“Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another.” Anatole France

Have you ever felt like you were running on empty? That wired-but tired feeling that goes along with feeling stressed out? It’s an all too familiar sign of chronic stress. Pushing yourself to get things done for long periods of time can not only zap your physical energy. It can drain your mental and spiritual reserves as well. Our nature is sometimes to drive us to fill up an empty spot with another thing to do.

One of the tools I taught patients as an occupational therapist was called energy conservation. I helped people learn ways to store their energy so they could do the activities most important to them. I always likened your energy to a tank of gas. When your tank is full, you feel like you can take on the world. If your energy reserves were at half, you knew you could go a little further. My father taught me to never to let my gas tank go lower than one-fourth because I could run out of gas. And it’s no different with your own physical, mental and spiritual reserves as well.

But yet, that’s what happened when you are chronically stressed. You constantly push past the limit you know you can do. Not just once in awhile but every day. You trick yourself into thinking you can do just one more thing. But if you’re exhausted have you ever thought where you are possible getting the energy to go on?

My client once told me “I’m afraid to stop working. If I do I’ll never start again.” She went on to explain how deep her fear was about getting everything done she felt was here responsibility.

So, what can you do when you feel like you are running on empty?


Save for a rainy day.
Most people have a savings account where you stash extra money just in case something happens. Filling your reserves are no different than saving money for a rainy day. The stress effects borrow from future reserves, just like taking out a loan. You have to pay the loan back, right? Don’t let those reserves get too low. You are worth every bit of love, self- care and effort you put into filling you up.

The two step is part of life. One wise mentor told me that two steps forward and one step back is life. It’s the time it takes for you to bounce back that makes the difference. Once you have stored reserves, you can rely on those physical, emotional and spiritual bank accounts when you need them. Feed them and keep your reserves full as if your life depended on it.

Keep connected. Your body is hard-wired to be in survival mode. It’s easy to think you are alone and the only person to ever feel the way you do when you are stressed to the max. The first thought is to separate yourself from others. Stay connected, knowing there are thousands of other that feel like you do right this very moment.

For over 25 years in the health care profession, Lisa Birnesser has studied stress relief techniques and have helped hundreds of people reduce stress in their lives. Lisa specializes in stress management coaching by helping people do what matters most every day.

53 thoughts on “Running on Empty: How to Keep Yourself Filled Up”

  1. Thank you so much for this article, Lisa. It is a great reminder. I find myself, some times, doing way too much…can't seem to stop and it wears me out. Best to stop, relax and re-energize!

  2. Terressa Cortez

    I have learned that taking care of myself allows me to be better not only for myself but others. It is so important to include yourself in your life , not just be on go all the time for everyone else.

    1. Lisa Birnesser

      Absolutely, Terressa. It’s how we can best serve others when we take care of ourselves.

  3. I love your advice Lisa!  I sometimes think that the hardest time emotionally is after the stressful event rather than during the crisis. It's when the adrenalin and auto pilot stop that I need to calm down and take time out. And as you say it's good to reach out to others! If only I'd read your advice years ago 🙂

    1. Lisa Birnesser

      You are so right, Carolyn. That emotionally and physically drained feeling after autopilot stops that really is hard to recover from. Thanks!

  4. Thank you for you wise advise Lisa, I have started to schedule time for me because work can definitely take over my life and I know that running on empty feeling you describe in your post all too well.

    1. Lisa Birnesser

      Thanks, Carla. We can run out of energy so fast and its sometimes hard to turn it around quickly. I am so happy to hear you are scheduling time for yourself!

  5. I like that you said that we should get away from the crowd and build ourselves up again. This is something I do regularly and it really helps; it also gets me focused again. Groups of people can give you energy, but they also can drain your energy! Thanks Lisa!

    1. Lisa Birnesser

      I am that way too, Olga. Some people recharge their batteries being with people. I find being alone for a bit gets me back on track. Thanks!

  6. Interesting!  I never thought of the "one more thing" syndrome as meaning I might e stressed.  I just thought that was a mother's way of thinking! LOL As usual, I always gain insights when I visit your blog.  Thanks!

  7. This is great and such an important reminder. I know myself, I often used work or "always having something I have to do" as a subconscious way to avoid thinking about something that's nagging me. I like your suggestions and can now appreciate, myself, that taking time to stop – just stop – can do so much for going forward. Thanks so much, Lisa!

  8. Love this, Lisa! It is spot on. I have learned over the years to conserve my energy. At times it still can be of a challenge, but I am getting better and better at it 😉 Thanks!

  9. Energy conversation…I really, really like that way of looking at it, Lisa! Like that saying of your mentors about the two step, what a great perspective! Thank you for the great post!

    1. Thanks, Sherie. That mentor is a very special person full of wisdom and has helped me stay on track.

  10. Lisa, I seem to always find something that I can relate to in your posts!  And I always take something out of them.  I am very much the person that disconnects when things get too hectic.  Thank you for reminding me to stay connected and use those connections during the stressful times.  

  11. It is so important for us all to stop and rejuvenate especially during stressful times.  When i feel my energy drain, I make sure to take a bit of time for relaxation to rejuvenate myself. 
     

  12. This is why I have so much stress Lisa: I run around like a chicken and don't get enough rest . I am so grateful that you introduced me to Young Living oils and I am using them to help me stop taking so much medicine and get more rest1 They are working like a charm!

    1. Liz, I am so happy to hear the oils are helping. They make a huge difference in relieving stress. ((hugs))

  13. Particularly in the case of women, the airline instruction of "put your own oxygen mask on first, then put one on the children with you" applies here too.  If we don't have the energy and inner resources to "be there" for others, we're doing a disservice to all.  Oh, but that's so hard to do … 😉  Thanks for these great suggestions, Lisa!

    1. Lisa Birnesser

      Thank you, Sharon. It’s something to definitely keep as conscious as possible. Thanks!

  14. I have been at empty for a week or two now. On the mend this week though! 2012 has proven to challenge me on every level.

    1. Lisa Birnesser

      It has been a challenge but you are creating some amazing things this year.Thank you for all you do!

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    1. Lisa Birnesser

      It’s so easy to to do… knowing the signs help you make the best choices. Thank you, Barbara!

  16. I'm in love with Keep connected! It's so easy to disconnect and push people away when you really need them most. Consciously staying connected and realizing you're not alone in times of stress is a must. Thanks, Lisa!

  17. I've recently found myself zapped. Didn't like it one bit. But I took the time to stop working at a decent hour and relax in the evenings. Makes a big difference.

  18. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt — many times.  And made myself sick.  Amazing the power that stress can have on you.  Took many years to figure out how to build that energy reserve. 🙂

    1. Lisa Birnesser

      It’s definitely a trial and error thing to learn how to keep that reserve. Thanks, Donna!

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