Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Surge Capacity v Resilience Reserves

Overachievers might find themselves hitting a wall of unproductivity at this point in the pandemic.  We have been utilizing what University of Minnesota Professor Ann Masten calls surge capacity, “a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.”  By now, we have depleted our surge capacity.

Professor Emeritus Pauline Boss says that the ongoing and chronically stressful pandemic is causing us to endure ambiguous loss because it is a problem with no immediate solution.  We have lost freedom of movement; rituals like the gym, school, and church; and high-quality social interactions like family celebrations.  In short, we have lost our way of life.  Others have suffered the heartbreak of losing loved ones and jobs. 

Many of us deal with our losses with either with anger or burnout.  This once in a lifetime event requires a different set of resilience skills:

  1. Radical Acceptance: accept that the situation is bad, but rather than self-torment, free mental energy for something constructive;
  2. Expect Less of Yourself: take on less, lower your standards, and spend more time replenishing your energy;
  3. Help Others: because it is something that you can control; and
  4. Develop a Resilience Bank Account.

Dr. Michael Maddaus, Department of Surgery at the University of Minnesota, writes about the 3 domains of burnout: the cumulative stress from work and personal lives; significant external events; and our personal inventory of genetics, family psychological input, and professional training.  He coined the term Resilience Bank Account, which means committing to several practices that help us build the resilience reserves necessary to cope with long-term events like the pandemic.  He advises adding one or two new practices: adequate sleep, exercise, meditation and mindfulness, gratitude, self-compassion, and connection to others.

Takeaway: Overachievers should expect less of themselves right now and restore depleted energy reserves.


Tara Haelle , Your ‘Surge Capacity’ is Depleted – It’s Why you Feel Awful, Elemental Medium, Aug 16, 2020,

Michael Maddaus, MD, The Resilience Bank Account: Skills for Optimal Performance, The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, 109 Ann Thorac Surg 18-25, Sept 10, 2019,

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