Thomas Howard: Don’t run out of ‘emotional capital’

By THOMAS HOWARD,

In continuing with the theme of Mental Health Awareness, I wanted to broach the subject of emotional capital. The idea of emotional capital was shared with me by a friend and therapist as a way to reduce stress and not feel stretched all the time. I’m a bit of an idealist, and if I’m not careful, I can easily get invested in so many different issues that I forget to take care of myself.

Emotional capital is the idea that each person has a limit to the emotions they can process at once. With each political issues, social inequality or friend’s hamster, we dedicate part of our emotional capital to that thing. Now, here is the most important part: some emotional capital has to be held back, reserved for us to take care of ourselves.

In the spirit of education, we can look at this as a classic grade-school math book example. Johnny has five apples. He gives an apple each to each of his five friends. What happens? Johnny starves to death.

In December 2013, I took a long-expected swan dive off the sanity bridge and ended up in a very unhappy place. I was enrolled at Mississippi State but didn’t go to class. I bought food but didn’t eat it. My cat ran away because I forgot to feed him, ending up in the ceiling of MSU’s Perry Cafeteria.

After months of recovery, I re-enrolled for the Fall 2014 semester, ready and willing to share my experience, strength and hope with my peers. I was going to make sure no one else fell into the same trap I did.

A few days before classes started, however, a good friend pulled me aside and said simply, “You aren’t in a place where you can help anyone.”

I thought I was doing better, but instead I had invested my energy, all my emotional capital, into things outside myself. The result was an apathy toward my own wellbeing. I was obese, sleep deprived and deficient in almost every vitamin there was. I couldn’t help anyone because I couldn’t even help myself.

If someone is stuck on a cliff, rescuers will wear harnesses and rope to make sure they stay safe as they attempt to reach the other person. If they didn’t, there’d just be two people stuck on a cliff. Such is the idea of emotional capital.

The idea of emotional capital is the idea of selfcare. It’s about checking ourselves, ensuring that we don’t lose ourselves in the hustle and bustle of life, risking depression, weight issues or worse. For people like myself, it’s helpful to have an occasional reminder to stop and think: Am I eating healthy? Did I exercise today? This week? Are the dishes done? Am I wearing clean clothes?

In recent years, protests, advocacy groups and causes to donate to have popped up for just about any issue I can name. And, for every protest, group or cause, there is a second group working toward the opposite.

I encourage advocacy. I am more than happy to donate to causes I believe in. One of the greatest things about this country is the right to speak up about issues we care about and want to change. Exercise that right but keep an eye on your emotional capital. Take care of yourself first to ensure you can help others when the need arises.

Thomas is the managing editor of the Newton County Appeal. He can be reached at thoward@newtoncountyappeal.com

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