As most of you well know, living with emotional stress can, over time, cause your reserves of emotional well being to be depleted. This can happen in a multitude of ways, you will have your own story.

I think mine is about living with a best friend, partner, spouse, who goes through illness and surgery.

Then waiting after the surgery for the results to come back to tell you what shape your life will take for the next 1 to 24 months.

I think this has caused some leakage in the emotional reserves tank.

Though I have been living like the tank is OK, it seems there is a crack somewhere beneath the surface that is allowing the life to escape out of me.

I have prepared a helpful graphic for clarity sake.

I think that being a human sometimes requires us to step up and take one for the team, and so we fake the right side of the emotional resources tank and pretend that there is more in there than there really is. Since the walls of the tank are opaque, we are often able to fake it and pretend that there is much more in there than there really is. Even to ourselves.

This works fine until a friend requires some emotional support from you, and after you stop maniacally laughing you realize, oops the tank, she is empty.

This makes it difficult, if not downright embarrassing, if all the emotional support you can muster up is, "Ah  the blighters deserved it. Let em sink!"

So, not in the vein of poor pitiful me, but rather out of genuine curiosity and interest I would ask, What do you do to refill your tank?  Where do you go to get the tank refilled?


I'm asking.


  1. Let me begin by saying I've, by the grace of God, never gone through anything like what you guys are experiencing. Truly I'll be interested in people's responses too - I'm genuinely bad at responding to my own emotional ups and downs and I wonder what would happen in my life if something really serious happened.

    Last summer I was asked "How do you cope with stress"? The thought went through my head "There's a choice besides just continuing to plow ahead"? It never occurred to me that there were coping mechanisms and I'd love to know how to figure out mine. My husband says he goes for a run and that re-plenishes him. For me, running creates stress until it's over, so it doesn't count. ;o)

    Venting to somebody I trust is my only coping mechanism. Just to be heard and be affirmed that I don't require a rubber room (yet) for having deep feelings is the only thing that makes me feel any better.

    But like I said, I'm not exactly the guru of emotional balance. ;o)

    My love and prayers for both of you.

  2. One word: Booze.

    Just kidding.

    When I get overly stressed---and negatively emotional as a result---I usually find that additional sleep helps me cope. Not a very spiritual answer and I'm not sure it's helpful, but there you have it. When I get really stressed, I go to bed and sleep.

  3. Actually, after reading Christy's comment, a good walk is also helpful, although that's not as fun (or even possible) in the winter.

  4. Hey Randall,
    I have experienced empty tank syndrome lately myself and I was also taken by surprise when I realized it was empty. I wondered why I was so crusty and touched out and then I was sitting here one day writing an e-mail to a complete and total stranger - pouring my guts out and the lights went on. What I usually do is take my Bible and my journal and go to my patio or up to Waskesiu/Murray Point/Heritage Lake and I just read a little, write alot, and stare across the yard/lake until I feel ready to carry on with life. God meets me there and He talks to me and puts me all back together. Since it is winter I have not done that but I had a good time with God in the kitchen the other day. I still want spring to be here big time. When my mom was sick I would get everyone to bed and then I would lay there and read the same Psalm every night because that was all I could do and everynight God soothed me and said "Having done all else - STAND just stand." That is just His way of saying "hold on because (morning, the answer, spring, relief, strength to endure, a change) is on its way. Crawl up on Father's lap and let Him fill your tank.

  5. Oh yeah Christy's response
    "The thought went through my head “There’s a choice besides just continuing to plow ahead”?"
    is like our familie's motto
    "Never say Whoa in a mudhole."

  6. My tank reservoir is more quickly emptied by extra pressure too. I need to sleep, see a sense of significance in the situation, talk to a confidant, not seek to try to do something to make the situation better -- more than can be expected, and cry (and I mean quite literally) to God. Currently that's working somewhat for me -- I'll let you know more as I continue in my visiting with God and his plans for my life.

  7. I cry. And I rant. And I tell God just how upset I REALLY am. Loudly if need be. Sometimes a good rant and a cry can really help. Honest.

