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Can I Budget My Emotions?

Jessica Pontis, LCSW

Let’s face it, the better part of the last 18 months has been incredibly overwhelming for most of us.  As we face increasing numbers in Covid-19 cases we may be asked to pull from what limited emotional reserves we have left to see this pandemic out.  In order to do this, we may have to learn the important skill of emotional budgeting.  When we think of financial budgeting we think of planning out how we are going to spend our money each month.  Perhaps most of your earnings go to rent, car payments, student loans, food, etc.  Emotional budgeting is a similar process, but instead of money, we budget our emotional tolerance for distress.  Now you may be thinking, “How am I supposed to budget something as abstract as emotions?”, and that’s a fair question.  Let’s dive in deeper and discuss how we can start the process of conserving out emotional energy by creating an emotional budget.  

Anticipate the known expenses 

In the same way we can anticipate how much our bills and rent will be a month, we can use this same logic with our daily stressors.  Work, family, eating, rest, all these things we need to incorporate in our day to day to have a balanced life.  Think about how much energy these things currently emotionally cost versus how much you would like these things to emotionally cost.  If I have $100 of emotional money to spend for the day, and 50% of those dollars go to work, that leaves you with a significantly smaller portion of emotional currency to work with for the rest of the day.  Ask yourself, “Do I have as much emotional energy to give to this as I would like?”  If the answer is no, encouraged yourself to conserve as much energy as possible and limit the emotional labor you’re willing to put in.  This may look like allotting $25 or $30 to workplace emotional costs as opposed to the original 50%.

When we feel emotions that are positive, we may not need to go through this process of asking ourselves how much of our emotional currency we want to invest and are able to live presently.  However, we sometimes have the tendency to pretend that we will never experience negative emotions.  Rationally we understand that this is not true, so incorporating the practice of asking yourself “How much emotional currency am I willing to put into this?”, helps us maintain a healthier connection with our emotional responses.  

Have a savings account

Just like in the same way it’s ideal to have a rainy-day fund for financial emergencies, we also must be prepared and have space available for emotional emergencies.  Sometimes emotional emergencies can be anticipated, such as during a time of known transition or a historic busy season at work.  Unfortunately, when budgeting our emotions, we have to anticipate from time to time that life is going to get in the way.  If we can accept that life gets rough and that difficult emotions at times are unpredictable and inevitable that helps give us a bit of power.  Though it is also important not to try and predict when bad things are going to happen either, Rich Goddard says it best, “That’s not to say we should be constantly thinking about when the next bad thing will happen. Again, the contingency isn’t always used. But it’s simply to say that, if and when they do happen, we’re ready for them and that’s OK. It’s in the budget, let’s ride it out” (Goddard, 2020)

Building an emotional budget is a process and may take some time, be gentle with yourself as you explore where you want to put your energy.  If you’re interested in learning more about emotional budgeting, or you feel that you would like to engage with someone to walk with you on this journey reach out to one of the licensed therapists with Symmetry Counseling.  You can reach out to us online, or by calling us at (312) 578-9990 to set up an appointment.  

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