Adapting to Limitations: Get to Know Your Energy Flow

February 26, 2016

by Joan Friedlander

No doubt you’ve heard the terms “morning person” and “night owl.” They are terms used to describe the innate rhythms on two ends of a natural energy spectrum. When people are able to engage in everyday activities in alignment with their unique body preferences, the morning person and night owl are more likely to thrive. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Going with your flow creates less resistance – physical, emotional and mental – than pushing against it.

What happens when you throw an unpredictable variable into the mix, in our case, the variable called illness? Is it possible to identify what I refer to as your “Unique Energy Pattern” (UEP)? Based on my own experiences living with active Crohn’s Disease, and my work with a number of people managing their day around unpredictable variables, it is.

Learn Your Unique Energy Pattern

Learning about your UEP creates awareness, much like keeping a food diary can help detect which foods might aggravate symptoms. In the 6th step in “Business from Bed” (Build Capacity, Organize for Success) I offered several questions to help you get in touch with your Unique Energy Pattern. I’ve modified them here to direct your awareness to your both your natural energy flow, as well as the occurrence of symptoms and flares. I encourage you to pay attention to the questions that grab your interest first.

  • When do you seem to have the most energy? For example, are you an early morning, mid-morning or an early afternoon person, or a night owl?
  • Have you noticed when your energy drops? After it drops, does it return or is it over for the day? If it does return, when does it return and for how long?
  • Can you detect your need for rest vs. your availability for activity? Can you correlate each of these to specific times in the day?
  • Can you focus on tasks for 2 to 3 hours at a time, or do you work better in shorter bursts with intermittent breaks?
  • Is there a pattern to your symptoms? For example:
    • Are they worse in the morning, late afternoon or evening?
    • Do they arise when you’re tired? If yes, when are you most susceptible?
    • For women, do they correlate in any way with your menstrual cycle?
  • When do you usually start your day/work day? Is this a good time for you, or do you wish you could start earlier/later?
  • What about people? Can you detect your need for solo time vs. your need for social interaction? Can you correlate the need for each of these to specific times in the day?
  • How much sleep do you need to be at your best?
  • If it were completely up to you…
    • When would you wake up if not for an alarm, or some externally based obligation?
    • When would you go to sleep?
    • Do your answers correspond to the amount of sleep you said you need to be your best?

How Does Knowing Your Unique Energy Pattern Help You as a Person with Chronic Illness?

Knowing your flow is one thing. Understanding what to do with this information is another. Here is just one of several ways I used the information.

When I was ill with Crohn’s flares, I learned that it was not wise to commit to coaching sessions with clients before 10:00 AM. Nor was it wise to attend early morning networking meetings. I had to yield to my body’s urgent need to get my butt on that toilet, 3-5 times most mornings. Unless I was in an acute flare, by 10:00 AM that urgency subsided.

Interestingly enough, even in wellness, I prefer to start my work in earnest between 10:00 and 11:00 AM. I do best when I start my day with an hour or two of Joan time. Recently, I reflected back to the years I managed a bookstore, before I became ill. Like many retailers, we opened at 10:00 AM. I liked to get to the store around 8:30 so I could have an hour to myself before the first employee showed up. I did not like walking in at 1:00 PM for the second shift, when employees and customers required immediate attention. Furthermore, as a morning person (not to be mistaken for an early worm) that second shift was simply out of sync with my natural energy flow. When possible, I limited my second shifts to one day a week.

Finding Your UEP

It might be easier to identify your Unique Energy Pattern when you are in a more stable place with your illness than when you’re in the middle of an acute flare. Nonetheless, as I discovered, your UEP might be more consistent than you think. Take your time, consider using a journal to track your energy flow, and the circumstances that influence it, for a few weeks. If you have questions about your situation, or would like to share what you’ve observed about your energy flow in the comments, please do!


Joan Friedlander is the author of “Business from Bed” and co-author of “Women, Work, and Autoimmune Illness.” She is an expert in working and living with chronic or serious illness. Through her books, workbooks and coaching, she helps dedicated entrepreneurs and professionals recalibrate business activities in the wake of a health setback. For more tips from Joan, visit


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