I’ve mentioned Dr. Robert Thayer before on this site, but have not dedicated a blog entry to his ideas until now. When I first read his book, Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood with Food and Exercise, I was immediately impressed by the implications of his work for those struggling with addiction.
In a nutshell, he provides a very strong case that many of our moods and unhealthy eating habits have in common two bio-psychological dimensions that he calls energy and tension. In an earlier book (The Origin of Everyday Moods, 1996) he describes how the dimensions can be used to create the illustration below.
States of energy and levels of stress
#1 Calm Energy
Calm Energy is the quadrant where we find our best moods. We have energy and no tension. It is similar to the states people call flow or being in the zone. It is a place we want to be, where our attention is focused, we are productive, and we feel good about life.
It is not a place where addiction is found, and in fact, is really the antidote to cravings and addictive appetites.
#2 Tense Tiredness
Tense Tiredness is the opposite of Calm Energy. This unfortunately is the place many of us find ourselves these days, in large part due to the speed of life, decreases in sleep, and increases in stress. It is a place of low energy, bad moods, anxiety and depression. It is also the state where addiction thrives.
When we feel tense and tired there is a natural tendency to want move away from this state, and addictive behaviors are among the most powerful, reliable, quick, and easy ways to disconnect from Tense Tiredness. I say disconnect because engaging in addictions does not really provide an antidote to this state.
Instead, it may in the short run give us more energy, and change our mood, but only temporarily. When the addictive behavior ceases, chances are good that what follows will be more tension and lack of energy, perpetuating the relapse cycle.
#3 Calm Tiredness
I like to think about Calm Tiredness as a lazy Sunday afternoon. In general, it is a pleasant state, but often not as productive or positive as Calm Energy. Nothing wrong with it, and in fact we need down time to recharge our batteries.
#4 Tense Energy
Tense Energy is the final state. Where we are quite productive and busy, often due to deadlines and being rushed for time. Many Type A personalities fit this state, as well as those who like to live on the edge and seek out thrills.
Track your own energy
In my own life I find the model incredibly useful in helping me understand my own eating, exercise, sleep, and mood patterns. One of the best things you can do for yourself is take a day (or two) and track your level of energy and tension by the hour.
Rate each on a scale of 1 to 10 and then plot the results on a graph. It is revealing to see just how significantly these states change in the course of an average day.
The graph also helps to identify intervention points for:
- Preventing relapse
- Developing optimal times for exercise
- Evaluate whether we are getting enough sleep
In addition, the graph can help you understand how time of day subtly influences how we think about life problems.
In sum, addiction most often shows up when we are tense and tired, but can also occur in the other states as well. Among the most significant points Dr. Thayer makes in his book is that the single best way to cultivate a life of calm energy is by developing a regular habit of exercise.
Perhaps that is why the National Institute of Drug Abuse has already invested over $4 million in research into the connections between addiction and exercise.
I will strive to do this charting thing tomorrow, and see how it goes. One question I have about the + image/template is in regard to the labeling of the axes. Is tiredness supposed to be the “opposite of” energy; and calmness the “opposite” of tension? And is the center of the + some kind of zero-ed out spot? Maybe it is explained in the book. I do think that (preferably fun, simple) steps that we can take to learn to recognize and track our moods/feelings/emotions are helpful…
I am really fascinated by this concept of “calm energy” mostly because I have been trying to integrate more mind and body stuff into my own research on potential therapeutic models but also because so many theories argues that we are motivated by anxiety or insecurity but do not focus do much on bringing the body and the mind back into alignment which has been really key I. Eating disorder and sexual trauma treatment with many clients With whom I have had the privilege to work.
I’m adding this book to my ever growing list of things to read.
I am really fascinated by this concept of “calm energy” mostly because I have been trying to integrate more mind and body stuff into my own research on potential therapeutic models but also because so many theories argue that we are motivated by anxiety or insecurity. If we focused on natural individual mood cycles and maximized the times i which we were calm, using it as a map to address the triggers that move us out of that state how much more able would we be to handle so many of the anxieties and stressors in our lives?
It also seems like a good way to address bringing the body and the mind back into alignment which has been really key in eating disorder and sexual trauma treatment with many clients With whom I have had the privilege to work.
I’m adding this book to my ever growing list of things to read.
Like the other commenters here, I am very interested in this idea of calm energy and will be adding the book to my collection. I have an interest in integrating exactly this kind of mind-body awareness into my future work with clients who struggle with addiction and eating disorders. I can see that tracking one’s energy throughout the day would be useful for both addiction and eating disorder work. In my future practice, I plan to integrate sources like Thayer’s book–as well as my own experiences–to help my clients find their own paths toward health and wellness.
Lately, in my own life, I’ve made a decision to exercise more and snack less. What I’ve noticed is exactly what I would describe as a sense of calm energy permeating my mood throughout the day. And when I slack off and skip workouts, I can clearly see my mood move into the Tense Tired quadrant. So based on my own experience, Thayer’s point rings true: that the single best way to cultivate a life of calm energy is by developing a regular habit of exercise.
Tempering my enthusiasm about the benefits of exercise is the notion that exercise addiction is very real and could be a concern for people struggling with addictions, as well as those dealing with eating disorders. In encouraging my clients to integrate regular exercise into their lives, I would need to ensure that I’m not helping to create a co-morbid addiction. I would need to educate my clients about keeping an eye on that and ensuring that they also don’t hop addictions from gambling or compulsive spending, for example, to compulsive exercise.
Armed with this awareness of exercise addiction, my clients would be better able to integrate a regular exercise plan, I believe, without developing an addiction. My regular check-ins about this would help me to keep tabs on it, too.
I am living proof that the author of calm energy is correct. I learned in group therapy I needed to “love” myself more. After thinking upon my experience during group therapy I considered the ways I might start loving myself more.
