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How to Know If You’re Running on Emotional Fumes (and 4 Shortcuts to Refuel)

Emotional Fumes

Emotions can be funny things and can sometimes run on emotional fumes.

Some people let their emotions control them. Others refuse to acknowledge they even possess emotions. Some leaders, to their own peril, ignore the important role a full emotional tank plays in longevity.

According to a Barna Study of 14,000 lead pastors in the U.S., released in 2017, almost four in ten are at medium to high risk of burnout. Concerning for sure. Even more concerning? When those who are not burnt out believe they’re immune or exempt.

I think we avoid emotions sometimes because they can be mysterious. We don’t know how to analyze or interpret them. We don’t know how to measure them. We know we feel something, but at times can’t put a finger on what it is we’re really feeling.

I’d like to try and help with that today.

I believe we have at least 3 must-read indicators that help us figure out the emotional fumes we have in our emotional tank.

Our pace leads to emotional fumes.

If our calendar is consistently crammed, with little-to-no white space to be found, we’re probably running on emotional fumes. The funny thing is (well it’s not so funny), we can run low on emotional fuel and be oblivious to it . . . until we slam into a wall. Then we’re forced to pay attention. From the very beginning of time, God demonstrated a healthy rhythm of work and rest when He paused on the seventh day, after creating the universe. God expects us to work diligently, and to produce good outcomes—but He modeled to us the need for regular downtime. A second indicator on our emotional tank is

Our people lead to emotional fumes.

When was the last time you hung out with trusted friends just to hang out and have fun? If you can’t remember when, chances are the needle on your emotional fuel tank is nearing E. Solitude is healthy. Isolation is not. Solitude is good in small doses. Isolation leads to emotional depletion. If you’re neglecting friendships, it’s an objective indicator that you’re probably operating dangerously close to empty emotionally. A third indicator on our emotional tank is

Our plan leads to emotional fumes.

If we don’t have an intentional plan to recharge our emotional batteries, chances are high that one day we’ll be living life on empty emotionally. Responsible car owners have a maintenance plan for their vehicle. They change the oil and rotate the tires to get extended life out of it. Just like we should have a maintenance plan for our car, we should have a plan to keep our emotional tank full. Here are four shortcuts that will help you maintain healthy levels of emotional fuel:

Shortcut 1: Laughter

Laughter is strategic. Ever felt better after a good belly laugh? Laughter releases chemicals in our brain that reduce stress and lift our mood. I came out of college wound up as tight as a man-bun.  One of the best gifts my closest work colleagues gave me was permission to laugh and have fun. Make laughter an intentional part of your life, and your emotional tank will be fuller.

Shortcut 2: Exercise

Exercise a shortcut? Yes. You don’t have to be a body-builder to gain positive effects. Just get your body moving. I find when I’ve had a stressful day, lifting weights or walking brings relief.  Exercise is a good use of your time and it helps most people fill up their emotional tank.

Shortcut 3: Boredom
Keeping the emotional tank full requires you to occasionally inject a little bit of “boring” into your life. Not a lot of boring . . . just a little. Find a hobby or recreational activity that distracts you and doesn’t require you to think about anything serious. Put it on your calendar regularly, and then guard it carefully. We all need a bit of boring in our lives.

Shortcut 4: Sleep

A colleague announced to me many years ago: “Sleep is a disposable commodity.” My response? “That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.” Our brain repairs itself when we sleep. It flushes out toxins when we sleep. Almost every adult on the planet needs 7-8 hours of sleep each night to keep the emotional tank replenished. The negative effects of sleep deprivation are so dramatic that people who are hungoveroutperform those who regularly skimp on their sleep.

Getting our arms around the emotional piece of life takes understanding. And practice. Lots of practice.

The question is: is it worth the time and effort?  Take it from somebody who was on the edge of suicide 25 years ago—YES! YES! YES! It’s worth every bit of work required to live this way. It’s so much easier to prevent emotional depletion than to recover from it. It’s worth every ounce of effort to learn a way of life that includes consistently recharging your emotional batteries.

When you read the Gospels, you discover Jesus had this refueling thing figured out. He spent quite a few  nights away from the crowds, away from the hustle/bustle of public ministry . . . even some targeted time away from His disciples . . . so He could refuel.

If we figure out this refueling thing too, we’ll have a better life. Healthier relationships. A more fulfilling journey. A longer leadership run. And more fun along the way!

I’m rooting and praying for you!.

This article originally appeared here.

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John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He is an ordained minister, and author of Pastor Disaster: Confronting the Growing Crisis among Church Leaders; Unshakable You: 5 Choices of Emotionally Healthy People; and Putting the Good in Goodbye: A Healthy Conversation About the Comings & Goings of Church People. He has served as an associate, campus, and lead pastor, and has held multiple leadership roles in the business world. John’s experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, consultant, and mentor. John, and his wife Laura, founded Converge Coaching in 2013.