My husband had been having chemotherapy for 6 months when I met with a therapist who asked me if I was “keeping my emotional tank full.“
I looked at her blankly, not sure what she was talking about. So she pulled out a paper and pen and started sketching a rudimentary looking water tank. Then, she started talking about how we each have an emotional tank and that the tank is full of good experiences, memories, times we laugh and moments we enjoy.
When the tank is full, we find it easier to find joy in each day, to laugh at the days ahead and cope with trials. When it’s empty, we find it more difficult to cope with little things that come up or to smile.
She then drew arrows and asked me to imagine them being shot into this water tank. Some arrows, like overhearing someone say something mean about me, just bounce off the tank, leaving a dent but no hole for water to escape. Other arrows, perhaps flung by underlying problems at work, pierce the tank and allow water to trickle out.
Then there are the arrows that tear 3-inch holes in the side of the tank, the arrows of death, cancer, losing a job or having your house burn down. When these kind of arrows hit, water gushes out and it’s hard to stop the flow. My therapist explained there are only two ways to keep the tank filled with water when this happens: keep adding water to the tank or patch those holes for good.
We spoke about the things that could fill my emotional tank and patch the holes my husband’s cancer had left in it. Things I enjoy, like reading a book, sitting in nature looking at a beautiful view, walking the dogs and spending time laughing with friends. I love doing these things and when I do them I feel happier and more capable of coping with difficulties.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned that day is this: keeping my emotional tank full is my responsibility. I can’t rely on my husband or my family or my friends to patch the holes or fill it with water-- that is my job. It is my job to notice when it is running low and then do something to fill it up again.
The first step to figuring out how to fill your emotional is to identify whether it is full. If your emotional tank is closer to empty than full you may feel overwhelmed or inadequate, you may find yourself losing your temper quickly or trying to avoid people. Basically, if you start behaving in ways that aren’t typical for you, then it’s time to check how full your tank is.
The next step is to figure out what fills your tank and what drains it. Start adding more activities that fill your tank. Also, pay closer attention to yourself: what situations drain you emotionally? Try to eliminate or lessen the frequency of those events. The busier your schedule is, the more depleted you may get and the more important it is to do the things that fill your tank.
I recently read three Bible-based suggestions for filling your emotional tank:
Solitude – This can be a hard one to achieve, but I find even 5 minutes in the shower can make a difference to my emotional tank if I see it as recharge time rather than a chore. Mark 6:31 (NIV) finds Jesus speaking to his disciples, “So many people were coming and going Jesus said to them `Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'” If Jesus needed some time away to fill his emotional tank, it goes without saying that we need it too.
Recreation – When my husband was in isolation in the hospital for three weeks, it was easy to feel bad about celebrating life. However, there is a verse in Matthew that speaks about how "Jesus came enjoying life" (Matthew 11:19, Phillips). In fact, one version says “The Son of man came eating and drinking.” Jesus had a very important and serious mission on this earth but he still made time to enjoy his surroundings.
Laughter – Laughing isn’t just good for our emotions, it is good for our bodies too. The Bible already knew this, “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22, NIV). Studies have shown that laughing relaxes the whole body for up to 45 minutes, boosts the immune system and releases endorphins. All of this helps to fill your emotional tank: you can’t feel anxious, upset or angry when you’re laughing. Find ways to fit laughter into your days and filling your emotional tank will be as easy as having a silly conversation with a child or reading a cartoon.
As I sat with the therapist, we identified a number of recreational activities I enjoy: reading, exercising and creating. Often these things feel like luxuries but making time for them can help us recharge and make it easier to cope when hard things come along. If you can’t think of something off the top of your head, commit to trying out one new activity each week until you find something that fills up your tank.
What are some things that drain your tank, and what fills you up? Let’s share ideas below!
Wendy van Eyck is proudly South African and lives in Johannesburg where she runs a 24-hour Gospel Music Television channel that broadcasts to 47 African countries. Her website www.ilovedevotionals.com features devotionals that range from learning about God while doing laundry to discovering biblical truths while caring for her cancer fighting husband. Follow her on twitter: @wendyvaneyck or find her on Facebook.