I quit smoking on August 10th.Since that day I have not had one puff. I also started exercising. Since I work at PSU, I walk from PSU to the steel bridge and back to PSU on my lunch hour. It is approx. 3.6 miles. I am training my brain…. exercise is not a choice, it is a DO. Thayer is correct. Developing a regular exercise habit has provided a pathway towards staying quit (calm energy)and mental health wellness.
On October 12th I stopped using Nicotine gym. Now I have more energy and my anxiety or stress level has decreased. In order to stay quit I am focusing on ways to practice recognizing the times when I start to slip into the addiction patterns of thinking.
In the last few days I have been regulating my mood with food instead of cigarettes. An example: I eat instead of smoking. Tense energy. That said I need to reach for my sugar free suckers instead of the big bowl of Halloween candy I strategically placed two weeks early, on the coffee table in my living room.
I know addiction is part of my life. It manifests itself in many different forms. As I recognize each addiction I am focusing on changing. I wonder what it will look like tomorrow?
Kathy L says
GO SHERRI!! Congratulations on making some very big changes. Some of my loved ones have become addicted to sunflower seeds when they quit smoking. Kept their mouths busy.
This makes me wonder about where intentional mindfulness practices, such as meditation fall on the continuum- maybe somewhere off the chart past calm energy? It is definitely calming, but beyond personal energy- more connecting with the energy available outside ourselves to replenish our souls. When I am finished meditating I am in a state of deep calm energy I think for at least a little while. It is great to know I have a place behind my eyelids that I can go on a regular basis to find this state. This and things like hypnosis and sufi dancing, etc seems like they function by helping you to leave conscious thought behind for awhile, which is interesting to think about in the context of this grid.
Elda C. says
Hello Dr. Fitzgerald,
I find this concept very interesting and helpful: I have always struggled with overeating. I ate when I was sad, depressed, anxious, and angry. I used food to punish myself. I decided to change that pattern of self-destructive behavior last month: I joined a fitness challenge where my children attend Kung Fu classes and have the support of the instructor who knows addiction very well. I was given a nutrition plan and an exercise regime. I have done very well so far, but the most important aspect of it all is that I have a great support system in place where people encourage me when I need to be encouraged. Your words “Long-term solutions for addictions necessitate learning how to replace unhealthy relationships with objects (alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, pornography, internet), with healthy relationships with people” explain in a nutshell what addiction is all about.
Dr. Thayer’s energy as antidote to addiction rings true. I will make an effort to track my energy/nutrition/exercise on a chart to find out what the trend is in hopes to gain an understanding of my behavior as a whole.
Thank you for sharing this information.
I find this concept of ‘calm energy’ very interesting and really want to pick up this book. Reading this entry hit close to home with me, as I feel that maybe 5 out of 7 days of the week I constantly feel ‘tense tiredness.’ I feel tired, grouchy and stressed trying to deal with school and work a lot of the time. Then of course, there is the other state that happens to pop up around midterms and finals, which is of course “tense energy.” I get a lot done, but am very tense and stressed while doing it. As I have done my entire life, I often find myself trying to self soothe with food. It is a quick fix, and I immediately feel calmer and happier for at least a little while. When I make poor eating choices (like chocolate, or fatty foods), it makes the tense tiredness even worse. I have found that exercise and healthier eating are two of the only things that really help elevate my moods and help me more efficiently deal with the stressors of everyday life. Unfortunately, I find myself unable to stick with either of those things for a long period of time ever since I started graduate school a year ago. It is a constant battle, but I think in the end it is really worth it to try and make healthier choices. I do want to be a positive example for future clients in how to manage stress and addictions, so it’s something that I personally plan to keep working on. I plan to try Dr. Thayer’s graphing/tracking idea in the next couple of weeks to see how my energy states fluctuate over the day. Hopefully that will help me identify the negative patterns in my habits.
I find this book intriguing. Though I have not done so as I write this, I am going to chart my activities in the following days.
I think the concept of “calm energy” is exciting! It is exciting to me because I have spent the last 4 years in a state of suspended “negative tension.” As a single mother with no support where I lived, working full time as a teacher, part time in the Air National Guard, and going to grad school full time while going through a horrific divorce process that has been consistently vile and ongoing, I was immersed in “negative tension.” As you can imagine, I was not on a regular exercise regiment.
Upon being accepted to Grad school at PSU, I petitioned the court to move home to Oregon with my children, and about the same time I joined a soccer team (as I had completed grad school for my Master in Education, I now had time to do something for me). I noticed that even though my stress had increased with the court battle, I didn’t feel as exhausted as I had before. I attributed that to playing soccer again. I think it was not only the exercise, but the return to “self”that I felt in once again being on a soccer team. I began to smile and laugh again, and no longer craved cupcakes, chocolate and tea lattes to sustain my getting through the day.
A few months ago I was granted permission to move, and did. Once again, I am in graduate school; I am still a single mom, still in the military part time, and still enduring further divorce shenanigans, but I have help from my parents, and that allows me to go to the gym on a regular basis, and to sleep. Overall, I have felt better and can see the correlation between sleep and exercise to my energy levels and the disposition of my moods. I certainly notice that since I have moved, I am calmer and more even keel, and I don’t feel as if I am a member of the living dead just existing in my day trying to get to the end of it.
However, I am still in grad school and there are those pesky midterms…enter my homeboys Ben and Jerry, and their delightful cousin the cupcake…and there are the unhealthy eating that leads to tense energy and tiredness…
So, in an effort to banish Ben and Jerry and spoil their plot to keep me in my post traumatic mommy body, and to NOT wander further into the jungle of potential food addiction, I am going to track my energy and tension levels for the next two days. I will also keep a food and sleep log.
I am all for feeling better, healthier and less susceptible to any sort of addiction. :)
This idea makes a lot of sense, because I hear people talk about wanting to use over stress and being over overwhelmed with life. One’s ability to cope with what is going on and to do it well is directly linked to how that person is taking care of him or herself. Our body is chemical process and how we fuel it matters a lot.