    And I blog. It really helps me not feel so alone!

    And then I cry some more.

  8. I think I just hole up. I go to the only place I feel comfortable, sitting there by myself all comfy on our bed with pillows that let me sink into them deeply and softly....and I sit...sometimes for several hours. Just me. By myself. Sometimes I think about things, other times I don't think about anything of importance. Sometimes my mind wanders to God and we chat about things, other times it doesn't wander anywhere near him. I just allow time to be with ME and if I'm really empty I can only trust that God will fill me up whenever he sees fit because by the time I hit that point, I'm usually not able to ask for help from anyone. Sad...but true.

  9. I find that, when I am emotionally empty, I stumble around half blinded by a huge headache, unable to think very clearly. Not only does the emotional tank drain but with it goes any energy I might have been hanging onto. At those times I mostly live moment to moment. There is no reserve to do more.

    A friend who has been through the same kind of stuff can be a big support, if they will let you just kind of lean on them, letting you talk if you need to – or cry – or rant. It is easy for me to get angry when my reserves are low – that kind of irritable grouchy angry that has no sense to it. I need someone around who loves me enough to hear me out without taking my anger too seriously – except to recognize my need to be loved and put up with me.

    I have also found that sleep, if it comes, helps, walking helps, quiet in a peaceful place helps, but sometimes it seems as if one just has to walk through these times living only with enough energy to make it through the next moment, and then the next, and the next. Kind of like withdrawing into the shell of the moment for protection and survival, just hanging on.

    Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be the option of stopping to refuel. Not very healthy but sometimes seems the only option available – maybe at those times God refuels us in flight just enough to get us to the next place to stop. Or we come to a grinding halt and we learn to take more care when the tank gets low in the future.

    I think it is always God who refills my tank - through any of these means - even when I don't recognize him at the pumps.

  10. Well, seeing you tonight, having to go and be a father in the middle of an evening out, makes me think that you must kind of feel trapped from all sides, like there's no place of rest to be found. That was my big struggle this fall/winter -- needing time to process but knowing that I can't escape the 24-7 demands of nursing babies and little children who need me all the time.

    For me, I need to find perspective. That's it. Sometimes when you can't get away or escape from daily life that's really hard. But I did my best to make the moments I got. And then a wise counselor told me to find out ways that I "play". And I pursued that a bit and have since allowed/taught myself to relax in the midst of the ever-present demands. So I sit in a bath, or colour, or read, or think and write, and try to gain some perspective on who I am, where I am, and where God is in the middle of it all.

    (Wow. I sound like such a different person than a few months ago! And it's making me cry a little bit.) My tank seems to be filling up these days, thanks to your help and many others. I wish I could lend you some. Take care, okay?

  11. Trying to keep my answer brief because I want to go to bed soon, I do cry; sometimes there's nothing more cleansing than a good cry followed by a sleep b/c you've cried until you have no more energy. Writing helps. I have also found holing up with some worship music, a vanilla scented candle and soft lighting help. I also try to speak positively...find something good to focus on and speak only those things. I find if I continually talk about the negative it drains me more while if I speak of the positive my thoughts turn positive. Going out for coffee with a good friend who happens to be funny and can make you laugh helps a lot too...oh yeah, chocolate is great. So much for a short answer.

    Take care of yourself, Randall...

  12. I find when the tanks empty that I get quiet and shut off a lot of communication. I think it's partly because I don't want to snap at anyone and also because I find that if I do talk etc then I have to explain why I'm a bit down. So far I've found prayer, worship and exercise the best ways to fill the tank. I find when I exercise such as a bike ride on my own that the only person I have to talk to is God and as a result of the conversation my spirits are lifted and rejuvenated.

  13. I take pictures. I try to get alone. If we're talking ideal situation, I go somewhere outside of my normal routine and just be. I invite our God to show up, as I generally don't feel up to "finding" God on my own, I just say - God I need you.
    But that's rare, time and life get in the way of retreating like that most often; so I take pictures. If my creativity for photos is at a low point too, then I don't know what to do and I stumble about the house mumbling things that even I don't understand.

