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  • Christy Alfaro

Spending Emotional Energy Like Cash

I've always been a person who is very emotionally in tune with the people around me. I tend to take on the emotions of the people around me. If someone's sad, I will get sad too. If someone's angry I will go out of my way to try and make them smile. I do all this even if it's in contrast of my own emotions. I can't lie, sometimes it's exhausting. I'll be having the worst day ever, go and see my boyfriend who's also having the worst day and all of a sudden my mood has shifted and I'm telling him funny stories as if I hadn't just wanted to climb in bed and cry. I can do this five times in a day and by the end of the day I can't even feel any of the feelings I had been feeling all day.


I like to think of this as being emotionally broke. Now, I'm not someone who's good at budgeting in any way but I do understand the idea of not having a lot of money. Other than a few months, I've been living paycheck to paycheck for a while (that's a whole other story) so I'm very used to looking at my bank account multiple times a week to check how much money I have in my account. It always sucked to get to Friday and see that I only had $12 (don't worry I don't cut it this close anymore). I would think okay I have enough for a pizza or an ice cream and a movie but not both and I'd make a decision. This was a concept I understood so well having done it for so long that after weeks and weeks of being emotionally burned out I decided to translate this idea to how I spend my emotional energy.


I have always described myself as an extroverted introvert. I craved being around people but being around people for too long usually made me want to spend a couple hours alone. I would need to plan social events in advance because I needed to make sure I had some alone time beforehand. I had always seen it as "recharging my battery" but the thing is I never got any more emotionally available after spending time alone. It almost feels as though I only get a certain amount of emotional energy I'm allowed to expend in a week.


Me at social gatherings I agreed to go to even though I'm not emotionally equipped to handle them:


This week I had a friend reach out to me about joining her at an event that she's working at. Everything about it seemed like something I'd love: it's themed (60's / 70's), there's a costume contest, and there's going to be body painting. My first reaction was to immediately say yes because umm HELL YES you had me at themed and because I have a tendency to want to people happy and also always have major FOMO. But then I thought about the logistics of it. It's on a Saturday in the middle of the day, I have a long weekend of studying, I have a hockey game I'm going to on Wednesday, I have a meeting at school on Thursday. I was checking my schedule, not to see if I'm free during that time but to see how packed my schedule already was. I check my calendar the same way I check my bank account, to see how much energy I have left in me.


Me whens someone invites me somewhere and I say no


So that's how I see my emotional energy, and I think it's actually very powerful way to look at things. When I want to to go out and I'm running low on cash my friends don't bat an eye. But when I say that I don't think I have the energy or that I just want to lay in bed and read I always get push back, "Come on! We're only young once!" or "It'll be fun, I promise!" But for me it's not as easy as just going out, it's going out and being attuned to every emotion around me. But, by looking at my emotional energy spending like I look at my cash spending I feel less guilty for denying plans.


I allott myself a certain amount of "money" each week to spend. Sometimes my weeks look like this:


Budget : $100

Monday - Bachelor night $5

Tuesday - Class $5

Wednesday - Soccer $20

Thursday - Class $5

Friday - Boyfriend time $10

Saturday - Drinks with Friends $25

Sunday - Volleyball $30


I'm all budgeted out, I know that if something else pops up I just can't afford to go and I have to back out.


Me checking my emotional bank account:



Or it will look like this:


Budget: $100

Monday - Bachelor night $5

Tuesday - Class $5

Thursday - Class $5

Friday - Boyfriend Time $5 (We've been good this week so it costs less)

Saturday - Brunch $15

Sunday - Volleyball $30


I have $35 left over, so maybe I'll call up friends to join for post brunch plans or I'll go out on a Wednesday night. Or maybe I'll save it and use it the week after.


Me making plans cause I've got energy to burn:



There are millions of different ways I view my budget, but by breaking down each activity by the emotional labor that these take out of me I'm able to take care of my mental health and not get burned out each and every week. See, there's two real tricks to this, two tricks to guarantee not getting burned out.


The first trick is that you have to be honest with yourself about how much emotional energy situations and people take out of you. For me, things that require being outdoors require at minimum $10 because there's a lot of variables and people and social situations with lots of unknowns give me anxiety. Then I look at the person I'm going to meet with, I have friends who sometimes want to only talk politics or want to spend the time venting (which is okay) but I know that it takes more emotional energy so I'll add another $10-$15 for these plans. Or I'll have a friend who I can relax with and I know we'll just be frivolous and fun so I won't add anything on top of that. That's where being honest about how much energy people take out of you. My boyfriend always takes at least $5 because I love him so much that that in itself makes me want to make him happy and that puts me on a certain edge emotionally.


Like most people, my relationship with people ebbs and flows. Some more than others, sometimes I haven't seen a friend in a month so I know our time together is going to be filled with catching each other up on our lives, so that event they'll get and extra $5-$10. Some weeks my boyfriend has given me communicational emotional intimacy (see future blog post about what this is) through the week that when I see him on Friday I don't need much and it's just $5. Other weeks he's practically radio silent and I need to make up that emotional intimacy I'd been missing and because of that there's an added $10 on there. Why? Because there's expectations and while I love the man he's a coin toss emotionally. It's either fun or serious but I won't know until I get there, because of this I usually give myself a higher budget with him normally. Start low, expect high and adjust the rest of my "bills" as necessary.


The second trick, which should become a rule for this idea is: be realistic when you set your budget. This was something I learned when I first started this process. I would give myself $300 but by the time Thursday came around I had only spent $150 and I was exhausted. I was exhausted to the point that I wanted to cancel plans. Now, I have a hard life rule that when I commit to plans I don't cancel and because of that on Sunday night I almost felt like I was going to die. I was on the brink of crying at every moment because I was beyond overwhelmed and because of that I couldn't do anything for the full week after that. This starts out as a sort of touch and go situation, as does budgeting the actual events. So you can do what I did and start high and adjust or start low and add more each week.


Now that I budget my emotional energy I haven't burned out once. Don't get me wrong I haven't perfected the system, just this week I got a random email that I had to attend a meeting that I hadn't budgeted for and it definitely stressed me out but, because I had a budget it didn't burn me out. It was more of a stretch and I was able to move things around to offset the meeting.


Me ready to take on the week knowing I emotionally budgeted correctly:



Let me know what you think about this method! Anything you'd add to it? And if you try it out - let me know!

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