I have often through my career as a psychiatrist remarked to my patients, “You need to work on conserving your emotional energy”. Too often, I have heard from patients, I am overwhelmed and tired and can’t think straight anymore!”
While depression and anxiety can become psychiatric disorders needing professional treatment, being overwhelmed is usually something that requires active management of life circumstances.
We either take too much on, don’t get enough rest or down time or are holding on to long term unresolved emotional issues. We currently are a nation of overwhelmed folks, one crisis away from a complete breakdown( if it hasn’t already occurred) . And it is because we have cumulatively exhausted our emotional energy.
Now let me explain what I mean by emotional energy. Emotional energy is the energy that controls the ability of a person to connect with their own feeling without it being clouded by extraneous factors. This is the force that assists us in coping with difficulties and understanding and processing meaningful emotions. We all have a reserve of emotional energy. It is the emotional energy or lack there of, that in turn impacts our mood and subsequently our behavior.
Presence of emotional energy is like a soft cushion that absorbs the jarring and daily falls in life and therefore we bounce back.
As we take on more and more and spend less time in self care, this cushion thins out, the less the thickness, the lesser the ability to bounce back and more hurt we feel when we fall. After going through the election season, we are all falling on thinned out cushions. Is there any surprise that our joints hurt and we are short and angry?
We are literally the sum of positive and negative energies driven by emotions. Happiness, contentment and peace add significantly to the reserve of our positive energy while anger, lack of satisfaction and sadness are extremely draining to the reservoir of emotional energy. Even though we have no control over external factors that control our lives, we retain the ability to manage our emotional responses to these agents. A lot of people find refuge in externalizing the blame and finding the person at “fault” to deal with their angry emotions and make an effort to focus the anger on the said party. It may make us feel a little better for a short period of time but it is unable to bring us to a resolution emotionally because that situation and its residual emotions still persist.
Once angry without resolution, we behave like loaded guns responding to any minor provocation as if it were a major crisis. Most people experience unresolved anger as persistent low grade irritability and get annoyed easily. Again the issue is that anger very quickly depletes emotional energy and then we are fall hard and fall painfully.
Disappointment is another very hard emotion to cope with. Disappointment usually comes with a mixture of anger and sadness. It may be a situation or an expectation that did not turn out as we had hoped. This often leads to us generalizing our anger or disappointment on to other situations and instances and an expectation that things will get worse. This apprehension feeds the cycle of fear and anxiety, another duo of emotions that then lead to loss of emotional energy.
In this very interconnected and immediate world of ours, we don’t have space for ourselves. Our minds are flooded with bytes of information that may or may not be relevant to our lives. Our shortened attention spans get in the way of properly processing our own thoughts because someone just wrote an article about exactly how we “should” be feeling after this election.
It is prudent though that we connect with our own feeling about an issue and understand them fully. We cannot do that unless we replenish our emotional energies.
Last weekend, I took a step back from Facebook myself. There was intense affect everywhere. A whirling storm of anger, insults and disagreements and posts about hate crime were flooding in. I do care very deeply about the political direction this election took and now the country will take but at the same time reality of my own life remains vivid. I live in a world of incurable cancer and perpetual treatment with grave uncertainty. Getting through each day is an exercise in positivity.
So Friday I logged off of Facebook . I decided I would not post any statuses for a whole week neither would I comment on anyone else’s . It has been two days. I have removed myself from the duel between the supporters of the two candidates rather I put myself squarely in the middle of my own life. I took a step back to rehabilitate myself emotionally. Being on social media and disclosing aspects of your own life always comes at the cost of vulnerability. Opening yourself to affect of others which is constantly with you can be exhausting. My face book feed was a combination of grief and gloating, of anger and insults, of rational people losing their sanity over petty things and catastrophizing over situations . I asked myself, “Do I need to expose myself to this?”
I love being able to connect with people. I have grown so much by being able to reach and connect with breast cancer survivors all over the world. I have had such opportunity to have dialogues with people about their most intimate thoughts and fears and the honor to help them and sustain them. Social media is an amazing medium. But its toll on emotional energy can be very hard.
With a surgery looming in front of me, a long overdue elective procedure for removal of my ovaries, I needed to work towards filling up my emotional energy reserve. I have many friends who fill me up with happiness on social media however after the elections, the virtual world was adding to stress, negativity and apprehension, none of those that I need in my life riddled with cancer and its accompanying uncertainty.
Friday evening I sat and chatted for a while with my mother-in-law while my daughter ran her “bakery”. Saturday we had a meal with conversations that had nothing to do with elections and then watch a live show. Sunday was full of errands and chores. Pretty normal weekend activities but the extraneous windows open in my mind were closed. I wasn’t peeking and neither was anyone else. I did have a strange sense of privacy and it felt good. I laughed at my kid’s jokes and not on Obama and Biden memes. And that was alright. Social media is an important part of my life and activism and will remain as such. But I do think it’s great to take a break every now and then.
I hope to return actively on Facebook after my surgery but I wanted to say, that I am glad I am taking this break and I don’t believe that people as wonderful as Americans, are a nation full of racist, bigots and sexist. I will hold on to hope and optimism as long as I can. I hope you can too and I hope that we can all stand together as one to support each other irrespective of color, religion, race or nationality. I hope.