This disease is different from anything on the planet because it is a mind, body and soul type ailment. All of these areas must be addressed in developing a treatment plan for treating addiction. Addiction is very much a disease of the whole being. The solution must address the whole person. The fact that we are more effective when we feel good or calm is not something that unique to people with addiction. I will argue that is important for anybody.
However, for those that are coming out of an extreme addiction of say daily IV drug use (coke, heroin or meth and daily alcohol) this is something that for the first two years of abstinence is not possible. A big part of being in addiction is being addicted to the frenetic and chaotic energy. It helps one deny the reality of their situation. Another aspect of addiction is that is for most part an it a direct attempt to escape from reality. Neither would allow for anything that would come close to calm anything.
I was just having a conversation with my husband the other day about how when I have really stressful days at work, the cravings to go out and drink are super high. For lots of people, in very stressful jobs, this behavior seems natural and acceptable. I never was addicted to alcohol but I do not want to drink for those reasons. I wished that there was some other way to get rid of the stress in the same way alcohol seems to. But when I really think about it, once I share my day with other people and start transitioning to my own life, those stressful feelings do slowly fade away.
I know that exercise is really important to our health in various ways. I was wondering, in terms of this model, what type of exercise and how much of it is needed to create a healthy balance to life. I spent my adolescence dancing all the time and so exercise was something I lived. There was no need to “fit” it into my life. But every time I have had to take a break from dance due to financial reasons or lack of time, I have had difficulty exercising just to be healthy. I see exercising more as an art form but have a hard time doing this on my own. And if my life is loaded down with obligations, exercise is just another obligation that is last on my list. So the way I see it, part of managing addiction is addressing the stress in life. Something has to give and many times it is our health- mentally and physically. I try to approach my life in terms of what little areas can I control and how can I shape those to best impact my health. Since my crazy time is during the week, I try to fit in small exercises on the weekend.
Developing a regular healthy habit for exercise is something that I strive to do, but I find incredibly difficult to keep up with. I find that I will exercise for a few weeks, then slowly fall back into old habits. I’ve found it even more difficult to alter my current eating habits to healthier ones. Often times the healthier options tend to be the more expensive ones, which is why it’s easier to eat cheap then to eat healthy (especially on a graduate student’s “salary”). In the end, though, I need to hold myself accountable and start living a healthier lifestyle — if I’m going to expect this from my client’s then I need to do it myself.
In terms of energy dimensions, I’ve noticed that I seem to operate mostly out of calm tiredness and tense energy. While I do enjoy being calmly-tired, I’m not as productive as I should be and while I do love when I’m productive, I don’t like the stress and anxiety that comes along with tense energy. I would like to strive to be calmly energetic for a majority of my time, which just reemphasizes that I need to cut the excuses, get off the couch and get on the treadmill. I was wondering though, if the book mentions ways of MAINTAINING this calm energy, especially for those who tend to pick up a habit, then stop after a short period of time. How can we encourage ourselves, and others, to maintain a certain lifestyle?
Additionally, do therapists who work with addicts ever recommend exercise as a means of therapy? Moreover, though, what happens to those who become addicted to exercise? What then can be used to emphasize a calm energy in someone’s life?
Sarah Lincoln says
I think the idea of calm energy is very Eastern/Buddhist — but we are ALL so tired here in more Western cultures…I ask my clients about their sleep; I’d say 95% of them don’t get enough sleep (usually the younger ones) or have wakeful periods at night (older). So, it’s difficult to get to that calm center when you are “off” healthy sleep patterns. The idea of tracking energy/tension hourly is a great one for clients (and me), as a way to also track addictive behavior, e.g., emotional eating, smoking, drinking, etc. So much is traced back to trauma in our lives, esp. early trauma and the painful cycle it causes…
Fall 2010 Student says
This has motivated me to start tracking when I am feeling tense, tired, and anxious. Not only just to experiment but also to show me when I need to incorporate more exercise into my life. It is implementing theories like these that can help an individual put some parts of their life into perspective. Stress and tension seem to play a big part in many peoples lives these days; learning how to get to that calm and energized state is crucial in order for people to be happy, content, and satisfied. My life, like so many others, is busy and going from one deadline to the next can be incredibly overwhelming. Seeking out this clam energy state is something to strive for in order to get into the right flow, zone and mood.
I agree that these two biopsychological dimensions mentioned, energy and tension could be tied to why some individuals have tendencies to act out in their addictions. There are many people who do not know what to do with the tired tense mood that they feel, and acting out in their addictions may seem like the only remedy. It may be hard for some addicts to understand what a calm energized mood might feel like only because they may have never experienced it before. This is when it is useful for experienced counselors to help facilitate these experiences and feelings while introducing healthy habits like exercise. Seeking out calm energy can only be beneficial to all if us as we seek out happiness in our lives.
This is a fascinating idea to me. When tracking my day, I realized how much I do and how tired I really am. I tend to push through my exhaustion until I have time to sit down then I am out the minute I stop. I realized I do not schedule as much time to exercise and sleep as I need to keep up with my life. I tend to live my life in tense energy. People often tell me I am “burning both ends of my candle”. I notice when things are not going my way, I am not as productive as my type A personality likes, or I do not get enough sleep, I move into tense tiredness and my mood changes. I notice how I become more snappy and have smaller thresholds for frustrating situations. I can see how this could be a time when people lose their recovery to disconnect or escape the pain of the frustrating situations even though it is only a temporary fix. I have also realized when thinking back to clients I work with that when they lose their recovery it was when they also discussed stressful situations they were going through such as changes at work or money problems. I believe this activity of tracking every hour is a useful one to sue with clients so they can see patterns in their energy and become more self aware.
