Is it possible to be tired and happy? 10 things to consider when evaluating energy and tension.

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This past weekend I completed the Bourbon Chase with a team of eleven other runners, two drivers and two volunteers. It is one of the more enjoyable running events that I get to do. This year I participated with a new team. It is always fun to meet new people when it is centered around a memorable event. While it was fun, I did not really plan my participation incredibly well. In fact, until Craig (our team captain) started to send out reminders of the event, I forgot that I had committed to be on the team.

The main reason that I was nervous about doing the event, is that I had just finished the Crazy Horse Marathon five days before the start of the Bourbon Chase. And two weeks prior to that, I completed the Sundance to Spearfish Marathon. I had no expectation of what might be possible or how my body would respond. As I started my first run on Friday afternoon, I felt pretty good. I had energy. My legs were a bit weak which made the downhills feel out of control, but my performance was as good as I could have wished. I also experienced the desire to perform for my team.

I ended the Bourbon Chase feeling tired, overly fatigued and a little absent minded. I had not done a good job with nutrition throughout the event, therefore I was also dehydrated and experiencing gastro-intestinal issues.

Did I go home and sleep for twenty-four hours? I did not. After being gone for six weeks, I was anxious to see friends. I went to dinner with some friends for a birthday celebration. I hung out with a friend until a little later in the night. Then after some restless sleep got up and spent my Sunday meeting old friends and spending time with someone I had been waiting 6 weeks to see again.

Sunday night, I finally sat down, put up my feet and started to watch a show on Netflix. It was at that moment that I realized how incredibly tired I truly was. It is now Tuesday morning and I am still a little fatigued, something I’m trying to rectify with coffee.

I share this entire experience with you, because it had me asking the question:

Is it possible to be happy when you are fatigued?

To answer this question, I reflect back on the research and work by Robert Thayer, PhD. I initially came across his research when I was in graduate school and researching the connections between mood states and exercise. In his research, he was testing to see if it was possible to substitute a positive behavior, such as a five minute walking break for a negative behavior, such as smoking or eating high sugar candy.

The model that he developed involves two spectrums. A spectrum of calm to tense and another of tired to energetic. The theory is that individuals adopt behaviors or habits that help manage their position on the spectrums. For example, if you have low energy you may try and improve it by eating a sugary snack. If you are tense, you may try and decrease that tension by smoking a cigarette.

The ultimate state of being, as viewed through this model, would be possessing calm energy. Calm Energy happens to be the name of one of the books by Robert Thayer that distills his research in an easy to consume manner.

When I think about the concept of having calm energy, it is feels pretty intuitive that when people are tired, they have less margin for error and experiencing happiness. The energy needed to manage stressors, daily life and challenges is simply not large enough to be effective. I am sure that we’ve all witnessed a tired tyrant.

The application of the Calm Energy theory has many different avenues that we’ll explore over time, as we continue to think about behavior change and happiness. Today my goal was simply to pose the question for you to reflect upon, can we be tired and happy?

I think it is possible to be tired and happy. I was really tired on Saturday night, but happy as I meet with friends. On Sunday, I was exhausted but happy. In both instances I didn’t have much vigor, so it’s possible I wasn’t the best company, but I also did not have much negative stress or tension on either day. What if I had been faced with a major stressful event? I might have become an angry or sad person quite easily.

When fatigue and stress become chronic situations, I believe it can lead to longer lasting issues, such as depression and anxiety.

Can we be tired and happy? Yes, but it’s a lot like walking a tight rope with nothing to aid your balance.

Here are 10 things to consider as you evaluate your state of calmness, fatigue and happiness.

  1. Are you getting to bed at an appropriate time of night?
  2. Have you created an optimal environment for a good night of sleep?
  3. Do you find yourself reaching for supplemental sources of energy often?
  4. Are you getting regular exercise?
  5. Are you getting too much exercise, with signs of overtraining?
  6. Do you take recovery from exercise as serious as you take your training routines?
  7. Are your eating habits consistent, or varied day-to-day?
  8. How many times in a day do you sit for longer than one hour?
  9. Have you established healthy ways to manage your stress?
  10. Do you have a way to regularly monitor your level of fatigue?

Resources, two books by Robert Thayer