How a Low-Energy Mama Can Thrive

I'm an idea person. I get passionate about a lot of things and am always developing new projects and dreams. One of the great frustrations of my adult life is that in spite of the creative energy with which God has blessed me, He has not seen fit to match me with a comparable energy level.

Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things once wrote that she is excitable and enthusiastic and also high energy; which is how she was able to have twins, move to a new house, write an extraordinary book, and homeschool with 6 children... all in a remarkably short period of time.

That would be lovely and I thank God for her gifts! But I am not Sarah. On my rare high energy days, the world is my oyster. The rest of the time, I go slowly and generally tend to take on too much and accomplish too little.

The Chief took me on a Walmart date last night and I was feeling a little blah. My hands and feet were aching and a bit swollen (I'm not pregnant) so I thought I'd take my blood pressure. It was an abysmal 88/48. So I put my arm through the Chief's, bought a water, drank it, and reflected on how annoying it is to have such a high maintenance body. I am no longer battling chronic illness. I used to think I would be in a wheelchair by this age and am grateful that I discovered a path to healing. But my temple still definitely remains a low-energy sort of place. There are no quick fixes so I'm just soldiering on.

One of the greatest difficulties of maintaining a busy household with low energy or chronic illness is the  personal expectation that every non-resting moment should be a flurry of productive activity. What ends up happening is that the pace quickly burns out mom and leads to a greater need to rest, mom may feel that all of her "good" energy is used up on chores and that there is nothing left for her friendships or creative outlets, and the to-do list, instead of shrinking, grows steadily longer and utterly overwhelms.

After returning from our Walmart date, I began thinking about the tools and practices in my life that help keep me going and provide a means for me to stay creative and productive even when I'm out of steam. I'm not excellent at doing any of this, but I thought my own notes might provide others with some helpful support or jumping off points.

I would love to make each one of these points into a post of it's own. In the meantime, here is an overview of my top 5 (though there are many more). Please note, an active prayer and sacramental life is assumed but can not be stressed strongly enough. I did not make this a category of it's own because as Christians, we already know:

Jesus is first. Stay close to Him.

1) Use Evernote.

One of my favorite leisure activities is putting pen to paper and writing, doodling, and making lists. I love beautiful paper, pens and planners (my favorites are over at Michele Quigley's). Planners worked for me when I had a small-ish family and few commitments... but I am now officially in over my head. The lovely planners end up half-used and I, no closer to lovely order than I was pre-planner.

At first, I thought this was just a colossal failure on my part. Truth be told, it was! I regularly schedule too much and I have more to-do's on my plate than can be reasonably accomplished; Homeschooling, activities for kids, household maintenance, pro-life work, social things, parish life, Etsy shop, relationship building, elective coursework, blogging, etc... what I really needed was something that was paperless, quick, simple, retrievable. I prefer a paper planner but I have to admit that I am more compatible with Evernote and a good digital calendar.

Evernote is organizational software that can be used on any device or computer you own. Since your information is in the cloud, you can take it with you anywhere. I first heard about Evernote on Jen Fulwiler's blog where she claimed that it had organized her life. I was deeply intrigued. Then when Sarahmentioned it as well, I knew I had to investigate further. A year later, my brain lives in Evernote. I doodle and write with real paper and pen for cathartic purposes when I can, but all of my ideas, recipes, plans... everything... live in Evernote. Even if I write an important note with a pen, I can still scan and file digitally. I confess that this is the reason that I finally got an ipad mini. Refurbished. Great decision.

The real blessing for me is that it allows me an outlet to quickly capture my creative notes as well as my practical ones. The thing even transcribes my voice. So when I come up with the idea of the century, I can dump it in Evernote and move on. And maybe someday, when I'm blessed with an energy upswing, I can find it again and use it.

An invitation comes in the mail. Instead of leaving it on the counter or fridge, I snap a scan, file it, and put it in my reminders. Lovely. :) I am constantly emailing notes, pics, and documents to my evernote account.

