If you’re tempted to skim this post and think it’s another post about the amount of hidden sugar in carrots, then before you click away I’d like to tell you this is NOT one of those waste of time articles which over dramatises the title. This is is an article about something more insidious and much, much harder to eliminate from your life.
This energy-drainer and balance de-railer is not something you eat or drink, it’s not something you buy from the supermarket and it’s not a hidden additive on a label you can look for. It is something you do. Something you create. It’s what I’ll call the “surrogate buzz”.
The “surrogate buzz”: a definition
In short it’s where you use the buzz from one thing to give you the energy boost to do something else. How you boost the waning interest of one project with the energy buzz that comes from starting a new one. Much like people use the buzz from coffee, energy drinks and sweet snacks to boost waning energy levels, the surrogate buzz has the same kind of effect, only it’s less obvious.
Am I being a bit melodramatic?
No, I’m really not. If you’ve cut out caffeine, and all the other stuff, and are left wondering “why on earth don’t I feel better?” then this article is for you. Constantly relying on the “surrogate buzz” depletes you. And if you’re unaware of it, or ignore it, you could be heading towards burnout (I know, because it’s happened to me and I see it happen to others, but as with many things, people tend to feel like they are invincible until something happens and they realise they’ve pushed their own boundaries too far for too long).
The environment “energy buzz”
It first “hit” me one day when I was out with a friend. The music was pumping so loudly I could feel the vibration through my body and my heart beat was speeding up with it, the room was packed and there was a definite “vibe” in the air. The lights in the room were dancing about like a night club. Only it wasn’t a night club. It was a business seminar that I’d gone along to keep my friend company for the day. I was surrounded by people in their late 20s to early 50s and it was 8am in a hotel conference room.
The host came on stage and through the course of the day told us (many times) how he’d consulted a behavioural scientist to create the “right vibe” to help the audience be receptive to the possibilities. That year I attended 3 more events which were really similar in set up. Each of them designed to manipulate the “buzz” through the environment. It was effective too, the music was loud and emotive with lyrics that “touched” you, the beat of the music and the general vibe was quite interesting and the energy in the room was palpable. The look on the faces of the participants who had been more than once were optimistic, determined, hopeful, enthusiastic.
What happens when the environmental energy buzz isn’t enough
The hosts in each of these situations were entrepreneur types and millionaires who obviously loved what they were doing, but interestingly, myself and the other naturopath watched the scenes like outsiders who weren’t under the trance. We noticed the speakers at these events downing energy drinks like water on a hot day. And although they were espousing the virtues of their “free” lifestyles, the physical signs of living that kind of lifestyle for years on end were showing. Mostly in the eyes. Make up can cover a lot but it’s really quite hard to make the eyes of a tired person look sparkly, unless they talk about something they love. When people talk about something they love, you’ll usually notice their eyes light up, their facial expression will change, and their “vibe” will shift and lift.
But these guys were tired, hence they were relying on the energy drinks because they didn’t get the same buzz just from being “there” any more. They now needed to have a crutch to boost their energy to get them through.
How this relates to the average person
Anyway, after this even it occurred to me how people buffer their waning energy levels by taking on something new that they love. Doing something you love gives you a sparkle in your eye, inspiration, joy, it’s a little adrenaline rush.You feel “alive” again and like there’s things to do, and things you can do and want to do again. And for someone with fading energy levels, the lure of that “call to creativity” can be exhilarating. For a brief time before you completely burn out your batteries, you have the feeling that you can do it all. Spend all day looking after the kids, work until 2 am after everyone goes to bed and rise at 6am and do it all over again – wihout coffee! You now have the time to do all the things you need to do, as well as all the things you want to do and feel you “should” do for “balance” (like meditate, yoga, make green drinks and whole food bliss balls, etc.).
But after a while the cracks start to show. Whether you:
- gain weight,
- feel exhausted
- just can’t be the early riser you used to be.
- lose your mojo for the project you took on
And once again, you find yourself day dreaming, you find new ideas for new projects springing into your mind. You feel like you have a new well of energy from the little adrenaline rush that comes from starting a new project and you surrogate the energy from that buzz to fuel what you’re trying to finish and to help you fulfill the responsibilities of the other things you already had on your to do list.
Is this where overwhelm begins?
It’s not uncommon for people to find themselves overwhelmed with too many things on their plate. They usually step into my clinic hoping for herbs or supplements, after having read articles about ginseng, magnesium, B vitamins, superfoods and many of the other wonder supplements. They are hoping to find a way to boost their energy levels. All of these things though are external and won’t help bring back the energy levels if the habits which are creating the feelings of fatigue are still in place (do you recall the leaky boat blog post?).
As someone who has been burnt out and as a creative who has done the surrogate energy thing (hello, online cooking show!) I can tell you that the answer is not in bringing more things in. It’s not just about cutting things out either (don’t get me wrong, I think cutting out coffee, and junk food is a good idea) but sometimes people get so fixated on eliminating all the chemicals, cooking everything from scratch (and feeling guilty when they can’t achieve these things) that it adds an extra stress in itself. After the initial buzz of learning about it all has come and gone, you’re left with the pressure to maintain yet another thing you’ve brought into your life, rather than trying to do the things that will make the most difference, and give you the most benefit for your effort.
So if you’re feeling tired – or just not as refreshed as you feel like you should eg. you’re waking tired, you’ve had holidays but feel like you need another, and you just can’t see any other holes that need plugging in your boat, then I’d like to invite you to take a really close look at your projects and responsibilities and to ask yourself where are you “robbing from Peter to give to Paul”? eg. Where are you using the energy from one situation to give to another which has lost it’s spark?
Did you start a new business because you found being a stay-at-home mum exhausting? Did you start a second business when the first stopped providing a buzz? Do you have many books half read? Eg. You’re losing interest in one and another catches your eye and you think, “ooh, must read about that now!” Perhaps it’s an e-course? Perhaps it’s buying clothes? Or renovating the house? What are the projects which give you the buzz?
I’d really love to hear from you, either comment below, or send me an email and let me know.
But isn’t getting a buzz from something you love doing – a good thing?
Generally yes, the problem with the long-term “surrogate buzz” users is that you tend to take on new projects that you haven’t really got time for, and before you’ve finished the existing ones. Also, if you get your buzz from “retail therapy” you’re spending your family’s financial resources too and all in all this can add more stress to your situation.
It’s a bit like a snowball, it starts off as a small thing, but compounds over time and if you’re not careful you can find yourself burnt out but still with a whole lot of responsibilities.
So how do we clear this up? Well it’s not as simple as just telling someone not to take on too many projects or giving them a supplement. As with many things in naturopathy, just realising you’ve been using a surrogate buzz is a great place to start.
I’m on a mission to find better ways to help people get and maintain their health over the long-term. If you’re on this journey too and would like some insights, info and inspiration along the way, enter your name and email address below and join my newsletter list and I’ll keep you in the loop.