequently in your home, such as the kitchen, where standing can get tiresome quickly.
A tub bench and grab bars save energy and improve safety during bathroom tasks.
Look into high-tech options to relieve you from high-energy activities incuding community errands and heavy cleaning. Groceries, household items, and medications can be delivered to your home. Heavy cleaning tasks are made easier thanks to robotic vacuums and mops. Even pet care tasks are simplified with bowls that automatically dispense food and water. Browse websites and phone apps to see the multitude of digital options and products that can make your daily routine easier.
Putting things in perspective
Think of this as more of a marathon than a sprint. Try your best not to compare yourself to exactly how you were before your stroke - in many ways you were a different person then. There may be bumps in the road, and some activities may take longer to accomplish. With a little practice and a few adaptations, there are definitely ways to regain independence, confidence, and happiness.
Further Reading: Balancing saving energy with your exercise routine
- Natalie Miller, OTR/LNatalie is an occupational therapist and health writer based out of Richmond, VA. Natalie recently pivoted into the pediatric setting after spending eleven years working in adult neurorehabilitation.
- Alison Scarpa, OTR/L, CSRSAlison is an occupational therapist and medical device specialist dedicated to helping patients and healthcare providers identify high-tech solutions that optimize performance.