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The Importance of Emotional Energy

10/27/2015 12:35pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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We work hard every day. We pour our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy into our home life, our work life, and our community. Not surprisingly, we often feel stretched, strained, and drained. Our lives may be full but our energy gas tanks seem to be running on fumes. Before long, we find ourselves in our physician's office asking, "Why do I feel so tired all the time?"

"Welcome to the club," writes Mira Kirshenbaum, a psychotherapist and researcher, in her book, The Emotional Energy Factor. "Based on data from the National Institutes of Health, one out of eight adults is in the same low-energy state."

First things first: It is always critical to talk to a doctor in order to rule out any organic causes of fatigue or the possibility of depression. We also need to objectively assess if we are getting adequate nutrition, exercise, and rest.

Kirshenbaum explains that it is, however, a misconception that the energy we require is primarily physical. She surveyed a wide range of energy experts such as endocrinologists, nutritionists and sports medicine specialists. She asked them, "How much energy does the typical person get from physical sources and how much from emotional ones?" Their answers surprised her. Her research uncovered that physical energy can supply, at most, 30 percent of one's total energy. The remaining 70 percent of the energy needed must come from emotional energy. Other studies have also supported these findings.

"We need complete energy -- an energetic mind and heart and soul in an energetic body," Kirshenbaum concludes. "You're not just a body. Emotional energy is not an adrenaline filled, run-around-like-a-nut kind of energy. It's an aliveness of the mind, a happiness of the heart, and a spirit filled with hope."

Kirshenbaum's approach to protecting and replenishing emotional energy involves learning how to "plug the leaks." This is accomplished by first identifying and minimizing emotional drains, followed by identifying and increasing emotional gains.

Emotional Drains

  • excessive worrying
  • overdosing on guilt
  • indecisiveness
  • overcommitting and not setting healthy boundaries
  • holding on to loss

Emotional Gains

  • personalizing choices based on one's needs and not on other's expectations.

  • choosing experiences both large and small that include beauty, fun and companionship.
  • learning how to say "no" without out feeling guilty, attending actively to losses, followed by letting go and embracing life fully once again.
  • When your emotional reserves are low, you may experience an inner energy crisis that can have the detrimental effect of undermining your confidence in your ability to take care of yourself and your perception of your efficacy in the world. Perhaps most critically, we begin to lose touch with our passion and zest for living -- for the inherent worth of our precious life and our vital connections with others.

    In an article in O Magazine titled, "8 Energy Zappers and How to Avoid Them," Kirshenbaum summed up the importance of emotional energy this way: "Emotional energy is the precondition for everything that we care about. Everything worth doing that's difficult gets lost without it. Marriages fail when we run out of the emotional energy to reach one more time across the divide of anger and silence. Dreams die when we lack the emotional energy to hang in there in the face of all the obstacles."

    Of course everyone faces the inevitable backslides (see post "Overcoming Backslides, Disappointments and Self Blame") and low points, but the key is find ways to take care of yourself in order to bounce back and refill your energy reserves.

    How to Increase Your Emotional Energy

    On a hopeful note, researcher and author Daniel Goleman believes we can learn how to increase our emotional energy by increasing our emotional intelligence. This can be accomplished through diligent practice in the areas of self-awareness and impulse control, persistence, zeal and motivation, social deftness and others. In his ground-breaking book, Emotional Intelligence, through extensive research, Goleman demonstrates that these traits can be nurtured and strengthened in all of us. It's encouraging to know that we can learn how to refill our emotional energy reservoir and that it is a renewable resource.

    Exhibiting the emotional energy that she writes about, Kirshenbaum offers this uplifting forecast, "Unlike physical energy, which runs down as we get older, emotional energy can increase the more you learn what works best for you. Imagine getting more and more energy every year of your life. There's always something you can do to get more!"

    Howard Thurman, educator, theologian and author calls us to task in the same kick-start manner. He once summed it up in a conversation with Gil Bailie, which Bailie writes about in his book "Violence Unveiled." "Don't ask what the world needs," Thurman said. "Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

    What increases your emotional energy and makes you feel more alive?

    Have questions regarding transforming your way of eating and living, 'Ask Dr. Ornish!'