Are you running on empty?
We all have days when life seems to drag, when everything is far too much effort and the thought of tackling anything more strenuous than a Netflix marathon seems impossible. But a lack of energy isn’t always just a physical concept that can be solved with good sleep, healthy food and plenty of exercises. Energy can also be emotional – just think how exhausted you feel after an argument, for example, or when you’re dealing with a crisis.
“Just the way physical energy helps you push through physical barriers, emotional energy helps you push through emotional barriers,” says therapist Mira Kirshenbaum, author of The Emotional Energy Factor. “In our culture, most people are healthy enough and most tasks are not all that physically demanding. The real difference between what people bring to their tasks – to their lives – is emotional energy.”
In her book, Kirshenbaum identifies 25 different elements that rob us of emotional energy. “What they all have in common is that they make it hard for you to feel there’s a meaningful reward in what you do that can compensate you for the effort you put into it,” she says. “For example, if your life is about living up to other people’s expectations – say you became a nurse to make your mother happy – then they are the ones rewarded by your efforts, not you. They get the satisfaction, not you. And over time your emotional energy gets drained.”
Although common themes exist, there is a distinct personal element to emotional energy – what drains one person will not necessarily drain another.
“I encourage my clients to pay attention to their hearts,” says life coach Eve Cunningham. “When they imagine spending time doing a particular thing with a particular person – or even alone – does their heart lift or sink? It sounds simplistic but can be pretty radical.
“It’s not that we can necessarily eradicate all the heart-sinkers from our lives but, by being aware of what energizes and depletes us, we can do our best to do more of what works and cancel our emotional energy suckers. We’re all different. Some are more energized around others, some need a lot of alone time. Some people love admin or public speaking or whatever, others find it draining.
“Look at your diary for the day or week ahead and just tune into your heart’s response. Which activities and people raise your spirits? And what makes your heart sink? Is there leeway to incorporate more of what lifts you and to cancel what doesn’t?”
Because emotional energy is such an individual thing, it’s important that we build and exercise self-awareness so that we can identify our personal energy drains.
“It has to do with knowing what works for you, what’s good for you,” says Kirshenbaum. “If you’re an introvert, for example, you can be good with people, but it wears on you. You really need your alone time to recharge your batteries. If you’re a creative person, you need to do things that keep your creative juices flowing. Most of the time, we do know these things about ourselves. The problem is that we don’t accept how important they are to us.”
Once we’ve identified the factors that have the most impact on us, it’s a case of making sure we get a good balance of what Kirshenbaum refers to as “emotional nutrients”.
“Every key ingredient that’s missing weakens your emotional energy, just the way even one serious vitamin deficiency can lead to a serious illness,” she explains. “So, for example, one way you can improve your emotional energy is to give yourself things to look forward to. Frequent small things, less frequently bigger things. Having things to look forward to can transform a life from a desert to a revitalizing landscape.
“Another example is making sure the work you do is meaningful to you. This is a challenge in the short run for many of us, but just working to make longer-term adjustments that would make your work more meaningful would make a huge difference.
“Still another example is editing out negative, critical, discouraging, time-wasting people from your life – people who take more than they give. I know this may sound cold, and of course, there may be some people that you have to include in your life. But there are so many people in so many of our lives who just aren’t worth the time they take up.”
Just don’t forget to identify those people who add something positive to your life and be sure to make time for them. Even introverts need social connections.