Investing in our “emotional pension”

Recently, a friend expressed to me his anxiety at growing old. “I spend so much time thinking and using my brain, what will happen when I get older and I lose my memory?” What struck me was how invested his wellbeing is in his cognitive (thinking) abilities, which might explain his (perfectly) natural anxiety about old age.

This got me thinking about what we tend to invest our time, money and energy into. When contemplating the inevitable progression towards old age, I realised how much of Western society’s talk and time focuses on financial investment. Suddenly I thought “what about our emotional pensions”? What are we doing for ourselves in the here and now to benefit our wellbeing when we get older? How often, when we do or buy something, do we think “what benefit will this have on me and my life in the future?”

In relation to my friend’s comment, it is easy to see how anxiety can arise when we invest too much of our identify and wellbeing into one small component of ourselves. Julie Rees, a local Norfolk-based teacher specialising in Values-Based education speaks of how our growth and emotional resilience depends on how much time we spend in our 5 rooms. She was not referring to our physical home, but our personal, internal rooms. These are:

Cognitive: Engaging our minds and brains in activity we find mentally stimulating. For example: playing games, doing crosswords, reading and studying.
Emotional: activity which enables us to express or get in touch with our emotions. This can be anything from keeping a diary to watching comedy programmes!
Physical: activity which exercises our physical body.
Spiritual: spirituality does not simply mean faith or religion; spirituality can be evoked by considering our connection to something bigger than ourselves. It might be feeling connected with nature, meditating etc.
Social: time spent with friends, family, engaging in activity where you connect with others.

We might have a favourite ‘room’ that we spend time in, but what happens when things change? Let’s say you love spending time socialising, that this is your primary way of recharging and feeling positive. What happens when our dearest friends move away (or, as often happens in old age, pass away)? What if we love nourishing ourselves through physical exercise to then be crippled with chronic pain?

If we establish more balance in what we do to nurture all aspects of ourselves, we can feel more whole and able to face the adversities of life.

What is in each room?

To be able to build up our emotional pension, we need to invest some time exploring who we are and what is in each of our inner rooms.

Ask yourself: What are the activities in each of these rooms? You will know what these are by identifying:

  1. What makes you feel happy?
  2. What makes you feel alive?
  3. What gives you a sense of purpose and meaning?
  4. What makes you feel energised?




Elizabeth McConnell is a qualified Cognitive-Behaviour Therapist. She works using CBT but also has a specialist interest in Mindfulness. Elizabeth provides both individual and group therapy at the Green Parrot Health food Store and Clinic in Swaffham. For a FREE ½ hour consultation to discuss whether CBT or Mindfulness-based therapy might benefit you, please contact the Green Parrot.