Reducing Burnout with Spoon Theory
I’ve had Crohn’s disease (an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract) for over 20 years now. Living with this disease has absolutely impacted how I think about health, nutrition, self-care, healthcare and more. Fairly early on after getting diagnosed, I was introduced to the concept of spoon theory.
Spoon theory was created by Christine Miserandino (butyoudontlooksick.com) on a whim one day when a close friend had asked her to describe what it was like to live with Lupus. If you have a chronic illness or even mental illness, you may be familiar with how it can be a struggle to put your experience into words in order to explain to someone who doesn’t share that same experience.
Christine cleverly used spoons to represent her body’s energy level- something that is almost always in short supply when living with a chronic illness. She described how her illness impacted her ability to make choices around what she was able to do or accomplish in a day. Through the spoon analogy, her friend was able to better understand the compromises and hardship that Christine faced on a daily basis.
As an example: A person without a chronic illness may wake up refreshed and energized with an ability to do most of the tasks they need to get done in a day. This could be represented as 10 spoons. Each task they complete is worth between 1-2 spoons. The more tasks they do, the fewer spoons they have left at the end of the day. A person with a chronic illness may only wake up with 5 spoons in the morning as their body has less energy if their illness is in a flare-up. With only 5 spoons, they have to pick and choose which tasks they will be able to manage for the day and which tasks will be too energy-consuming that will need to wait until another day.
I personally think there’s a lot we can learn from spoon theory whether we have a chronic illness, mental illness, disability, are neurodivergent or not.
As part of being a human, your “spoons” aren’t unlimited. Assessing how many spoons you have in a day is a way to tune in and listen to your body. The analogy can be used in a way to manage how you take care of yourself and reduce your risk of burnout.
You could consider:
What are the activities/tasks that use up more “spoons” aka energy? What are the activities/tasks that use less “spoons”?
What things provide you with more spoons? i.e. rest, eating enough, spending time doing things you enjoy- with people you enjoy.
Consequently- from the list above, what things leave you with less spoons? i.e. skipping meals, over-exercising, trying to do too many things in a short period of time
On low spoon days, how can you better take care of your needs? i.e. Do you need to ask for help, do you need to take things easy or slow down?
If you use more spoons than what you actually have, this may take away spoons from the next day. How can you be aware of this or possibly prevent it?
As you consider the above questions, remember to hold compassion for yourself. We live in a society that frequently measures a person’s worth based on how much they accomplish, how much they produce or get done, or by how seemingly “healthy” they appear.
Just by being a human, you have inherent worth. Remember that as you navigate your spoons.
How will you use spoon theory? Let me know your thoughts by sending me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the story behind spoon theory here!
Photo above is by Külli Kittus on Unsplash