CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While there's a lot of focus on our national energy crisis, most of us are also experiencing one much closer to home. Just take a look in the mirror.
Stress is a top factor in many of our medical visits. We're often stretched thin, stressed-out and drained. It's an epidemic, according to Boston-based psychotherapist Mira Kirshenbaum, author of "The Emotional Energy Factor."
So, how did we get this way -- and what can we do about it? Definitely there are physical factors that play into the equation, and an assessment of our habits in these arenas is a good starting point: nutrition, water, exercise, sleep.
You may be surprised to learn of another area that has a huge influence on our levels of vitality and energy. I like to refer to these as "Vitamin V" and "The Other Vitamin E."
According to a survey of endocrinologists, nutritionists and sports-medicine specialists conducted by Kirshenbaum, 70 percent of our energy is emotional -- the kind that shows up as hope, resilience, passion, fun and enthusiasm.
As author Annie Gottlieb notes in O magazine, "We in the developed world mostly take good care of our bodies, but we often take lousy care of our souls." Addressing this can be a key factor in creating higher levels of energy.
In fact, this single factor points to the secret of high-voltage people. They don't all have lucky genes, Kirshenbaum explains, but they make it a priority to protect their emotional energy. Can the rest of us do the same? The answer is a resounding "yes," the author says, and anyone can develop this skill:
First, plug the leaks. Learn to recognize what drains your energy -- for example: life situations, toxic people, worry, guilt, indecision and envy. Take steps to avoid or minimize these habits and conditions.
Second, identify what fills your tank -- pleasurable pursuits, hobbies, "down time," meditation, prayer, adventure, fun -- and give yourself more of these.
Each step requires additional work. Sometimes we're too close to a situation or too ingrained in a habit to see where our leaks are coming from, much less figure out how to fill our tanks.
You may be surprised by what you discover. Do you dread certain incoming phone calls? How about that co-worker who is constantly complaining and dumping her troubles on you? Is it hard to say "no" to all those requests?
Here's another strategy outlined in the book "The Emotional Energy Factor" to resolve chronic, exhausting guilt. Put yourself on trial. If you're feeling bad about something you've done, ask yourself whether you were under duress or were doing the best you could with what you knew at the time. If so, deem yourself "not guilty." Case closed. If you decide you knowingly did wrong, move to what the author calls the penalty phase. Do something specific to compensate the person you hurt or repay your debt to society.
If claiming what you need sets off that "selfish" siren in your head, remember all good things flow from a full heart, Gottlieb says.
"Emotional energy is the precondition for everything we care about," Kirshenbaum says. "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." It's never selfish to put fuel in your tank, as long as you're not robbing from someone else. Here's how:
Eight energy drains and how to fix them
1. Other people's expectations: Are you living someone else's dream for you? You're putting out energy, but starving emotionally.
Energy move: Declare independence. You brought it in; you can set yourself free. No confrontation needed. Worst case scenario: someone who's not you will be disappointed. You'll feel wonderful.