The Fatigue Prescription: Four Steps to Renewing your Energy, Health, and Life

Posted By SHL Librarian

Presented by: Linda Hawes Clever, MD
Clinical Professor of Medicine, UCSF
Thursday, November 4, 2010

Modern life is full of annoyances, irritations, frustrations, and demands. There are the big concerns like work and family and health, and there are the little things like traffic, dishes, barking dogs, and lost to-do lists. These stresses, great and small, can take a heavy toll, and for many people the constant barrage causes a real drain-physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Chronic exhaustion can undermine your day-to-day functioning, said Linda Hawes Clever, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, at a presentation sponsored by the Stanford Health Library. Dr. Clever wrote a book called The Fatigue Prescription: Four Steps to Renewing Your Energy, Health, and Life, which provides some tips she has developed to treat physical and spiritual exhaustion. The trick is to develop tools to keep you going while you stick to your values, personal strength, and inner motivation.

Dr. Clever’s insights come from personal experience. Fifteen years ago she was barraged by bad luck: both of her parents died, she lost two jobs, and her husband was diagnosed with cancer-all in the span of 18 months. She took her years of expertise as a clinician and researcher, interviewed thousands of people about how they maintained their energy, and came up with four steps to put her theories of personal renewal into practice.

“We tend to take better care of our cars than we do of ourselves,” she said. “We need to find ways to renew and refresh ourselves. The way to do that is to find meaning in your life. By that I mean getting back in touch with your basic values and organizing your life around them.”

Whether your stress and fatigue come from dramatic events or just from the daily grind, Dr. Clever said one key is to identify the activities that refresh your spirit and to make room on your calendar to take part in them. Her approach involves personal reflection to help you rediscover your lost energy.

“Most of us want to have meaning in our lives,” she said. “Happiness comes from finding meaning, not from looking to be happy. In our search for purpose we can also find ways to renew, which replenishes our ability to be creative, optimistic, and energized.”

One of Dr. Clever’s tools is called a Renew-O-Meter, a series of questions designed to measure how well you juggle your commitments. Questions range from how many sit-down dinners did you have with your family or friends in the past week to when did you feel bold enough to take a risk to how many times did you really laugh yesterday?

Rating a high score in your willingness to take a risk reflects on your self-esteem and personal efficacy-feelings that can pervade all aspects of your daily life. In that way the meter can help raise self-knowledge, she said.

She highlighted four basic steps that can be used to renew your energy:

  • Awareness assesses the nature of your fatigue and its external and internal causes.
  • Reflection enables you to probe the sources of your feelings and to identify the positive people, activities, and experiences that support you.
  • Conversation creates opportunities for heartfelt openness in communication and feedback from loved ones and associates; it implies a willingness to share and to learn.
  • Plan-and-act allows you to develop a process of systematic change made up of small steps.

“Most of us tend to want to act but don’t love change,” she said, “so we need to change incrementally. By making a plan with small steps, your change is like stepping off a curb, not jumping out of an airplane.”

It’s important to note what aspects of your nature or habits can stop you from changing, and to be aware that resisting change can actually cause more fatigue. Your guidepost should be your personal values-the things that give you direction and satisfaction. Dr. Clever said a good way to define your values is to think about what you want written up in your obituary.

“Think about how you would like to be described. By living your values you can find meaning and have joy in your life,” she said. “Talk about them with your partner or family-shared values keep a family or community together and create common ground.”

She also discussed five traits of people who consider themselves capable of dealing with the vagaries of a stressful life. These people tend to:

  • Have close relationships with family and friends
  • Have a strong sense of spirituality or religious beliefs
  • Take care of their health
  • Like what they do for a living
  • Have a certain level of acceptance of their situation: They feel they can play the hand that’s dealt them.

“We can learn to exert power over ourselves,” said Dr. Clever. “You can find the freedom to choose your attitude, and that will energize and sustain you.”

About the Speaker
Linda Hawes Clever, MD, is a clinical professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, and the founder of RENEW, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people find purpose and direction. She received her medical degree from Stanford, where she completed her residency and fellowships, and she now serves as the medical school’s associate dean for alumni affairs. Dr. Clever is board certified in internal medicine and occupational medicine.

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