It’s been said that the way you handle your cash reflects how you treat your finances. If you carefully fold your bills and place them in order from smallest to largest, you’re probably the kind of person who checks your bank balance regularly to make sure you never even get close to an overdraft. On the other hand, if you shove crumpled bills deep into your pockets or purse, maybe it indicates that you’re a bit more disorganized with your finances, or carefree (careless?) with your spending.
What’s in Your Wallet?
Regardless of how neatly you may or may not treat your dollar bills, we can generally acknowledge the importance of paying for the things that support our lifestyle.
What if we attached that same level of importance to the expenditure of our mental and emotional energy?
Consider your own “emotional bank account”—the space where you store all of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Positive experiences, meaningful exchanges and conversations, spending time with yourself or with friends, participating in activities and hobbies. These things add to your emotional bank account by enriching you—not only in the moment, but for sustained periods of time. Just reflect on how even the memory of a positive event from life can return, just when needed, to bolster your sense of self, provide encouragement, or support you through a tough spell. Over time, we can build up this account by saving and storing up our emotional energy for when it’s really needed.
In the same way that we can save up positive emotional energy for rainy days, there are certainly people, activities, and situations that can drain our emotional stores. We leave these experiences feeling stressed, upset, and depleted of the good feelings that may have been present prior to the encounter. In circumstances where we are persistently drained, it is possible to develop feelings of anxiety or dread before re-engaging. Or, we might struggle with confusion, sadness, or feeling overwhelmed in the aftermath, wondering what happened and how we allowed ourselves to get sucked in. Again.
A Return on Your Investment
If we think about our emotional energy the way we do our finances, it can help us to reorient when dealing with challenging relationships. This is not to suggest that our relationships should be entirely transactional or tit-for-tat. Always keeping track of who did what for whom can have the opposite effect from promoting fairness in a relationship, causing us to become hyper-aware of perceived inequities. Plus, there’s no guarantee that just because someone does something nice for you that they wish you well or have the best of intentions for your life.
Instead, we can focus on the quality of the relationship and the return on investment. Over time, are you getting as much out of the relationship as you are putting in? Just like when we invest in a project and try to avoid throwing good money after bad, we should take care to invest our emotional energy in endeavors and people that promise a good return.
Your thinking can sometimes work against you and contribute to sapping your emotional energy. It’s easy to feel nervous or anxious about many aspects of life, ranging from health and family to work or politics. Frankly, there’s no shortage of things that we can obsess about. Spending time ruminating about things that we have no control over can be a tremendous drain and contribute to increased anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and frustration.
This might be especially true during an election year, for example. Perhaps you find yourself obsessively reading the news or watching political debates, wringing your hands about which candidate is best, and worrying about voter turnout. While arguing with people on Facebook or Twitter may satisfy a desire to participate in the political conversation, this behavior begins to drain more out of your emotional bank account than what you are depositing into it. One thing to ask yourself: do I feel enriched by this experience or drained by it?
If you walk away from these online exchanges feeling angry or depleted, the answer isn’t to give up on politics. Instead, find ways to engage in political activities that ultimately enrich you. For example, if you’re worried about voter turnout, then consider working with an organization that registers people to vote, and volunteer on Election Day to drive people to and from the polls. Or with your renewed level of awareness, simply plan to limit the amount of time spent on social media. However you plan to proceed, the ultimate goal will be to do those things that add to your emotional balance sheet rather than leaving you at zero.
Budget Your Energy
Since emotionally draining circumstances are impossible to escape entirely, perhaps the most realistic goal is not to avoid obsessing about having only positive experiences all the time. Instead, we can focus on simply having more positive experiences than not—and avoid “going into the red” and completely depleting our emotional bank account. This way, you guard against running on empty or overdrawing that account. If a coworker is constantly draining you, how can you make a “positive energy” deposit and care for yourself midday in order to not feel so put upon? While venting to others can be helpful, taking action on behalf of yourself may do more to turn things around and contribute to a feeling of uplift. In addition to guarding against the people or situations that deplete your energy, seek out those activities that deposit energy into your account.
Ultimately, by remembering to think of our emotional energy as we do our money, we’re reminding ourselves that careful budgeting can contribute greatly to our overall health and stability.
This article appears in the March 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.