  14. Randy - I believe that I know where you're coming from , yes, I do.
    I spent two years with a very low tank. My siblings and I took turns looking after Mom and Dad. At that time, I wasn't living for
    the Lord, yet, He was there and He put a numbness around me so that I was able to function without falling apart. Today, my tank still (for lack of a better word) goes down, sometimes, quite often.Yet, He is with me always and I plan to keep it that way.
    If I didn't have my Jesus, I know that I would lose it for sure,
    my sanity, that is, so, you have my Jesus and you know He will see you through. Yeah, to put it shortly, in my mind -PRAYER- that is
    the key word. Blessings on you and yours always.

  15. Your responses here and via email have been profound, deep, and helpful. Oddly, their impact upon me has been felt most clearly in the realization that I am not alone in feeling this way.

    I mean, I know others go through this too, but somehow, hearing your stories of coping and processing these things of life has comforted me, and I am not so nearly sure why.

    In another mad twist of holy fate, last week I began running a little tool that let me see what else I've published on this day in history.
    If you look at the end of my post for today, you see a heading entitled "Nouwen on Emptiness - 2006."

    I clicked the link, because sometimes emptiness is emptiness, whether its a tank, or a schedule. A year ago I quoted Nouwen who wrote:

    "It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen. It requires trust, surrender, and openness to guidance. God wants to dwell in our emptiness. But as long as we are afraid of God and God’s actions in our lives, it is unlikely that we will offer our emptiness to God. Let’s pray that we can let go of our fear of God and embrace God as the source of all love.”

    I confess a fear of emptiness in my life, my emotions.
    Your stories have made it ok, and helped me not to be so afraid.

    I loved your practical experiences of seeking to be filled. Of rest and exercise, of tears and prayer, silence and activity.

    Thank you. They have given me permission to explore some of those things myself again. And not to be afraid of it.

    And hey, if you want to add your story of how you deal with emotional emptiness, please continue in this space.

    It will encourage others.

  16. I remember being at the end of myself, too, with empty tanks, when I had my thyroid surgery. I could do nothing else but lean on God and let him take me wherever that would be, knowing that only he could take care of me, my children, and our future. It was easier for me because I knew I could DO nothing to help the situation; all I could do was wait and see what the outcome would be, and then deal with it. I remember doing a lot of praying, entreating God to look after my children if the worst happened to me. There were tears, too, of course, because I do like to have control of things in my life. But it was a good lesson of giving up the reins, and knowing who REALLY was in control, and it WAS NOT me.

    It was also reassuring to me to have someone come alongside who had been through the surgery, and who could relate and encourage me.

    I think the not knowing and the waiting to hear is the very worst part, and maybe that has to do with not being able to control things, too. Once I knew the outcome, I was better able to deal with it all.

    I guess the other thing I knew I had to do was just take things one thing at a time, one day at a time, just doing what I could and leaving the rest. It is a lesson in what is REALLY important in life, too. Interesting what things are let go of during these times.

    All of the other advice I've read here is truly helpful, too. So take what you will, and take good care of yourself and Lauralea, and the kids.

  17. Was it Bilbo Baggins who said, "like butter spread over too much bread?". I've felt thin like that for about five years. My reserves have been rationed for those who need it most from me, those being my kids. I have had very little to offer anyone else. That's the hard part, not crumpling like a paper bag when a windy day comes along. I've learned to be thankful most of all during this time - to just search for something to be thankful for - to count my blessings no matter how small they seem some days and to ignor things that used to take up my time, like housework.

  18. Late to this particular profound party - when I'm near to running on empty I need to recognise that even such pleasurable places as the internet deplete my energy.
    But all of the above applies for me and a couple of other thoughts: I can get stressed that unless I 'do' something myself the tanks will inevitably run dry, which then makes life harder still. Sometimes you just have to 'be' and inhabit the space before realising that God's in there with you.
    Don't want to push the metaphor too far, but sometimes getting down to the bottom of the tank provides an opportunity to clear out some of the murk that's settled down there over the years. But living this stuff is infinitely harder than writing about it....


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