The Emotional Tank

Years ago I heard a talk about our four gauges. Let me explain.

The speaker spoke of the various internal gauges that he had noticed in his life. He had a spiritual gauge and as a religious person he felt that this tank was regularly filled. Think of a gas tank. When the gas runs out, the engine stops. He also noticed his mental gauge – as a scholar he kept that tank filled almost all the time. He was also a marathon runner and knew implicitly that his physical gauge was good. So he was in tip-top shape right?


What the speaker did not realize was that there was a fourth tank, an emotional tank. People who are caregivers, or young parents, or counselors, or that ilk are required to empathize with people, to care. You can jog all you want and it won’t fill your emotional gauge. It might be therapeutic but it probably isn’t enough. After a while people who constantly give out begin to “skim” emotionally. They still care in theory but becoming emotionally involved gets to be harder and harder. It is no wonder, then, that many caregivers have secret addictions, or masturbate more than most, or engage in risk-taking or risqué behaviours.

I have arguable the easiest job in the world. I get paid to sit and drink coffee all day and listen to people talk about their issues. When I first starting doing this I heard of counselors going on stress breaks – and laughed. I had just come from owning a restaurant and I knew what stress looked like, or so I thought. Coming to work was a break from my stress, not a contributor to it.

For a while.

After a few years I started to notice I didn’t care as much, didn’t work as hard, didn’t engage emotionally like I once did. I became easily irritated and struggled to emotionally engage with my family. I had no idea what was happening.

Then I remembered the emotional gauge.

Today I listen to audiobooks and do martial arts. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, hundreds and hundreds. On this computer alone I have 63 gigs of audiobooks and that isn’t even my biggest collection, which is on my removable hard drive at home. I listen to philosophy, brain candy, psychology, sci-fi, physics, pop novels, comedies, history etc. Right now I am listening to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a massive chronicle that I have now read almost three times. I use the word “read” figuratively. Last week I listened to Dune (it sucked) and before that Physics Of The Impossible (amazing). I cannot get in my car without an ear-bud attached, it is a full-blown addiction – and very therapeutic. Listening to books fills my emotional tank.

We all have an emotional tank, and when we are stressed or anxious or busy it gets depleted. By now most of us know we should practice self-care but most still cannot make it a daily or even weekly priority. Self-care takes time and we are too stressed or anxious or busy to take that time. It is a vicious circle that keeps us mentally and emotionally ill.

Self-care can smell an awful lot like selfishness, especially when you are trying to drink a daiquiri on the back deck when the kids are screaming for your attention. The tyranny of the urgent is forever clamouring for our attention and we have been taught that self-care is optional, or laziness, or self-indulgent.

This weekend when I get in my kayak it will feel selfish for a minute or two, until I put in my ear buds and return to The Battle Of Britain. When I get home I’ll try to convince my wife that I am practicing what I preach… and perhaps she’ll buy it.

Either way I get to go kayaking.

15 thoughts on “The Emotional Tank

  1. A very good reminder on your emotional tank. For me, a time of silence, solitude, and simplicity fills my emotional tank. A quiet moment with good coffee and a book is my happy time. It might sound boring, but it works for me.
    Joni Meyer

  2. Have you heard of this book called The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly? He talks about this concept of taking care of your self in four different areas: Emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually. Everyone needs to have these areas filled to feel inspired and full of life. It also connects you to your purpose, which is becoming the best version of yourself. You can not give what you dont have. Maybe thats why we burn out so easily. We are giving so much of what we dont have enough of ourselves. You cant help others unless you, yourself are full. Great post!

  3. You know, the problem is that by the time you reach ‘e’ on your emotional tank, you don’t have much left to work on replenishing it and often are so lost in your distress, you think the problem is your situation, not yourself. It’s better [and easier in the long run] to gas up well before ‘e’ and maintain, than to sputter to a stop in the middle of god knows where with no resources.

  4. For me it is gardening. If I can get out and dig in the dirt I am much happier and less stressed. It is also meditative and I do more talking to God, thinking about issues in my life and thinking things through, soul searching etc. A glass of wine or a Mlikes lemonade helps while I putz. To really rejuvenate I need quiet, I have been wanting to get a kayak or canoe since I moved to the lake but I would want to just get lost in the sounds of nature. I have found that if your emotional tank is low for a long time it affects all the other tanks whereas none of the other tanks have the capability to seriously affect the other tanks. Did I just make sense?

  5. I start grad school to become a counselor next week. I tend to neglect my physical tank while keeping the other three pretty full. Thanks for the reminder.
    Which tank would you say is replenished by your writing?

  6. This is very interesting. I would think though that listening to books would fill your intellectual tank, though, not your emotional one. Is it because you react emotionally to the material in the books?

      1. I see. And does that only happen when you listen to them, as opposed to reading them? I find that even pretending to listen to something puts me into alpha state, which actually is what meditation does. So you might actually BE meditating, in a way.

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