What happens to our bodies and our brains when we feel angry and stressed? What happens when we feel frustrated? We know that anger is caused by fear, frustration, or pain, and that pain can be emotional pain. Let’s talk about how our bodies react when stress and anger kick in.
Our bodies are a little like a car. If you think about a car that’s fully gassed up, has good oil and transmission fluid, and the tires are inflated the right amount, that car drives pretty well. But if any one of those things goes down, if it runs out of gas, you have to pull the car over. If you run out of oil, you burn up the engine. If you have a flat tire, you can’t drive the car. Our bodies are like that.
Running on Full
If you think about our bodies when they are operating at top level and fully gassed up, at the top of that gas tank is something called serotonin, and serotonin is that chemical that keeps us balanced. It means we’re probably sleeping well. We don’t have a ton of stress. We’re probably eating right and exercising. Something else that’s at the top of that tank is called dopamine, and dopamine is what’s called the “feel good” hormone, the stuff in us that causes us to want to be in relationship with other people.
Running on Empty
At times in life, we begin to experience a gap between our ideal self where we are functioning at a high level and the real self where we begin to feel run down and experience a “burn out”. That gap creates stress. When we feel stress, our serotonin and our dopamine are attacked. Then our gas tank starts getting lower. When that happens, our adrenal system gets completely out of whack, and we start getting shots of adrenaline when we’re not supposed to get them because the serotonin level is not where it should be. And if our adrenal system gets slammed enough, we start having feelings of anxiety with fast heart beats and cold hands and changing thoughts. After that happens, we can shift into a lifestyle of depression, a very painful state. Once we hit that level, our thoughts are not the same. What used to be logical is now illogical, and what used to be illogical is now logical.
An Emptied Gas Tank
I have shared before my own suicide letter earlier in my life. It made sense then when I was in that state that if I took my life my family would be better off. As I think about that now, that’s totally illogical, but when that gas tank gets so empty, that kind of thinking seems completely rational. After depression comes suicide. Suicide can come in lots of forms. It can be emotional, It can be physical. It can be relational. It can be financial. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean physical death.
What an Emptying Tank Looks Like
Here’s how this process plays out. The first thing that happens when the person’s gas tank is emptying is they become controlling and manipulative. And they slowly start pulling away from other people because they don’t want you to know what’s really going on with them. They continue to “dress” in their ideal self because they don’t want you to know what’s going on with their real self. After control and manipulation gets far enough along, those people will start convoluting communication. They don’t want you to understand the truth about what’s going on with them. They’ll change the subject when the topics get too close to truth. The next thing that happens is they’ll start going after anybody who recognizes what’s going on, and they’ll try to discredit them. Then eventually either the person who’s trying to help, maybe it’s the spouse or a friend, will either be completely discredited and the relationship will be over, or the person who’s going through the process will completely pull away from relationships and life.
The T-Chart Fill-Up
You may have seen that happen in people around you, or you may have had it happen to yourself, and the only way to overcome it is to close that gap between your ideal self and your real self. That’s the only way to be able to get our energy back, to be able to get our strength back. One of the tools we teach to do that is the gas tank T-chart. This is a life-changer and can make a difference. Let me encourage you to fill out a T-Chart. What does that look like? First, take a piece of paper and label it Gas Tank T-Chart. Then draw a line across the top of the paper under the title and then a line down the middle of the page. On the left side at the top of that column, title that side of the page Fillers and title the other side Emptiers. Then think about the things, the food, the people, the places, the activities that fill your gas tank and list them in the Fillers column. Now, think of that same list of those things, foods, people, places, and activities that empty your gas tank. You could discover that some of these will fall on both sides of your T-Chart, and that’s okay.
Now, take a look at your list. You may find that you even have people in your life that it may be time to push the eject button. You may have activities in your life that you see it’s time to change. We need to carefully monitor our gas tanks so that we avoid the pitfalls of the Emptiers in our life that actually fill us with stress and weariness. Those things and people that are Emptiers can deplete us to dangerous levels.
I encourage you to spend less time on the tank-emptying side and more time on the tank-filling side because transformational leaders have the capacity to pour themselves into other people. However, if we’re empty, there’s nothing left to pour. As you look at your T-Chart, see the places where you need to spend more of your time and energy to help you begin to make changes in your life. Begin to focus on those places that will fill up your gas tank to levels of good health and productivity. As transformational leaders, we need to keep pouring in positive Fillers in our gas tanks so we can be more productive at home and at work and interact in positive ways with others.
Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.