Check it out here. The free version is really nice (it would be sufficient for my household purposes if I wasn't ridiculously fixated on creating extra projects for myself) with an option to upgrade for more storage, offline access, and presentation mode.

*Please Note*

Evernote is not a quick fix to all organizational problems and does take time to get comfortable with. It is also not for everyone. I recommend it here because I love it and because it is free. :)

Helpful eBook:
Paperless Home Organization

2) Quit Things.

I know that we Catholic moms are always talking about simplifying but when the body and mind are slower than optimal, "simplify" takes on a whole new meaning. When I talk about simplifying, I don't mean giving away a bag of clothing, I mean...

Quitting things.

Saying no even to good things.

Tossing curricula.

Emptying the schedule.

Committing to just sitting.

Going back to first principles.

Prioritizing in low-energy mode looks a lot like prioritizing in survival mode... except it doesn't have to be stressful. If we don't figure it out, survival mode becomes perpetual and we open the door to depression and a loss of peace. Prioritizing correctly means identifying our very purpose for doing what we do and clinging to it. Namely?

Jesus and family.

If you have to quit everything else for a while, do it.

Whether you homeschool or not, I'm going to again recommend Sarah's book as a great place to start this simplification. Teaching from Rest and it's Companion workbook are a gift to Catholic parents. My review is here. Buy it here.

3) Keep an Active Mind.

Being a low energy or chronically ill mama is mentally and spiritually confusing. Is it laziness or is it illness? I have gone to the confessional many times with that question on my heart and lips. There is not always an easy answer. The lines are blurred. One recommendation for discernment is to spend your "low" time actively by expanding your creative and intellectual gifts. Let me give you a picture of what I mean:

The confusing way

You feel lousy so you grab your box of cheese flavored crackers and head to the couch with your ipad where you watch the latest episode of House Hunters while the kids play around you. The show ends and your tummy feels heavy from the pound of snacks, your mind feels sluggish from the TV, and you really have accomplished nothing.

The positive alternative

You feel lousy, so you grab a book about one of your passions or immediate concerns (non-fiction) and head to the couch, taking a notebook (or evernote) with you. You spend your rest time peacefully diving in to something you love and learning and expanding your mind and recording your thoughts. At the end of your rest time, you still feel sluggish but not as wasteful. You will know more about the faith or have gathered new recipes or resources.

Or read a book to your kids.

Or take a much needed nap.

Or draw.

Or blog. :)

The real test then comes when you have an upswing in energy and health.

A good indication that you are truly battling with sloth is that you are energetic for your own passions and sleepy and sick for everything else.

 You are energetic for blogging but fall asleep during the Rosary. Energetic for reading Christian fiction but can hardly tolerate reading out loud to your kids. Stay vigilant! Bring it to your confessor.

If you find yourself blessed with a high-energy period, you will see the fruits of the way you have used your slow times. Because I am a low energy person, I need to maximize what resources I have. I have less time to "do" than others and so it benefits me to use my low time to learn how to "do" better and to use my resting time purposefully.

4) Read. Read. Read. (But limit fiction)

I mentioned this in the previous section but I find it essential to continuing to lead a healthy, balanced life even when the body doesn't wish to cooperate.

What should you read? The most important recommendation I have is to keep fiction on the top shelf and rarely read it. Save it for periods of illness or occasional leisure. Please remember, I'm talking primarily to you low energy gals. We need to maximize our time and fiction is one of those things we may need to sacrifice...

Fiction is easy. It engages our imagination which is fun and entertaining. Fiction (even good fiction) can be like a drug that we turn to again and again to escape. If we use it too often, we can lose our ability to engage the harder, more fruitful stuff. Addictive personalities struggle with this more, often needing a fiction "fix" when God is asking for greater uses of the mind. It is also true that we can lose our ability to read more challenging material. We develop lazy brain and it takes twice as much work to return to our former state of brilliance.

