Be Careful Out There, Week 28: The 4 Tanks

Back in the 80’s, before some of us were born, there was an evening drama which was quite popular in its day called The Hill Street Blues. Like many shows, this one had its tagline. Most episodes began with a morning briefing at the police stations. At the end of the meeting the person up front would invariably finish his shtick by saying, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.” It was an acknowledgment that life on the streets was tough and it was important to remain on guard, take care of yourself, and not fall into situations where you could potentially get hurt or even killed.

Hey, let’s be careful out there.

Life in the 21st Century is different than at any other time in history. In the past, hundreds of years could go by without nary a shift in life or culture or even science. The Goths used axes and arrows against the Romans, as did Ragnar the Viking hundreds of years later. When the Normans (some of whom were actually Viking descendants of Ragnar’s brother, for you history geeks out there) conquered Henry and took over England, they used bows and axes and swords. Hundreds of years passed with little scientific change.

As we have talked about before, you are living in one of the most bizarre times in human history, perhaps the most bizarre. The advent of the internet and globalization and reality television politics has changed the world in incalculable ways. Your grandparents and parents have seen more change in one lifetime than anyone in history. No wonder people are having difficulty coping. The ways and means that people used for thousands of years to cope with stress and life seem to no longer apply. The world today can stress you out if you let it.

This month our Mental Health Team would like to acknowledge how difficult it can be to live a life that is successful and happy. At EMA we want to encourage you to go to the next level, but we also want to acknowledge that for many of us it’s difficult to be positive and thriving when our world is chaos.

So let’s begin with an object lesson.

When people come for counseling it is often helpful to teach them about their Four Tanks. We all have these tanks. You may wish to think of them as tanks that get emptied or filled. You have an intellectual tank, an emotional tank, a physical tank, and a spiritual tank. As with any engine, when these tanks get empty you become “tapped out”.

Allow me to explain.

I was first introduced to this concept many years ago by a pastor. We were talking and he happened to mention that his emotional tank was, well… tanked. I asked him to explain. Here is what he said.

*Every one of us has four tanks. Intellectual, Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual (he was, after all, a pastor). Many of us spend time making sure we are physically fit and this is our Physical Tank. I work out every day and I’m in decent shape and I know my Physical Tank is basically full. We also have an Intellectual Tank. This is your brainpower. Do you spend time learning and thinking and seeking to improve your life? That’s the Intellectual Tank.*

*He also said that we had a Spiritual Tank – taking time for contemplation, thinking about life, meditation or spiritual disciplines, self-care and comic books and Kitkat bars and wakeboarding. Many of us endeavor to feed our soul, however we choose to define it.*

It was at this point when he turned to me and said, *“I had a nervous breakdown and I didn’t know why. I was leading a big organization and having challenging conversations, and working out, and practicing my spiritual disciplines, but I was still burning out and I didn’t have a clue why. I had no idea that I also had an Emotional Tank. You see, my Intellectual Tank was full, my Physical Tank was looking marvelous, and I was rocking my spiritual side but I was still breaking down because I didn’t realize that I also had an empty Emotional Tank. I was around tragedy and addiction and pain and hurting people and my job was to feel empathy. I was tapped out and didn’t even know it. I started skimming, relationally. I didn’t care anymore. I started thinking about self-medicating. I was bored. I had no idea how draining it can be when the world around you is stressful and grinding and filled with problems and cranky people.*

So he had an emotional breakdown.

Mental health is no longer something you can afford to ignore. The 21st Century is designed to invade your life and psyche with useless and irritating information, without any filter. We live with stress, stress, stress! Humans were never designed to process so much information and pay attention to so many messages, simultaneously. 14th Century serfs didn’t need to check their Instagram and text messages and integrate mentally into a virtual matrix, all the while being bombarded by scary things about the American election or Isis or any number of problems we would never have known about even 50 years ago.

So we invite you to take time to think about how you are really doing. Sometimes coming for a workout isn’t enough to ensure a healthy and happy you. This month we are going to explore the world of mental health, and talk about things like toxic emotions and racing thoughts and invasive feelings and what to do when you want to do something that isn’t good for you. Next week we look at the psychology principle called HALT – hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. That is when things usually go wrong.

This month we will introduce you to the one concept that may just be able to transform your life and make you a Jedi – taking control of your racing thoughts. We may also look at something called the *Fear-Ignorance-Hate Continuum*, or why we are so prone to jump to conclusions when we are afraid but don’t have all the facts. This month is all about encouraging you to be careful out there and remind you to refill your tanks. If you are burning out or stressed out or sick and tired of the real world, you may want to spend ten minutes thinking about your Emotional Tank. Are you taking care of you? Are you burning out? We all need to do a little better at self-care, even if it does make us feel guilty or selfish.

Take care of yourself out there.