Edgar Frias says
This makes me think a lot about what Freud termed as “libidinal” energy. Or this procreative, life-energy that we all have and as a result of our stagnant lifestyles, are often unable to channel through physical labor. What ends up happening is that we are left with an extreme amount of life-energy that gets pent up and often wants to find a way to “escape.” I speak of this from a personal experience, as I know that the times that I feel this “tense energy,” I either want to go out for a long walk (through the woods preferably), or get a drink in order to ameliorate these feelings. This would often happen to me during work where I knew I would have to stay put in one room for the next 5 hours. And as soon as work was over, my mind had already ruminated for a few hours on the desire for a drink of alcohol.
It wasn’t until somebody asked me what my “triggers” were before wanting to drink alcohol that I realized that there is an “energy” behind such desires. Upon investigating this energy further, I realized that it is very much associated with a psychobiological response to stress, energy waves in the air, my own hormonal fluctuations, etc. When asked to give this “energy” a face, I immediately pictured myself paradoxically walking aimlessly with “purpose” through the woods, seeking, looking, trying to find “something.”
As a result, I have “discovered” that I need to do some self-care involving exercise, as I feel that my diet (for the most part) is pretty much in line with creating calm energy. My next challenge is to value exercise as much as I do nutritional/academic exposure!
This entry really hit home as I can directly relate. I feel amazing when I am in patterns of health and find that my mental state is directly related. No doubt, this would tie to addiction. When not feeling well, I grasp at caffeine, food, or attention to satisfy my self. When I am exercising well and eating more purely, I am at calm when alone, happily doing house chores or even schoolwork. I have noticed two major times in my life when I had this type of calm energy and once I introduced a new stressor, fell into the tense energy/ tense tired side of the chart.
One was when I started graduate school. I had a beautiful pattern of exercise and salads. I was a nanny and had a beautiful routine that included long walks in the rain and cuddling with a newborn. Life was simpler with out grad school hanging over my head. Once I started school, my sleep cycles, food schedules and exercise were all irregular and I was a mess. The second stressor happened recently when I became pregnant. I had finally found a routine of packing healthy lunches for internship and supervision, and alternating between biking, yoga and a 3-mile walk for exercise daily. Sure I was feeling worse overall, but there is also the element of a self-perpetuating cycle. A host emotions have come up during this life changing time, and it has not exactly been serene, though we are getting there.
How do we continue to have calm energy when new stressors are introduced? How does someone with addiction bounce back quickly? I am also excited to integrate this book into not only my personal wellness program but also as a guide to understand how to maintain this calm in times of stress, which would be specifically applicable to working with addictions.
While reading through this entry, I was able to pinpoint times in my life and that I have felt each of these four states. Prior to starting a strict exercise and nutrition program last year, I would say that I spent a great deal of time in the tense tiredness state. Once I started eating better and exercising frequently, my mood was certainly elevated and I feel as though I spend most of my time in a state of calm energy. I can certainly see the connection between moods, addiction, and activity level in this regard. I can’t say that between finals, practicum, and various other stressors, that I’ve maintained the same level of calm energy; it would be more accurate to assume I’ve spent some time on the opposite side of the spectrum lately, with tense tiredness. As others have noted above, I found myself wondering how to get back to the state of calm energy after all of these stressors have been introduced?
I really like this idea of the 4 types of feelings we experience. I read this blog a few days ago and decided to try charting my feelings throughout the days. I found that I experience a tense energy most of the time. I am a student athlete in college and find myself with a lot of deadlines dealing with school and softball. Once I realized that this was happening to me, I tried to slow down my lifestyle a little by taking time away from my activities and relaxing. This is when I saw that I seem to go from either a tense energy to a calm tiredness. It is difficult to be in a calm energy. It’s interesting how difficult it is in my situation even though athletes are talked to about “being in the zone”, it is much harder to get in this state then I suspected. Finally, in regards to regular exercise helping you limit your addictions, I do agree with this for a couple reasons. One, regular exercise helps release endorphins which gives you a feeling of being “high” and two, if you’re exercising, you limit down time which may lead to finding an addiction. This was a great article and I will be adding this book to my list of things to read, Thank you!
In the past I have responded poorly to allowing myself to reach the stage of “tense and tired” without intervention. The end result has been stress, anxiety, and unfortunately relapse. Since I have been in recovery, I am careful to monitor my level of stress, exercise regularly, and to eat with healthy principles in mind. The result – sobriety and success in my pursuit of a degree at a local four year university. This would not be possible without Dr. Thayer’s principles in mind.
I have added a “must read” to my book list. I find the topic of “tense energy” of particular interest. Being that I am a “type A” I feel this describes me much of the time. The ability to be more cogniscent of my mood states and also to possess the tools to change this state over to “calm energy” would be a definite help in my life! Though I am aware that my state of “tense energy” is a highly productive stage, and it supports my industrious nature, it can be a bit overwhelming at times too! I am especially interested in reading this book to hear more about the way exercise is linked to moods and energy levels. I am a runner and also do a lot of yoga and have found the effects these activities have on my energy level and mental outlook to be profound. It is great that more concrete research is being done in this area!
As your site notes, the 12 steps are only one way to deal with addiction, and I’m personally all for anything that gets anyone sober. I use the 12 steps, and we have an acronym for “tense energy”: HALT–Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. Acronyms and rhyming advice (“fake it till you make it,” “attitude of gratitude”) can seem simple-minded, but then again some of the best advice that works is simple.
