Re-Opening Our Emotional Economy
The economy. A topic that has been discussed, argued about, discussed, argued about more and finally laid out in a tentative timeline for it to be opened back currently in our nation. It will likely be slow, perhaps messy, but progress all the same. And I do not know about you, I just want to finally see some movement in a period that all of us couldn’t have imagined that we’re living through. But this essay is not about the US economy, my opinions on the matter, or what I think will happen. (you all may give a sigh of relief now!) This is an essay about emotions. And chances are, you, just as I, have felt a range of them; some perhaps we did not know existed or we were capable of feeling. It is been a lot, for a long time.
I will liken our collective emotional experiences as the ‘emotional economy’. Clever, right?? Honestly, I thought of writing this while winning a battle within myself to get outside and go stand-up paddle boarding. You see, I was caught up in a state of simmering frustration, despair, and burnout. I felt tired, yet I had slept and ate well, but still felt trapped and drained in my current state. I had also been running my usual mileage-and thank goodness for running, as things would be even more difficult for yours truly-it helps, but it is not a panacea for isolation and uncertainty of a pandemic. While I had been making deposits into my emotional bank account, I still needed more currency and activity to stay afloat. I imagine many of you are in a similar situation. If we think of our lives as little businesses, often we need more “revenue” streams and engagement to thrive.
Before I lose my way in words, I was struck with a sense of conviction while gliding across Lake Woodlands this afternoon that I, in fact, am still in control of my inner life. All of us are, however, sometimes it takes some time to connect to this fact. It is funny because I tell my clients this constantly, and I do believe it, however, admittedly, I have been struggling during the COVID-19 crisis. My usual optimism and confidence had been replaced with frustration and uncertainty-about the world, about the future of my practice, about most things, really. I felt as everything I built for myself and my clients was suddenly vulnerable and every decision, I made seemed to bear an unusually heavy sense of consequence. Go to the grocery store for more toothpaste? Geez, can’t I wait? Is going multiple times per week dangerous? Scratch my itching eyes? Wait, how clean are my hands? What have I touched recently? Doxy.Me or Zoom? Can I afford _______? I can go on, but I will spare all of you for brevity’s sake and the fact that there is a point to all of this.
The Rolling Stone, of all publications, published an article on ‘moral exhaustion’. There were some points I agreed with, including the heightened sense of anxiety about our actions. You see, this drains our accounts quickly. It’s like a subscription that you keep trying to cancel, yet still bills your account every month-and you notice it now, because that account is lower to begin with.
So, what can we do about this? Quite a bit, actually. And there likely will not be anything new or revolutionary that I am going to tell you, but I am going to pair my own experience with coping with this pandemic and ensuing emotional consequences. I imagine many of you are also at various stages of ‘done’ and may also be struggling with feeling not necessarily normal, but more in the black with positive emotion and experience. We stay in the red too long, then we are at risk for longer-term mental health issues.
So, your emotional economy feels like it has flatlined or is unstable. What are some steps to getting it back on track? I remember being introduced to the classic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and immediately being drawn to its simplicity. We as a society of beings essentially need and want the same things: to have what we need to survive, to feel safe, to love and be loved, and to get in touch with knowledge of and the best version of ourselves.
Let us think back to Maslow’s Hierarchy, shall we? Many of us have felt the intense burning of our progress getting stalled and nearly unable to operate at our potential. Some of us are struggling to just get food on the table and not drain our bank accounts. Some of us have families to provide for. I think I speak for everyone when I say our emotional economies have been compromised in some way-regardless of your situation.
As difficult as it is for many to swallow, it is helpful to reassess where we currently fall regarding our needs being met. Depending on where you are located and your current situation, this could be anywhere from securing resources and gaining a sense of safety to needing love and connection with others. Complicated? Yes. But stay with me. The first step is to be clear with yourself on what you currently have and what you still need.
So, what is it that you are currently needing? Connection? Feeling safe? For example, the grocery store resembles a dystopian war zone for many of us right now, and I need to see some people smile and give out good energy. Sometimes, we have to make the decision to create and provide the energy instead of the other way around. So, smile. A lot. Ask a fellow shopper or cashier how they are doing or greet them. We have to operate on our environments sometimes, not the other way around.
When you really, really don’t want to go do something that is allowed/safe, such as go for a walk or in my case SUP for a bit, DO IT. Your reward system in your brain needs stimulation and we have to keep our “feel good and focus neurotransmitter” Dopamine levels up. I know Netflix and video gaming are all the rage. right now, however, research shows that we need outdoor activity and movement because, again, we are acting on our environments, not reacting to stimuli fed to us through a screen. Does this mean do not watch Netflix or game? Of course not, but diversity where you put your body and your mind. Neurochemistry is part of our emotional economy.
As cliché as it sounds, we NEED gratitude. This may be difficult for many of us right now and trust me-it is okay if it is. Lately, I’ve been using thinking and listing what I am grateful for as a way to push back or give this awful global situation the middle finger. Or finding the shiny treasure in an otherwise useless scrap heap. It also helps that it rewires our brains to look more for what is right right now versus what is wrong. There will always be both types of events happening simultaneously. Who do you care about? Who did you get to catch up with on Zoom or FaceTime? Little wins are everywhere if we choose to take them. Gratitude is currency and compounds interest per deposit.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. -Viktor Frankl
Perhaps the most important point on here is, remember you still have a choice with how to respond. Struggling and rumbling with it can also make us stronger. It doesn’t have to be easy. Anxious or dreading the scene at the local market? Plan for it. Plan to bring positivity to the experience (see the smiling at people, etc.). Be deliberately kind and polite. If we anticipate the situation and choose not to participate in mass anxiety and fear, you create some space for yourself. Do this enough times, your “economic” health goes back up.
Also, it is important to realize that things will not always have positive results, we need to know that emotions will still swing in multiple directions during trying and unprecedented times. This is part of being a human amidst an unforeseen challenging situation. Accept and reinvest accordingly.
Like a nation or community’s economy, we have to continually maintain it, support it, and give back to it. Us as individuals and a community at large can do this too with our emotions and actions. So, my charge today is to challenge you, me, and everyone else who may be struggling to find a way to re-open themselves and do the work to begin to move back through our hierarchy. Resilience comes from adversity, and hardiness from learning and increasing personal resources. Hope you enjoyed and thanks for reading.