The impact of running on empty

Ever wondered why you don’t return from holiday feeling as refreshed as you expected? And why is it that when big work pressures calm down temporarily, you still don’t have the energy to do all the non-work things you’d been putting off because of work?

Running on empty

Is this you?

  • You’re in the middle of a challenging work project. It’s taking extra time, but you’re enjoying it. It’s making you work late, skip meals and cancel your friends, but it’s OK – you’ve got a chance to shine, you’re learning and it won’t be forever. It’s due to end next week (probably) but it’s OK, you can run on empty for a bit longer – you’re high on adrenalin.
  • Your physical and mental health are suffering because your whole life is demanding – work levels, work politics, family events to plan, faraway birthdays & weddings you can’t miss etc. You’re contemplating a career or life shift. A holiday is looming, so you decide that’s the time to do some deep thinking, while you’re away. That’s what summer breaks are for, you tell yourself. You’ll sort your life out with some big chats and a burst of bravery over a cold margarita.

The trouble is, post-craziness recovery and big life changes don’t work like that. They both need small, committed changes, over time. And if you’re not looking after your mind and body and if you never switch off (yes, that means devices too!), you probably won’t make any of them.


Like machines, humans need three things: the right fuel, good functioning parts and a reliable recharge button. If we’re empty (hungry or dehydrated), tired, stressed or ill, we’re more likely to perceive events as negative. It has a huge impact on our decisions – a sort of negative halo effect. Sleep deprivation prevents neurons in your brain from secreting the normal amount of the ‘feel good’ chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. This increases cravings for high sugar/big resulting in eating energy-drop foods like cake, ice cream, pasta and bread.

Recovery (and therefore resilience) is important to great performance. You expect energy and commitment from the people in your world, and they expect it from you. But they won’t get it if you’re running on empty. Is that the life you want to lead? Is it the message you want to send? Recovery and reflection time are fundamental to offering up your ‘best’.

Rethink how you think

Don’t rely on your holiday to mull over big work issues. You’re supposed to be switching off! A helicopter view of your life (from the distance a holiday provides) is great for perspective, but it’s not enough. Instead, try these following methods to make the most of your break:

Strategies to take a break




Post by Jodie