I love good fiction but usually save it for when I'm pregnant or truly ill and have difficulty mentally engaging and have a high need for rest. Then I reread all my favorites like TolkienMichael O'BrienDickens and Chesterton.

 It's a huge feast! Absolutely gluttonous. But I know that I can't stay there or else it will trap my mind and spirit and stunt my growth.

I do read fiction to keep up with my kids' schoolwork. Another great way to read fiction is to look to the classics and read with a local or online book club like the one going on over at Carrots for Michaelmas'on FB. This largely prevents brain slogging and forces us to actively apply our intellect to our leisure reading.

What's currently on my nightstand (and hutch and desk and couch)? I'm reading about writing, publishing, childbirth, midwifery, homeschooling, real food cooking, marriage, and the Holy Spirit. I have Chesterton and Fulton Sheen, my favorite gluten free cookbook and The Little Oratory. And the next time I need a good work of fiction, I'm going to reread some O'Brien because it has been a few years and it feeds my soul.

If you find reading non-fiction tedious, it is not necessarily because the book is actually dry and boring, but perhaps because you are out of practice and have been letting your skills get rusty. It is always possible to increase your reading and comprehension skills. And totally worth the effort.

5) Block Scheduling and Loop Scheduling

One of the biggest reasons for the epidemic of "survival mode" living is that we attempt to organize our lives in a way that is inconsistent with our values, temperaments, and physical needs. In other words, we fight hard every day to fit that square peg in the round hole. We burn out. We cry. We blame ourselves. We exhaust ourselves and our families.

In a household with a low energy mom, it is essential that this mismatch be addressed stat or else the next box to check off will be your daily dose of depression meds. I'm not joking. It's worth it to invest some time to get this right.

If you battle with chronic illness or low energy, you know how terrifying a detailed schedule is.

Every 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or half an hour, there is another obligation that requires you to be present. Add the needs of babies and toddlers, the ringing phone, a skinned knee, and dropping blood pressure, and it all falls apart very, very quickly. We live our daily lives in a constant state of anxiety.

Order is important but it must work with the family temperament or it will breed more chaos. A low energy mama will think she is failing at everything and maybe she is. But she has no chance of success if she is using the wrong tools and burning herself out.

Block Scheduling and Loop Scheduling are excellent solutions to this difficulty. I am not going into the how-to in this post but the basic idea is flexibility within a framework. Rest with structure. In Teaching from Rest, Sarah covers both of these excellent tools and why and how they can be used to restore peace to a household.

I spent many years trying to order my homeschool around a detailed schedule. It repeatedly fell apart and I finally threw in the towel and admitted failure. Except that my kids kept learning in spite of me and I realized that it's not primarily about me.

 I just needed to give them some direction and an atmosphere conducive to learning and we could make progress. A life can be ordered without being exhausting.... scheduled without being a panic-attack-in-the-making.

Because my homeschool is based on interest-led material, block/loop scheduling is a perfect fit. Applying my imperfect efforts should produce something that doesn't look half bad. The primary fruits I hope for are a peaceful and joyful home of faith. A secondary benefit of developing lifelong learners would rock my world.

*BONUS TIP*

Get healthy. I mean it. If you are low energy or chronically ill because of your bad habits - because you are eating garbage food and mostly sedentary - then you need to turn that ship around. It is hard, I know. Start with nutrition first because that is where the major battles are won. You will immediately increase your energy. Then begin activity slowly. When I am really low on energy, I will often save a workout or a walk until late at night directly before bed so that I can just crawl into bed afterward.

This is me and Peaches after my first workout in many months. I made it and then struggled with plummeting energy for a week. My iron levels had tanked. So now I'm starting again (with increased  iron supplements)... Here's to new beginnings!

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Posted on June 5, 2014 and filed under motherhood, homeschooling, Family Life.