7 Things to Do When Your Tank Is Empty

“Resilience burnout” is real

Karen Nimmo
Published in
5 min readSep 7, 2021


Photo: Sean De Burca/Getty Images

You’re running on empty.

You’re fatigued. You’re lethargic. You have things you’d like to do — or you should do — but you can’t get fired up about them. Or anything.

You’ve had low patches before and you’ve always been able to find your way back. But now it feels like you have no resilience left. It’s like the plug’s still in the wall but someone flipped the power switch off.

What to do?

No surprises here

Every therapist hears stories like this, but never more so than during the past 18 months, as we’ve struggled with a global pandemic and its tentacles.

Many people are saying they’re depleted, they don’t have the resilience to cope with the stress, the anxiety, the roller-coaster uncertainties, another round of Zoom drinks, all the restrictions on their freedom.

Beyond the obvious stressors — like job losses, financial pressure, working from home, home-schooling, health/mental health worries, conflict, missing out on weddings, funerals and other key events — there’s been the loss of all the things that brighten everyday life. Looking forward to that trip of a lifetime, studying overseas, taking up retirement plans. Or the little things: social gatherings, concerts, sports games, movies, eating out, that weekend away with friends, visits to your favorite store.

Spontaneity’s taken a hike: Everything needs to be planned with restrictions in mind and a mask in your pocket. This from one young woman: “I feel like my twenties have been swallowed up by Covid.”

She’s not wrong. This may be life according to the 2021 Playbook but we still need to acknowledge the impact on people when there’s nothing left in the tank.

Resilience burnout: a hybrid term for a real phenomenon

Resilience is the capacity to recover from difficulty; burnout is physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caused by chronic (persistent or recurring) stress. When you put them together you get a reduced capacity to cope with life’s difficulties.



Karen Nimmo
Writer for

Clinical psychologist, author of 4 books. Editor of On the Couch: Practical psychology for health and happiness. karen@onthecouch.co.nz