Personal energy management to build mental strength

When I first started writing for D&D back in 2018, the aim was to explore the broad subject of our mental health and the stigmas that shrouded the subject. I am pleased to say however that it seems these old judgements are being eroded as we all continue the conversation. However, more work is needed to reduce the prevalence of mental ill health in our industry and so today we explore how we can all improve our mental health in the same way we can improve our physical health.

Now, and especially given the additional challenges posed by events in the last 18-months, I want to revisit some of our earlier articles (all of which can be found on the NFDC’s new Mental Health & Wellbeing Hub at – by exploring the theme of mental strength.

When you hear the term ‘mental strength or mental toughness’ what comes to mind? Endurance, adaptability, focused, confident, steadfastness, dependability or perhaps effectiveness?  The reality is that it’s a term that we often use but it is rarely explained or clarified.

So, what do we mean? Almost 20 years ago in a paper by Clough, Earle, & Sewell they referred to mental toughness as ‘the capacity to deal with various stressors or challenges when they arise and still perform to the best of your ability’. Or to simplify… a person’s resilience.

Resilience is regularly thought of as the ability to bounce back after a challenging situation. Think of an elastic band for example, you stretch it again and again and it bounces back, however after a while the elasticity will fade and eventually it will snap. This same analogy can be implied to us, we might be the most resilient or mentally strong person however if we are constantly being stretched, time after time, without any renewal, then we will also snap. Unfortunately, this is happening more and more and when it happens the journey to recovery is much tougher – you may have heard people referring to this stage as ‘burnout’.

Burnout is a syndrome which costs the economy billions each year and a report earlier this year by the analytics firm Gallup, highlighted that the number of cases is rising with an estimated one third of all staff being burned out and unable to perform their jobs effectively. However, more on that later.

Our understanding of mental strength or resilience has been evolving and where we use to think of it a trait, we now know that it can be built and honed we can all improve our resilience. So just like learning to operate plant, we can in fact learn to be more resilient.

So, a more modern definition that captures this newer and broader understanding of resilience is ‘the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge or adversity’.

The key word, that is fundamental to our understanding of what resilience really is, is Capacity.

Capacity can be thought of simply as, how much of something you have. And, as we have just mentioned through learning and attention, we can increase our capacity and accumulate and store resilience.

The greater your capacity means you have more to draw from when you need it. Capacity is the amount of energy you have available to you at any time.

Let’s consider this further, think of a situation which frustrates you. When your energy level is low how do you respond? Are you more easily frustrated or hot tempered? Now think of the same situation when you have lots of energy, are you better at dealing with it and take it in your stride? I would hazard a guess that the answer is yes.

The situation is the same, and the difference in the way you respond often depends on the amount of energy you have available. Think of this as your inner battery. When your inner battery is charged, you feel better, you have more energy, and you make better decisions. When our energy is low, we have far less capacity to deal with our daily life challenges.

Every day we wake up with a certain amount of energy. To remain healthy, resilient, and mentally strong, we must manage how we spend that energy. To be able to do this we need to understand that energy is depleted and renewed from three key areas: Physical, Mental, and Emotional.

In the Physical area or domain, we take into consideration our physical flexibility, endurance, and strength.  When we partake in physical activity we stretch our energy in that domain, therefore enabling us to grow and develop our capacity.

Our Mental domain relates to our mental flexibility, our attention span, our ability to focus and our ability to cope with multiple points of view. When we concentrate, focus and problem solve we increase our capacity in our mental domain.

With these two domains it is quite simple to see where our energy is being spent. I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to go for a run for 2 hours without consciously knowing about that for example or indeed to sit and price some tricky demolition work for the day without realising that this will have had a drain on your mental capacity.

So, this is where the Emotional domain comes in to play. Interestingly, the area that we deplete and renew most of our energy, often without realising it, is in our emotional domain.

Think about sitting in a traffic jam and you are going to be late for that all important meeting. It’s easy to become impatient, angry, and frustrated but those emotions do nothing to serve us or move the traffic along and are very draining on our energy stores.

By learning about resilience we are learning to be more aware of our emotions and inner dialogue and we can instead actively choose not to let the traffic jam bother us. This then builds our individual capacity taking charge of our emotions and how we ultimately respond.

You are flexing your emotional muscle, so you have more capacity to self-regulate not only in traffic jams but in other situations as well.

The three domains are also interrelated, an example of this would be feeling overwhelmed and frustrated because of your workload which can deplete the energy in your emotional domain; this can then cause you difficulties thinking clearly, depleting the energy in your mental domain; which can then lead to muscle tension and headaches depleting the energy in your physical domain. I’m sure we have all been there more than once.

The reality is that we tend to expend more energy than we renew, and it is this constant energy expenditure without adequate renewal that leads to reduced mental strength and resilience.

So just like your mobile phone if you use it a lot throughout the day and then don’t charge it at night the battery drains and the phone stops working. It is the same if we don’t charge our own inner battery, our mental strength and resilience levels drop leading to mistakes, poor performance and eventually burnout.

So, to minimise the risk of burnout it is vital that we consider each of the domains not just individually but as a collective.

We need to have effective ways of regulating and improving our capacity in each domain and not needlessly depleting our energy supplies in situations that don’t warrant it.  And if we spend too much time in one or another of these domains we can quickly deplete our energy leaving less for the others. The key? Balance

So perhaps as we gallop towards the winter we could all take a little time to think about how our days are structured, where we are spending our energies and if this is serving us or if burnout feels close. Can we actively choose not to let emotions such as anger and frustration impede us when all those emotions will do is drain our inner battery?

It’s a fine balance but being aware of how the domains affect each other and how we are building our capacity in each domain will help minimise the risk of burnout.

If you want to learn more about the three domains and benefit from some simple techniques to help recharge your energy in each of the domains, then please get in touch.

Dave Price

Managing Director