I participate on a very active forum for opiate addicts. I didn’t like being told to get my body moving when I was in detox back in 2008, but becoming truly fit has been the single best way for me to regulate my moods. I was terrified of becoming depressed when I went into detox. I think it was exercise, combined with meditation, that prevented this.
with every good wish, G
P.S. btw: it may be true that NIDA gave $4 million to investigate the effects of exercise on “drug abuse” (read: addiction), but have you read any results of the studies? More recently NIDA gave $7.6 million–almost twice as much–to a big pharmaceutical company, and additional speakers fees etc. to researchers, to study the effects of implanted opioids to treat addiction. And huge fanfare when the initial results of the study came out a couple months ago. … So it would seem that the government is more committed to finding drug-oriented treatments to address addiction (any illness, really), rather than approaches that are “not very costly” to patients or insurers, as Nora Volkow mentions at the webcast at the link you mention.
I had to laugh when Volkow said that about exercise being an “activity that is not very costly.” Everyone knows that in the medical community, research is slow-going when it comes to activities that cannot be patented and sold. And it seems pretty obvious that most medical researchers assume that, to fix an illness, you need a drug–even if it’s drug-addiction you’re trying to fix. It’s great that you’re giving voice to this idea (but then, you’re not in the medical community).
You make some very good points. It is true that NIDA funds many initiatives, including development of medications. This is in line with the organization’s stance that addiction is a brain disease, and that medications can play an important role in relapse prevention and potentially treating brain damage due to drugs. I would disagree that NIDA is not interested in cost-effective interventions. Prescription drug abuse is among the nations most costly addictions right now. Medications including methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone have all been shown in large clinical trials to be effective at treating opioid dependence. However, one problem with these medicines is compliance, an issue that implanted medicines can help with. As a point of clarification, it is not “opioids” that are implanted, but medicines to block the effects of opioids.
The medical community is overly focused on pathology and use of quick fixes as you suggest, but it is an oversimplification to say that “most researchers” are drug-focused. Clearly, many are. But there are many researchers that focus primarily on psychosocial interventions. Consider all the research on Motivational Interviewing. Take a look at the work of Jeffery Schwartz at UCLA on OCD, and how he has shown that a behavioral program is as effective as use of medications. Thanks again for the feedback.
Thanks for the feedback. I agree that the phrases used in 12-step are VERY useful and keeping things simple is critical. Exercise sure does make a difference, but like many things, I find for myself that it requires continued vigilance on my part to keep it going as I get older :)
I agree that as we get older, exercise requires continued vigilance on our part!
To further clarify: buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It IS an opioid–a fact most people (even some addictions specialists and the vast majority of physicians) do not understand, because it is billed as “blocking the effects” of “drugs.” It is itself an opioid drug, and it DOES cause euphoria in the opioid-naive. … Very important.
Thank you for your kind responses and for your dedication. :)
Jen C. says
As many others would agree, this book is very intriguing. Even though it will be hard to discipline myself to track my mood every hour for a few days, it would be interesting to discover how my energy and tension levels fluctuate throughout each day. I am also a bit worried that I will not be able to properly determine which state I am in because I am good at convincing myself that I am not tense or tired when in fact, I am. I think I would need more information before I could accurately define each state to make sure I am receiving useful results.
I also agree entirely that a regular habit of exercise will help create a state of calm energy. I believe that exercise has a strong influence on overcoming addiction. Growing up, I witnessed this firsthand. My sister is two years older than me and when she reached middle school she stopped playing sports to hang out with the rebellious crowds and began smoking cigarettes around the age of 12, and marijuana by 13. She indulged in these addictive behaviors for about eight years, and then suddenly took an interest in joining a gym and running with a new group of friends in college and at work. I think she quickly discovered that since it was difficult to even climb a flight of stairs it would be nearly impossible to exercise regularly if she continued smoking cigarettes. Today, my sister and I exercise together regularly, and she hasn’t smoked cigarettes or marijuana since she quit three years ago. My family and I all agree that it was this new group of friends that influenced her to begin exercising, and it is the regular exercise habits that have kept her from smoking.
Robert Thayer’s mood chart is very informative. Sitting back and reflecting on my day, I am able to pinpoint the times when I had “Calm Energy,” “Tense Tiredness,” or any of the other moods suggested. I think doing this can help one understand the times of the day when one is most stressed. Knowing this can possibly help one to counter balance such moods. Also, i think there is certainly something to be said for exercise, and the positive effects it has on stress. I realized, when reflecting on the past week, that during and after tennis practice everyday was the time when I felt the most positive and calm energy. I also think that exercising actually provides me with more energy for the day, and helps me sleep better at night. Through my experience, a consistent exercise routine helps me look, feel, and perform at my best. When I don’t exercise for an extended period of time, I feel sluggish and like I have less energy. Focusing on these ideas of energy, good or bad, can help an individual isolate tense and tired energies and evaluate possible adjustments that could be made.
Karly Pitman says
Thank you for sharing this with me – I hadn’t heard of Robert’s work and I’m so glad I stumbled upon it. I find his chart fascinating and true to my experience, both personally and in my work with helping food addicts. Nearly all of those I know who struggle with some form of binge eating also struggle with either anxiety or depression.
So eating is a way of self soothing, and yet the overeating also increases the very anxiety that needs soothing, leading to a catch 22, and a cycle that’s difficult to undo.
I found your site through a google search for Dr. Mate, one of my heroes. I look forward to learning more about you and our shared perspectives. I’m grateful for the good work that you’re doing in the world.
Karly, thanks so much for the nice feedback! Food is something I believe we all struggle with at times, and some of the most helpful insights for me on this topic have come from the Yale Rudd Center for Policy & Obesity (www.yaleruddcenter.org). So much of our behavior around food is motivated by things outside of our awareness, which is why I think food issues are so challenging. I checked out your website and thought it was great! I encourage readers to check it out (www.firstourselves.org).
Ryan D. says
Thank you for this posting, Dr. Fitzgerald.
Stress appears to be a very strong motive for someone to initially try a drug that could lead to dependancy, and the idea of tuning into “Calm Energy” by reducing tension and raising energy seems like the right step in implementing a personal protective factor.
