What is surge capacity – and have you run out?

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Surge capacity. It’s like the back-up power source that many of us have used to push through an especially stressful year. But now it’s time to focus on recharging the batteries and bouncing back from burnout.

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Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash

Surge capacity

You’ve definitely felt it. That charge you get when you’re already going full throttle but a crisis asks you to go even harder – and somehow you do. 

It happens when your venue floods two days before your wedding and you’ve got to pivot the reception quick, or when someone in the fam falls ill and caregiving becomes a new top priority. Work is a major trigger – freelancers juggling gigs, start-ups facing ups and downs… anyone whose plate keeps getting fuller and fuller knows how it feels. 

It’s exhilarating at first – that’s the cortisol and adrenalin catapulting you through stress and exhaustion. It’s like you’re in intense-mode autopilot. 

That’s because you’ve tapped into your surge capacity. 

Coined in 2020, surge capacity is a term to describe a set of adaptive systems that already-busy bodies and minds can rely on like a backup power source to push through periods of acute stress. Surge capacity for MVP!

But there’s a catch. Surge capacity is designed for humans to survive fast-passing threats, like earthquakes. In other words, it’s in short supply. Hit it too hard or too often and you end up in a place beyond burnout. 

Time to bring back your bounce

4 ways to recover from surge capacity burnout

1. Cancel hustle culture

High achievers and entrepreneurs, we’re talking to you. Capable ‘doers’ are extra-susceptible to over-accessing surge capacity – the more you do, the more others expect and you demand of yourself. 

The cults of productivity and eight-days-a-week hustle are everywhere on social – but it’s time to unfollow. 

Tapping out of work, play or even a dinner with mates to self-care is a worthy goal. Grind is not glamorous (speaking of, should you be dialling down the coffee too?).

2. Slow your roll

Exercise is excellent to release stress and lift energy. But listen to what your body needs in the moment. 

Hardcore cardio might be your usual high, but research from the University of Georgia in the US has pinpointed that low-intensity workouts (keeping you at 40-50% max heart rate) are better for alleviating burnout, reducing symptoms of fatigue by 65% while boosting energy and mood. 

3. Sleep deep, repeat

We know, we know: a solid seven to nine hours of nightly zzz is everything to wellbeing. But all-nighters and patchy sleep happens when you’re under the pump. 

The trick is to pay back your sleep debt on time – and don’t think routinely losing one hour doesn’t count. Try an app that flags when your debt’s racking up and you’ll be shocked at how quickly it happens. 

4. Take back control

When you’re stressed about things you can’t control, focusing on factors you can control – like mindfulness rituals and nutrition – can bring some chill. 

Foods that affect neurotransmitters and mood can also help you handle stress when it comes at you: pineapple, turkey and almonds are known to promote calming serotonin; vitamin C-stacked blueberries help reduce anxiety; and the omega 3 in salmon helps stop stress hormones spiking when you’re tense. 

Magnesium and B vitamins are used to support a healthy response to pressure and adaptogen herbs like ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) are used in Ayurvedic medicine to counterbalance internal reactions to mental stress.