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How to Prioritize when You're Low on Spoons

Three spoons each with a small berry lined up neatly on a solid background

Being low on spoons is an extremely common experience, especially for ADHD and/or autistic folks. Combined with people pleasing tendencies, this is a recipe for burnout.

So, let's talk about how to prioritize those last remaining spoons. But first, leave any shame you have at the door.

If you only have the spoons for your basic needs (or some of your basic needs), that doesn't make you a worse person. Keeping afloat is hard enough on its own sometimes. If that's the case, that's the priority!

Priority 1) Use spoons to care for yourself.

Before you can take care of those around you, your basic needs need to be met. You need to have food, water, and shelter. You need to manage your sensory environment and your stimulation levels. Without these managed, spending energy on others will only leave you without the energy to care for yourself.

If you're like me, you may have been trained to see providing even these basic needs for yourself as selfish. It's not. It's building a foundation for helping. Providing for these basic needs for yourself is building a charging pad to refill your battery over time. This is crucial because without recharging, you're going to run out of energy, and bad things happen when we run out of energy. Without these needs met, we're more prone to shutdown, meltdown, and burnout. Faced with those, we won't be helping others anyway.

So, like they say on airplanes "put on your oxygen mask before helping others."

Prioritize your spoons to your basic needs

Priority 2) Lend spoons to those who rely on you, and you rely upon.

Who might be included in this will change based on your personal situation, but may include kids, relatives requiring care, roomies, parents, etc.

These relationships are often the ones we struggle the most to have consistent boundaries for. With lending more spoons to more people, it gets harder to keep track of which spoon went where. This makes healthy, firm boundaries especially important. Without these boundaries we can end up lending more spoons than we have or lending too many to continue to meet our own needs.

Just like you would with yourself, prioritize basic needs before psychological needs, desires, or goals.

Priority 3) Lend spoons to your loving relationships...

...including family, friends, and romantic or platonic partners.

As before, basic needs come first, but by this point others basic needs are usually met. In fact, if you're consistently supporting the basic needs of these folks, that's likely a red flag. Instead, spoons can be lent to support the relationship and the love its based on.

Priority 4) Spend spoons caring for your community.

This could be a community-based on location (such as a borough, town, or city), identity (such as autistic or queer community), hobby (such as knitting), or anything else. What exactly you can spend you spoons doing can differ wildly based on the community that you're supporting and your interests.

Supporting and building community can be extremely rewarding, especially early on, but costs can add up over time. Just because building community gives you more spoons in the short-term doesn't mean it will in the long-term, and that's okay. Make sure you're monitoring how many spoons you have left and you're saving some for the above priorities

If after this you still have spoons to offer, consider...

Priority 5) spending spoons to make changes you'd like to see in society.

Changing systems is important work, but it's often hard and thankless. It seems to take endless energy with only a few big wins. Actions here can vary widely, but include advocating for others, talking with legislators and policymakers, or reporting developments back to impacted communities. These actions cost spoons with the hope they'll reduce the spoons others use in the future. This is what makes these actions costly, but valuable for communities and individuals.

Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that this should be the ultimate goal for where you put your energy. If you never have the spoons to spend in this way, that's alright. Instead, the goal should be making sure that you're caring for your basic needs before extending your energy to others.

While many ADHD and autistic folks have people pleasing tendencies, forgetting our own needs only drains our energy and engages meltdown, shutdown, or burnout.


If you like this article and you'd like to help me make more content like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon.

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