With this in mind, I am excited to see what new research will be done in the field of Contemplative Psychology in regards to drug prevention. In tandem with tension reduction and energy building, I believe that practicing mindfulness will further alleviate stress, thereby eliminating the want or need to seek out habit forming drugs.
Thanks for the feedback. I agree that contemplative practices have a very important place in both preventing and overcoming addiction. You might enjoy this post I wrote about life being transitory. Also, check out the work of Alan Marlatt who has written extensively on this topic.
Carrie Reimche says
Everyone wants to be in this calm energy feeling and we use drugs, food, and addiction to try and get there. The problem is that this stuff does not work. I myself even find myself using these things to feel better. It may help for a moment but we still find ourselves tense, tired and cranky. It is not a surprise to me that just by exercising instead of eating or taking drugs we can attain a calm energy. Many people, even myself, know this but it is just easier to take something rather than move around. This article reminded me that I need to exercise more when I’m feeling tense tired and stressed.
Agree. Engaging in addictions are often easier, but the price paid for instant gratification is far greater than the effort necessary to just get to the gym. I struggle with it as well.
Reyna Othon says
Interesting site you have. I will be coming back to read later on. cheers
L. Martinez says
This article about “Calm Energy” is very interesting to me. Seeing that I am a person who has had the experience of high and low energies thoughout my days, I feel like I can really relate to some of the things that you are saying about having calm energy when your are not stressed out and tired to having high energy that makes it easier for any kind of addiction to come about. While reading the parts of this article about “Tense Tiredness” I found myself relizing how true it is that a relapse of form of addiction can occur and reoccur during this stage. When I find myself in a stage like this, I can easily find myself going off track and trying to find something (like chocolate, my addiction) to pick me up and get out of this state of mind or stage. Thanks for the insight and I will definitly be experiementing with recording my energy levels and sleep.
I found the connection possibilities between tension and addiction very interesting. I know of a few people with stressful jobs or heavy school work loads that either drink frequently or rely on drugs to “relax”. I think that the correlation between needing a break and not having a regular healthy outlet for stress can definitely lead to addiction. Even though regular exercise is a good outlet, it can be addictive too. I think addiction may not be just the level of tension and stress but also related to ones personality traits. Some other acquaintances I have are regular recreational drug users, but they are taking the drugs for the “experience” as they say and not to relax or escape their current tense state of being since they have calm fulfilling lives. And I have seen no signs of addiction in their lives and they have been regular users for a few yeas now vs the others I know who are clearly addicted to their “substance of choice” that they use to relax. So I would say a calm state of being does eliminate some risk factors for addiction, while the tense state increases the risk of becoming addicted.
Good article and topic.
Betty J says
I have not yet read the book but do plan on reading it in hope in helping my self. i have been diagnose with mood disorder, which I have been told is a step down from bipolar. I do not take medications to control my moods but more try to control it as soon as I realize my mood changes dramatically. I take my self out of the situation and meditate, but never thought that it could be the types of food I may be consuming. I will read this book in hopes to better understand what I can do to better myself and help those around me who use alcohol and drugs as a means to relax from a stressful day.
Foods can impact moods, and in fact, there is a book I read a number of years ago titled “Food and Mood” which you might find useful. In addition to food, sleep, stress, and many other factors can influence moods. Glad to hear you meditate, it’s a great tool to help manage moods. Also, exercise has been shown in a number of studies to significantly help regulate moods, and much of this research is discussed in the calm energy book. Good luck.
James M says
I try and use my own form of calming energy every day, such as walking three miles a day and eating smaller portions at meals in order to keep my 52 y/o weight down and to deal with my chronic pain and discomfort. I find that along with a positive attitude, managing your food intake and the kinds of food you eat, exercising everyday (whether it’s walking around the neighborhood or walking my dogs, or just doing house work), and most importantly…being able to listen to your body when it’s trying to tell you to rest or sleep is the best way I’ve found to manage my stress level. My personal addiction is food, specifically rich foods. I was a chief in another life and i love to cook these large meals full of carbohydrates…meaning bad cholesterol, and though i still cook this kind of food from time to time, I’ve learned that you can cook a great tasting meal and still have it be good for you (Everything in moderation)!!!! Over the years I’ve learned that the intake of food, while necessary, can influence our individual mood and affect in very negative ways…ways we might not recognize until we are snipping at our mates, or not doing the things we need to do because we just don’t feel right.
Okay, I’ve prattled on long enough. Thanks for an interesting blog, and for something more to think about.
The mood chart developed by Dr. Thayer is a useful tool to explain feelings and to “label” our ever fluctuating emotions throughout the day. I find that when a person pays attention to how they are feeling and why they are feeling a certain way, it enables them to understand the actions that follow. Speaking from personal experience, I know that I am a i
mpulsive person and often act on haste instead of thorough thought. Before getting sober, I can’t honestly say that there was much in the way of thought before action, and now I take time at the end of the day to calm myself and recap my days. I have found that diet and exercise play a HUGE role in how I feel over a day, and try to pay close attention to what I put into my body and how much time I allow myself to go to the gym. I also have found that I operate better when my days are fairly busy, and organized, as opposed to slow going. I do feel that everyone is different in the way they operate in the world and what works best for them. Although in my treatment the 12 steps were a big part of our curriculum, for me in life after in-patient I have found that positive affirmations, meditation, exercise, and a vegan diet is what works for me in staying on track.
I am very intrigued by this “calm energy” theory but have a question regarding it. I understand that exercise releases endorphins giving an individual a natural “high” and that it is good practice in recovering addicts. However, I am wondering if it can get to the point of being unhealthy or a psuedo-addiction. A close friend of mine is a recovering alcoholic. In the beginning stages of their rehab they began running.This was a great step that made us all proud, but it’s gotten to be scary. It seems like they have hopped from one addiction to another. They used to be muscular and attractive and now they are skin and bones and seem to have aged 10 years in the amount of 2. Running has become their new obsession, no less than 10 miles a day in rain, sleet, or snow. How do you go about helping someone who is going through this and tell them it’s unhealthy without fear of them relapsing to alcohol or becoming depressed? I am just worried they will get the sense of “Oh great, here we go again. I can’t do anything right. Or they want to take this away from me too?”
