Use Mental Energy Wisely

As I was sitting at one of our favorite overlooks last weekend, with a panoramic view of the gorgeous, Black Hills countryside (see the picture above), I couldn’t help thinking…our world is such a beautiful, amazing place, why aren’t people happier?  It seems that my social media feeds are full of people outraged over the scandal-of-the-hour; anxious about imminent dangers that could befall them and those they care about at any moment; or convinced that the overall state of our world is in steep decline.  But are these thoughts many of us carry around on a regular basis helpful? Most of us are just striving to be a productive employee, to keep the house from falling apart and to keep control of a hectic schedule.  Are these things a productive use of our mental energy?  Could the stress of these additional stimuli to our already overstimulated lives actually be detrimental to our overall health?

Today I’m going to write about being purposeful and mindful with how we spend our emotional energy.  Sadly, it is true that there are bad things that happen in the world every day.  With the internet, multiple social media channels and 24-hour news coverage we can easily be made aware of each and every one of them.  But is this a good thing?  I think it’s good to be aware of problems in our world* as this makes us informed citizens.  Being informed helps us to make better choices when we’re voting for leaders.  It helps us to know what policies our legislators are looking to enact (or what rights they may be looking to rescind).  It’s also important to be informed of what problems our world is still facing in the modern age.   

*Each person has to decide for themselves what constitutes a “problem”.  Different issues are important to different people, as is the severity of any one issue in comparison to any other.  An issue one person finds to be incredibly important, another may think is minor.  I’m not here to tell you what you should care about, but simply to discuss a more productive way to care.

I think it’s important to be aware of what is occurring around us, both in our local communities and the larger world.  However, I think this concern becomes detrimental when we allow ourselves to become hyped up regarding numerous issues that we are made aware of throughout the day, week, month and year.  It seems logical that if we are constantly worked up about given issues, both our mental and physical health will eventually suffer.  This constant angst isn’t healthy.  It can, understandably, cause depression as it leads to the impression that each day the world gets a little worse (as you will see later, this idea is NOT backed up by statistics).

Don’t take my word for it.  See below for articles discussing how our current “information age” can have detrimental effects on us:

Anxiety in the West: Is it on the rise?

What is depression and why is it rising?

Why The World Is Getting Better And Why Hardly Anyone Knows It

Now for the good news, articles that show the world is not actually going to hell in a handbasket:

Extreme poverty around the world is decreasing

Around the US, rates of violent crime are down

Life expectancy is increasing around the world

The statistics show that the world, in general, is continuing to get better.  People are living longer, healthier lives.  We live in a world that has greater access to opportunities and information (thanks to technology) than ever before in human history.  I’m not trying to suggest we should become lackadaisical with issues we care about.  Even if improvement has been seen in recent years, this doesn’t mean that further improvement isn’t called for.  But we can take a moment to step back and appreciate the gains we have achieved, and allow ourselves a little break.    

Our daily reserve of emotional and mental energy is finite.  We only have so much available to us on any given day.  We have to be purposeful in choosing how we use it.  It’s like saying that every day you wake up with $25 in your pocket.  You can spend it on ANYTHING you want, but once it’s gone, it’s gone.  You don’t get any more until tomorrow and you can’t borrow from anyone else.  Once you’ve spent that $25 for the day, if anything else comes along that requires those funds, it just has to suffer and go without.  This is important.  Because we only have a given amount of energy available to us each day, we need to be mindful with how we use it.  With our 24/7 access to events that are occurring throughout our world, we have to intentionally avoid being constantly stimulated by these.  Because there are so many things that could potentially sidetrack our energy, I think it’s important that we be purposeful with how we choose to expend that energy.  

We each have to decide for ourselves how much we want to let the problems of the world take over our lives.  I frequent three social media channels, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  I see some people (emphasis on SOME) who seem to be outraged, every single day (often multiple times per day) over various issues. While I believe their hearts are in the right place, I worry that thanks to modern media, we are constantly being exposed to events that we never used to be aware of. While the issues may be completely factual and worthy of concern, do each one of us need to be concerned with every single event?  If you live in West Virginia, is it really a good use of your emotional energy to debate with a stranger on the internet about another stranger’s child who fell into an animal enclosure at a zoo in Arizona? 😝  While caring about these things makes us wonderful, compassionate people, at some point in time, we run out of emotional energy.  At that point I wonder, are we really able to do any good to any of the causes we find so important when our reserves are spread so thin?  Would it not be better to focus more on a specific issue?  

Each person will have a different tolerance for how much energy they have available to expend.  The reserves that each of us has within ourselves may even wax and wane as we work through the trials, tribulations (and joys) of everyday life.  I just think we need to be selective on how we choose to use our personal energy reserves.  

This may come off as selfish and that is not my intent.  I don’t think we should only care about things if they directly affect us and hinder our daily lives in some way.  We should be concerned when others are facing struggles.  But is every negative event that occurs throughout the world deserving of all of our personal, precious emotional energy?  Even if it doesn’t affect us or anyone we know personally; even if it has no effect on our local community or even our larger state/province/country?  Perhaps we can better use the precious resource that is this energy on problems that are closer to home.  Or, at least, maybe we should pick one or two issues to focus our attention on, rather than allowing ourselves to try to tackle every single one of the world’s problems.   

Ultimately, regardless of what happens today, the sun WILL come up tomorrow. Birds are still tweeting in nearby trees; babies are still crying at their mothers’ breasts; the trash still needs to be taken out. 😉  I think there are numerous issues and situations in our world that are deserving of our concern as human beings.  But our personal, emotional energy is a precious gift.  It is also a limited resource.  I think we each, individually, need to be selective of where and how we use that resource.  We need to be mindful and purposeful with how we use our concern in a world full of things to be concerned about.  It is perfectly acceptable to say, “I don’t have the energy to put toward that today, I need to focus on my own mental health/family/community.”  

 

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