Conserving your Emotional Currency
Being mindful of how you spend your emotional energy can help you protect your physical and emotional health.
One day not too long ago I heard a colleague having a fight with her technology. There were emotional sparks flying out of her office. I carefully approached her door, leaned in, and asked if everything was ok. She explained why she was so frustrated, using a great deal of creative and expressive language to let her computer and the internet know exactly what she thought of them. I interjected that it was hard for me to see her spending so much emotional currency on something relatively insignificant that would likely be resolved in short order. My comment caught her attention and she turned to me and asked me what I meant by “emotional currency”. I told her that I think of my emotional energy as currency, a valuable commodity that I don’t want to waste on just any issue or situation. When I am using my emotional currency there is a physiological impact on my body, so there is a very real cost to any emotional upset I might have.
I told her that I think of emotional health like a bank account. Moments of emotional upset are withdrawals from the account. Moments spent in a calm, relaxed, open, state of being opens the flood gates and allows healthy energy to flow into the account increasing the overall level of health and wellbeing. Over the course of time the balance of the emotional health account is impacted by how many withdrawals we make and how big they are. The greater the intensity and frequency of emotional upset the lower the energy in the account. I shared with my colleague that my goal is to not let the level of emotional currency in my emotional health account get too low. I find it helpful as I try to navigate the challenges of my work/life responsibilities to have an abundance of emotional energy to count on. And since there is a connection between emotional health and physical health I find I have more physical energy to count on when my emotional health account is high. I also find I am less prone to anxiety, mental fatigue, and burnout when I tend to my emotional health account in this mindful manner.
I went on to explain that I like to think of it as currency because it causes me to be thoughtful and intentional about what I spend my emotional energy on. Do I really want to spend this much emotional currency on this situation or would I rather not? How much emotional currency am I willing to contribute to this person or problem? This way of thinking about my emotional energy helps me avoid wasting energy on things that either don’t matter or that are a natural part of our day to day work life – like computer glitches, slow internet, plans changing, etc. Some of the biggest habits that drain our emotional currency include: ruminating on the past, actively resisting what is currently happening; and terrorizing ourselves with fear-based thoughts of what might happen in the future (sometimes called catastrophizing). Sometimes there are situations, issues, and concerns that I do think are worthy of a major expense of emotional energy and I am willing to spend this currency freely in those moments.
It is just helpful to be able to intentionally decide, rather than mindlessly spending my currency day in and day out. Even in these moments it is important to remember that I do not do my best creative problem solving when I am actively in an upset. It is always helpful to drop back into my calm, wise self and reflect on how I want to respond with value guided behavior.
At this point my colleague took a deep breath and said, “I was making a big withdrawal for nothing, wasn’t I?” I smiled and said, “You were, but you aren’t now.” She thanked me and said she really wanted to think about this concept of “conserving her emotional currency”.
In a follow up conversation she shared that she has been paying more attention to how she uses her emotional currency and has gotten pretty good at noticing and interrupting moments of upset that would have previously cost her a great deal of energy without producing any positive results. She said she had no idea how often she was reactive and wasting her energy and stressing her body. She also realized that when she is in this kind of unhealthy emotional upset she is not very wise, adaptive, or creative. She is learning to notice these moments, disengage from the active upset, take a moment to reset herself, and then let herself reflect on how best to solve the problem using the least amount of emotional currency possible. She is shocked at how much better her outcomes are and how much stress reduction is possible with this one, fairly simple, psychological adjustment.
Noticing and interrupting these habits is an important preventative health practice, and you can take that to the bank!