One can easily go from alcohol to exercise without ever addressing the underlying drivers of addiction, or the root causes.
Sounds like your close friend needs help.
Elsa Luquin Alvarez says
I read this blog and found the information about Calm Energy very interesting. I know I also have one if not more destructive addictions. Ever since I was a child I have lived with sexual abuse and neglect. There were so many traumas I went through at home and at school. My parents immigrated from Mexico and brought me here at the age of two. My parents had their own culture and language. It was very hard for them to adapt a whole new culture living in the USA. They did not know of any resources for support in adapting to a new set of social institutionss. The stress of not knowing who to ask for help affected my family and me.
My biggest addiction and weakness is food. I eat for every emotion imaginable. I over eat when I am happy and when I am sad. I over eat when I am stressed and when I have peace. I do not exercise. I find every excuse possible to not exercise. I am overweight. I know I need to change my lifestyle very soon or else I will contine down the wrong path in life. I really thank you for sharing Dr. Thayer’s book about “Calm Energy”. I feel a connection with your explanation of emotions or moods and food.
Thanks for sharing, your story is the story of many people. Early abuse can influence a lot of things in life, but the good news is that you can also work to resolve its influence on your present life. Read the book “The body remembers” by Babette Rothschild, get therapy, join a support group, and come to think about it, also read “Betrayal Bond” by Patrick Carnes. These books will provide a solid foundation for understanding how the past links with the present, but you will need professional help and support to learn how to manage your emotions without food. It is more than possible! Dr. Thayer’s book is also great. Use his chart to track your moods and energy to learn about patterns. Hang in there, you can develop a healthy relationships with your body and with food.
Hernan Rapalo says
Thanks for your thoughtful way to describe hour swing moods throughout out the day, week, year, and life. While reading I found myself positioning in all the mood stages and thinking about the best way to keep myself in calm energy. I practice power naps and sleep when need it regardless of timelines or due dates, but one thing I found the must intriguing to me is to find the best time to exercise. Sunday are my soccer day since I play one or two games a day. However, I never found myself wanting to exercise during the week and reading this post made think about the time when I feel the best condition. I will start to pay more attention to myself!
Jenna Switzer says
Thank you for sharing this! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the illustration by Dr. Thayer. One day I strive to become a naturopathic doctor, and daily physical exercise is generally the first advice given to patients of NDs.
The way you described ‘calm energy,’ is spot on and made me think of the times I am in my ‘zone.’ This is when I am fully in my yoga practice, or realeasing natural endorphins through exercise. Especially since the type of yoga I practice is commonly referred to as ‘flow,’ your correlation to the word ‘flow,’ to calm energy really intrigued me.
I also find it interesting that drug addicts are most likely always in the constant search to find the ‘calm energy,’ state. Especially when in that horrible feeling of ‘tense tiredness,’ is when using the drug would become most attractive.
Onyema A says
I really took interest in the topics brought up in this blog entry because I feel as though monitoring my energy and tiredness level would help me daily in so many ways. As I read this blog, I remembered the days where I would experience these different energy and tiredness levels. I realized that I experience calm energy before, during and after my workouts which usually occur in the afternoon. Hours later after the experience of calm energy, I then experience calm tiredness which allows me to fall asleep faster and sleep better at night which keeps me from the temptation of taking a substance to help induce sleep. Being a college student I know that I definitely go through phases of experiencing both tense energy and tense tiredness when due dates approach for assignments and exams, so I can see why some people may relapse or seek a substance to assist them with reaching a somewhat calmer state of mind. I am definitely open to the idea of charting these different levels during my day just so I can see how or if these levels fluctuate. Also I thank you for the insight on Dr. Robert Thayer’s book, it is something that I can see my self looking into and reading in the near future.
This is a great visual way to solidify something as abstract as moods. I do see my that my moods are often the direct result of my energy level. But visa versa works here too. This is super helpful in seeing the relationship between the two.
The book has my curiosity peeked as to how the idea of controlling mood with food works for those with eating disorders.
David Steinberg:Couples Counselor Philadelphia says
This article is right on target. The challenge is finding ways to regulate energy and mood that aren’t self-destructive. Self-medicating, whether through drugs, alcohol or food ultimately leads to emotional disconnect. The problem is that the difficult feelings don’t go away, they just go beneath the surface until your choice of medication wears off. Then you are right back where you started from. I will get this book.
Thanks for the feedback David! I agree, emotional hygiene is key. I suggest also reading The Growth of the Mind by Stanley Greenspan, as he provides a great framework for understanding emotional development and the capacities we need to regulate emotion.
This is really good information about calm energy. I think we all want more of those days were you feeling just right. You have just enough stress to keep you going but not too much to weigh you down. The illustration really helps you think about were you are at on the scale so to speak. You want to have enough energy, but not to high or not to low because either is most effective. In addition, you want to be to calm because then you are not motivated. Also you don’t want to be to tense because the stress level well overwhelm you. I find this interesting how it all ties into addiction. If you find yourself way up, way down, or way to the left or right there is serious precursors for addiction. Another thing I find interesting is depending on were you are at on this illustration you can almost guess what the addiction could be. Very interesting article it really gets you thinking
“When we feel tense and tired there is a natural tendency to want move away from this state, and addictive behaviors are among the most powerful, reliable, quick, and easy ways to disconnect from Tense Tiredness”. This is a powerful statement for me as I have suffered from sleep apnea since I was 14. I have always wondered why I always try to find ways to get away from being tired. Lately it has been the going to the gym and living off the good endorphins from it. Is this a good way to get over the tiredness?
