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That thing where we’re all stressed. I found a name for it.

By Rochelle Brenner

I learned a new term and I want to present it as a possible explanation for a recent sense of struggle in both parents and kids.

I think we’ve all run out of “adaptation energy.”

It’s a term associated with meditation, in that intentional breathing helps build up the ability to deal with stress. I read about it in “Stress Less, Accomplish More” a book recommended to me by a rabbi who advised that meditation would reduce my stress.

I’m not a therapist or doctor and I’m terrible at meditating.

However I am a: trained journalist, keen observer, professional martial arts instructor, small business owner, mom & chronic pandemic sufferer responsible for making sure that my life’s work improves the days for my instructors, students and their families.

Lately, I’ve made some observations that I want to share in the hope of giving some people a sense of validation and perhaps even alarm about what many people are experiencing.

The actual definition first: In this book ‘Stress Less, Accomplish More,’ Emily Fletcher defines it as “your ability to handle a demand or a change of expectation. It’s the energy we draw on to manage our ever-growing to-do lists -- and most of us are running on empty.”

Here’s my metaphor: it’s like your brain has an 8-ounce cup of stress relief and every time your day has a hiccup, you have to drink a little of it. When it’s empty, you have nothing left. And it feels like trying to scream with a dry throat in the desert.

It’s a term that works to describe the sense of restlessness day to day.

The headline: I think we are running low on adaptation energy. Meaning, we’re working so hard to make it work, we run out of the ability to process stress on a day to day basis. We used to have enough adaptation energy to deal with each day, but we’re running out sooner.

The pandemic exacerbated the problem. It’s like before we would make it to 9 pm most days go to sleep, and wake up with a full cup. Now we chug the 8 ounces by 9 am and then we’re out. And we’re only starting with 6 ounces.

This term really helped me identify how I feel and motivated me to compartmentalize my day into using adaptation energy on what’s important and recognizing when something meaningless is needlessly wasting it.

Example in me: I don’t get a good night’s sleep, wake up and realize I forgot to throw the school uniforms in the dryer and rush to get the dryer started. I realize I left the milk on the counter overnight and have to dump it. A damp towel was left on the couch because one of my kids didn’t hang it up. I make a cup of coffee, but don’t have milk. After I get to the car, one kid admits to forgetting a water bottle and the other one doesn’t have a mask. It took me three tries to fill out the daily Covid waiver form online so my kids can go to school. I’m driving 15 mph in a school zone and the pick-up behind me is riding my bumper and honking. I get cut off in the car lane. By 9 am, I have run out of adaptation energy. None of these things are a big deal. And could be one busy but manageable morning. But combined with all the other pressures and uncertainties of Covid, I’m done. I don’t have the patience to stop at the supermarket or get work done because the stress has taken over.

Example in adults: They are back in the office after a year and a half at home and all their clothes feel too tight and uncomfortable. There are no in-person meetings so everything is done from the desk wearing a mask most of the day. They just found out the kids have half-days next week and have to scramble for care. One child has to get a Covid test before being able to return to school because of a headache. They’re out of dog food, and the new desk has to be returned because it’s missing a part after 2 hours of picking it out and putting it together. On the way home, they dodge a mail truck, an orange cone and oncoming traffic getting around a double-parked Honda unloading a lady with a cane and one block later an Amazon truck. They didn’t see the pothole in time. They pick up kids and get them ready for karate only to find one glove missing. The child will either be late or miss and that’s it. They’re out of adaptation energy before dinner is made or homework is done or dishes or laundry or two more work calls and the to-do list for tomorrow got longer.

They used to run out at bedtime, go to sleep, and manage the morning but they retreated to their phone to scroll through Facebook laughing at memes about morning drinking and sweatpants.

Example: Kids need attention. Our kids in 2nd grade and younger have never had a normal school year. By the time they remember their mask, their water bottle, their social distance, the threat of quarantine, the muffled speaking of their masked teacher, they don’t have the capacity to deal with a confusing math problem. They don’t respond to their own name, avoid eye contact, get a snarky remark from a classmate -- and by the time homework comes up, there’s a total meltdown. Maybe it’s wanting their ipad back or ignoring you the first ten times you say to put it down. Kids are resilient. I found a study (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26801872/) that says kids do have more adaptation energy than adults and every big life event depletes it a little more. If we apply that study to today: kids have been adapting to new rules and expectations every few months with this pandemic.

What’s the solution? Meditation is supposed to help with adaptation energy. Breathing. Breaks. Obviously I think martial arts training will help. At karate, we try to make sure our instructors have enough adaptation energy to spare to give kids and parents a boost of activity and accomplishment that elevates their day.

For me, just the awareness of the term was empowering.

That “name” for it has helped me measure my status at different times during the day, recognize I’m dealing with more little things every day, and to slow down or reset when I’m reaching the peak of stress and can’t process the simplest inconvenience anymore.

When we see it in parents, we try to step up our support system. Get the kids on leadership team, make the karate school friendly and accessible, forgive the missing glove, plan a parents nights out.

I’ve seen tons of stories that kids are less socialized, traumatized and struggling to focus. Thinking of those struggles as a deficit of adaptation energy might help us come up with.

When we see it in kids, we offer more patience, more dynamic diversions. We quickly redirect to something that will build up adaptation energy instead of making them keep going on fumes.

At Action Karate, it is my job to make sure everyone has adaptation energy. Our goal is that everyone leaves the building with more adaptation energy than when they arrived. I’ll follow up this blog with more strategies we are using to fill our energy cups.

Writing this blog already gave me more adaptation energy. Did reading it help you?

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