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Posted: February 02, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

How Are Your Caregiving Energy Levels?

Bill Andrew

As a spousal caregiver, I am sure there are many times when you find that your energy levels seem to be depleted and need "recharging." I know that I do. But what are "energy levels" and how you go about recharging them. A recent email provided a few suggestions that I thought I should pass on to you.

Most successful people, in whatever endeavor they are involved with, can usually be characterized as having very high levels of energy. Energy can be considered the fuel that drives everything that we humans accomplish. Thus, there seems to be a direct correlation between our energy levels and our accomplishment levels. Can you imagine a tired, burned-out person achieving much in life? On the other hand, energetic, positive-thinking, forward-moving people seem to get, and enjoy, far more of the things that life has to offer than does the average person.

Does the above apply to you as a spousal caregiver? If your energy levels are high, don't you seem to be able to provide better care for your spouse? However, on those days when your energy levels are low, things just don't seem to get done as they should -- and who suffers?

We tend to think of energy in terms of physical energy. This is basic to our human nature. Supposedly, we replenish this energy at night through sleep. During the day, we expend that energy. You could compare that to machines powered by batteries -- each night we recharge those batteries through sleep. Hence, we often hear someone say that they "need to recharge their batteries."

However, this view of energy has some problems that need to be addressed. The biggest problem is that this view does not recognize the fact that there are actually three different kinds of energy -- physical, emotional, and mental -- each of which is essential for optimal performance. Each of these energies is different but interrelated and interdependent with each of the other energies.

Three Kinds of Energy

Physical energy is raw, coarse, bulk energy -- what we could call "sweat of the brow" energy or "meat and potatoes" energy. Physical energy is what we use to perform physical labor. It is the primary energy by which many people earn their living. It is also the primary energy that we use to perform many of our daily spousal caregiving tasks -- feeding, toileting, helping to walk, dressing, transporting, and other similar tasks.

While physical energy may be the mainstay for our spousal caregiving role, the other two forms of energy are critical for both us and our loved ones. We have discussed caring for ourselves in Is Caregiving Dangerous to Your Health? and other earlier columns.

Emotional energy is the energy of enthusiasm and excitement. This is the energy that provides sparkle in our lives and is necessary for feeling love, happiness, joy, compassion, empathy, and similar emotions. Essentially, it is emotional energy that makes life enjoyable and tolerable. In fact, just about everything that you say or do is determined in some manner, shape, or form by an emotion -- either a positive or negative emotion. We have discussed a positive attitude in Accentuate the Positive! and other columns.

Mental energy is the energy of creativity, problem solving, and decision making. You use mental energy to plan your daily caregiving activities, to find better ways of providing quality care for your loved one, and learning all about your loved one's illness and the best way to provide care. Your level of mental energy can be a major factor in the quality of your life as a caregiver and the quality of care provided for your spouse. We have discussed this factor in Time-Tested Practical Tips for Spousal Caregivers (February 17, 2005) and other columns.

I would add another form of energy to these three main forms of energy -- spiritual energy! In my personal opinion and experience, spiritual energy overlays physical, emotional, and mental energy and drives them to an optimum level. Without spiritual energy, I cannot imagine that I would be able to utilize my personal physical, emotional, and mental energies to the highest level achievable. To me, spiritual energy is the foundation for the other energies.

How to Conserve Your Energy Levels

Why do many spousal caregivers fail to realize their potential in life and provide a "less-than-quality" level of care for their spouses? Perhaps it is because they tend to "burn up" their energies at the physical or emotional levels. Therefore, they have very little energy left over for mental activities which are critical to the survival of their spouses.

Because of poor planning, or worse yet -- no planning -- they do not make the most efficient use of their physical energies. Because of negative emotions, they tend to burn up their energy so quickly that they have very little left with which to think positively and constructively. In fact, one 5-minute uncontrolled outburst of anger or frustration can burn up as much energy as an average person would use in eight hours of caregiving.

Your job as a spousal caregiver is to think continually about how you can stay "calm, cool, and collected," maintain a positive mental attitude, and work smoothly and efficiently. This is essential so that you can have enough mental energy to do the things that are most important in your life as a spousal caregiver -- provide quality care for your spouse.

What can you do to put these ideas into action? Try the following:

1. Take time to identify the different ways that you either use up or deplete your levels of physical, emotional, and mental energies. How could you improve in each of these areas?

2. Be sure that you get plenty of healthful, nutritious food every day so that you can keep your physical energy at high levels. Remember, physical energy is the key to the other energies.

3. Look for ways to conserve your emotional energies by being more relaxed and optimistic in the face of daily problems and disappointments.

Remember, the more energy you have, the happier and more productive you will be and the higher the level of quality care provided for your spouse. By applying the above discussion to your life as a spousal caregiver, you should be able to reduce the stress that you may typically encounter. We discussed stress management in A Spousal Caregiver's Self-Assessment on Stress and other columns.

The above has worked for me -- have some of these suggestions worked for you? If so, I would like to hear from you as to what works for you and what doesn't. Please share your spousal caregiving experience with other readers of this column by writing to me at


"Energy and persistence conquer all things."

Benjamin Franklin (1706-90)

Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at

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