BY: T. Franklin Murphy | May 2016
Preserving Our Psychological Energy
Life is demanding, squeezing resources from our reservoir of strength. We must conserve energy, maintain the edge, and keep sane.
In this crazy world, our best chance to navigate the twists and turns of existence is sanity. Mental resources are limited. Our minds are great—even fantastic; but minds can’t squeeze sweetness from every ounce of a burdened life. We must strategically prioritize expenditures of the precious energy of the mind.
The energy to cope and effectively act depletes energy eventually weakens and we become vulnerable. The mind needs reinforcements to supplement the losses. The more actions requiring conscious thought, the quicker energy is drained, eventually dragging us down, leaving us unmatched to the relentless demands of life. Self-discipline, strong emotions, and physical tiredness take a toll and must be considered in the executing of a healthy life style. Sleep, exercise and a healthy diet help. Structure and habit also relieve the mind of some of the demands. We conserve the precious resources through healthy habits, freeing energy for creative responses at critical junctures of opportunity, and life-saving escapes when danger looms.
Loneliness, fear, anxiety and anger disrupt the smooth functioning of biological systems, signaling wrongness in the environment and demanding action. Minds and bodies react to shifts in surroundings; we evaluate circumstances and determine a response. A simple sane explanation of the frenzied flow of life we all experience. Proper responses demand cognitive resources to unravel the messiness, invite calmness, and constructively act. When life boils over, and emotions explode into riotous demands, our systems flood, draining resources to calm the mind. Exhausted, we react with impunity, ignoring consequences. We act and not think.
Defiantly standing against emotional storms weakens the soul, beating down the walls of determination, leaving us naked to temptation. With mental resources drained, we lose focus on intentions, choose the easy way and then justify errors--insanity. When staying balanced is constantly challenged, few resources remain for the constructive work on better futures.
"Loneliness, fear, anxiety and anger disrupt the smooth functioning of biological systems, signaling wrongness in the environment and demanding action."
Structure maximizes resources by building patterns that provide balance, keeping emotions within manageable levels—usually. Those highly sensitive to fluctuating emotions may require more structure. Built in schedules, budgets, and quiet time relives the constant strain of choice. The structure builds habits of healthy action that diminishes anxiety. We do healthy things because they have become habit. If your life is chaotic, implementing structure will relieve stress. Establishing healthy habits will be difficult at first, requiring self-discipline to do what you are not inclined to do; outside support is essential. Others check accountability, rejecting flimsy justifications and question dangerous deviations.
Structure is good—but has limitations. For some, flexibility is the challenge.
We react to nuisances in many unhealthy ways; calming unpalatable emotions through suppression or avoidance, passively acquiescing to outside demands or completely shutting down into dangerous depression. The healthy response requires cognitive effort, noting the impulse and then acting differently. Putting on the brakes and then accelerating in a different direction depletes the system but is often necessary.
Feeling one emotion but expressing another is draining, albeit sometimes necessary. Encouraged by new-age-well-being experts, we feel compelled to always suppress negative emotions and put on a happy face. “Sadness makes you feel bad so don’t feel sad,” we are advised. But unnecessary suppression leads to denial, blinding us to important information being conveyed by our body. Suppression has short term benefits; some required in social interactions. But when emotional suppression permeates our lives, we become disconnected from our bodies, losing authenticity, creating barriers to deeper human connections.
We teach children to suppress expressions of intense emotions. Some children, through over-exuberant parenting, become disconnected from feeling, connecting feeling with weakness. Suppression, however, doesn’t eliminate emotions. Our bodies still react to experience. Our minds have been trained to suppress the flow of information into consciousness; the mind obstructs the flow and we lose powerful insights while draining energy; behaviors, however, are not logical just because we deflected feeling. Behavior is still driven by the emotions. The motivation is obscured by logical (and faulty) justifications. The chaotic life, void of the intelligence of emotion, often acts destructively, damaging relationships and missing important social cues. True connection is built on empathetic understanding. Without recognizing emotion this is impossible.
A better plan for navigating emotion is building a stable life, minimizing the constant spikes of intense emotion. We achieve this with healthy habits that improve health, financial stability, and intimate relationships—the flourishing life. We don’t change with grit alone. Our plans must include creating environments that demand less choice, conserving energy for pivotal moments. These changes might include built in date nights, destroying credit cards, and work-out partners. We need people that keep us accountable.
When we struggle, our first impulse is to disconnect. Families working with an addict know, once the addict begins to distance himself, trouble is usually afoot.
We must actively examine our lives for destructive habits that complicate futures. Poor choices create increased stress in the future; the circumstances that will trigger emotions, disrupting our lives.
We must conserve energy for important tasks; we also must replenish energy. We replenish with rest, exercise and healthy eating. We also improve vitality with meditation, prayer, and nature; the habits that calm the mind, providing momentary escape from anxieties, and rejuvenate the soul.
A depleted mind is a suggestible and a pleasure-seeking machine, leading to more behaviors with painful consequences, demanding continued mental energy to stay balanced in the future. Many pleasures complicate futures, dragging us down and bolstering a destructive cycle of chaos. We act insane, doing the things that destroy the futures we desire. By creating structures of healthy habits, we conserve future energy that can be redirected for greater successes—the cycle of growth.