Lily Zhao says
As much as I wish I was at ‘calm energy,’ I would have to say that I am in the common category, ‘tense tiredness.’ I used to have lazy weekends, but nowadays, it’s all school and work. However, I’ve begun to incorporate exercise into my life. I don’t see much improvement in my energy so far, so perhaps I have to change my sleeping schedule and improve my diet. My biggest goal after reading this is to reach a level of calm energy and try to balance out my life. Thanks for the read! And I will definitely look into Dr. Robert Thayer’s book.
Anthony Candelario says
I totally enjoyed reading this blog because I agree that our mood whether it’s sad, tired, lonely, and scared do in fact help or make addiction worse. I understand that If you are in a calm state of mine it can be a good way to stop addiction. Most of the people that I know who do drugs are people who struggle with money, had family issues and aren’t in that calm state of mind, therefore they are more likely to use drugs. So I believe the antidote to drug addiction is calm energy. Because when you have calm energy, you don’t need anything else, especially drugs. My state of mind consist of calm energy because I’m a calm and energetic person and I don’t need drugs to keep me happy. I really find this blog helpful to understand more about moods. As well as the diagrams, it was helpful to understand what you were talking about throughout the blog
Absolutely! Exercise is a great intervention for overall health. At the same time, looking more closely at your own sleep patterns, and whether you are getting enough sleep would be important as well.
Robert Brodeanu says
I haven’t considered the possibility of the combinations of energy, tension, calm, and tiredness much before when throughout many of my classes. I have chalked up the tension I felt from school as an ordinary process of attending a university. And through the recent few years I have noticed my response to stress changing, and i believe it has gotten slightly worse since I stopped playing tennis. But because of the constant stress I can understand the implications of wanting a way out, or instant gratification from the current mood or to just disconnect from the pain they have. While I feel that I’m not always within a range of tense tired, I’m not in calm energy either, and while what I’m dealing with pales in comparison to those stuck in addiction, I can understand the want to be released from pressure of life and just either sit back and have a calm but extremely productive day, I also need to just sit back and relax and do nothing as well. But with the constant pressure of classes, being able to even relax without not having the constant reminder in my mind to what is due which date or not, and how well I’m doing disconnects me from being able to fully relax as well. Thus I am within a constant cycle of reaching a breaking point, and having to figure how to release my pent of stress, then to repeat it without finding a solution. Nevertheless, it is the struggle to achieve a state where we are calm tired or calm energy on a constant basis, or to strive to one day be able to sit back in relax.
John Fitzgerald says
Yep, we live in a time of incredible stress…and we all are paying a price for our present lifestyle. Perhaps some of us need to break in order to wake up to the need to change our ways. I just hope the break is not the kind that ends life, but instead provides the learning experience necessary for deepening the reason why we are here in the first place.
Thanks for your comment
Travis Cole says
This is a great article and makes a lot of sense. While reading, I could definitely think of certain moments throughout my day where I felt calm but energized, and tired but tense. The closing statement you made is very accurate and I can personally vouch for it. Implementing exercise into our routines allows our bodies to release stress and anxiety. When I was in high school, I used to wrestle and would always strive to get higher grades in the classroom. Most of my days would suit the “tired-tense” grouping until practice started. Once we got to sparring and sprinting for thirty minutes straight, I could release the stress that was built in the classroom and that which was put on my shoulders. I ought to practice documenting my levels of stress and energy levels throughout my week so that I can find out which sort of lifestyle I am living. Thanks John!
Katharine Kall says
I can’t help but think about my own life and struggle with addiction and exercise and trying to remember my moods when I struggled the most with these two things.
When I think of exercise, I really only wanted to do it when I was full of calm energy. I already felt good, so I wanted this to continue, and I had the energy to engage in the activity. When life it stressful and full of tension, I have found depression in that quadrant (as the article suggests) and there is no motivation to make or keep my body healthy. This of course contributes to the tension and has led to alcohol and drug use.
I am a very visual personal person and just in the last hour have sent this 4 quadrant visual to some friends who I know struggle with anxiety and depression and they all responded in the same way I did- this puts words and a visual to emotions and struggles we have faced. One friend even expressed frustration that food and exercise were not prescribed with their anti-anxiety and anti-depressants. These drugs were presented as a cure all with no assistance needed from the individual.
I also had not thought of type A individuals in this way, but more of a personality trait that just is, not something that might have to do with their diet or how much someone slept. Is it less healthy to be type A? What kind of stress does it put on your body to have contain tension?
I have put this book on reserve at the library and am very much look forward to reading it.
Alizabeth Gendel says
This article was really interesting to me because I feel like it was relate-able to myself. The idea that most addictions happen in the Tense Tiredness mood is really understandable. Too often I find myself in the Tense Tiredness mood. When I am in this state I often find myself doing things that I wouldn’t normally do if I was in a Calm Energy mood or even a Calm Tiredness Mood. I definitely will take a few days and record my level of energy and tension because I feel like should know how it affects my actions. After I do this I’m going to look at what I learned and see if I can improve anything about myself not matter how small.
Emily Gilson says
After reading this article, I’m very inclined to track my energy states over the next couple of days. I’ve always been somewhat in-tuned to my own energy and others, and have always used the term “energy” to describe the way I’m feeling. For example, when you’re having one of those days where you feel like you’ve lost your mojo a little bit, I would describe it as “my energy feels off.” So it’d be interesting to track how often I sway between energy states throughout the day. Based of my first impression of the scale and the definitions of each, I can conclude that I probably spend majority of my day in the “tense energy” state constantly scrambling to get all my school work and extra curricular activities I want to get done in a day. It’s those hobbies that bring me into a “calm energy” state where I feel productive and focused because I WANT to be doing them. Overall, super cool article! I’ll have to share it with my mom who is a big energy guru and could benefit from reflecting on the amount of time she spends in an tense state.