Cover of Burnout

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski

  • What is it? “Self-help for feminists”
  • Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🤷🏻‍♀️ (because sometimes the BFF tone was just too much)

Burnout explains the biology of stress and acknowledges the social pressures that lead to burnout. It says that just because a stressor is gone, doesn’t mean that the stress has been dealt with. Stress is a physical response, and therefore needs to be processed by the body. Sitting in front of a monitor, responding in Slack, and moving Trello cards around were not listed as ways to process stress. The authors recommend moving, sleep, and breathing (more tips below).

If you don’t have time to read the book, check out the Nagoski’s Brené Brown’s podcast episode (transcript) with the authors, Emily and Amelia Nagoski.

. . .

Book Notes

When you are cruel to yourself, contemptuous and shaming, you only increase the cruelty in the world; when you are kind and compassionate toward yourself, you increase the kindness and compassion in the world. Being compassionate toward yourself — not self-indulgent or self-pitying — is both the least you can do and the single most important thing you can do to make the world a better place.

from Burnout, p. 211

How Emotions Work

Emotions are real: they are neurological events, biological cycles that go through your whole body. 

Emotions are automatic and impact all of your systems. For example, high blood pressure, digestive issues, insomnia, etc.

Emotions have a beginning, middle and end. Think of them like a tunnel, you have to go all the way through them.

Stress & Stressors Are Different

“Exhaustion happens when we get stuck in an emotion.” 

We can get stuck because:

  • the same emotions get reactivated regularly (e.g. same stressful job), or 
  • because the feelings are difficult to get through (e.g., grief, despair, rage) or 
  • you weren’t able to fully feel them (e.g., it’s not socially acceptable to yell at your coworkers).

Dealing with the situation (or stressor) does not mean you have completed the emotional (stress) cycle.

  • Pros: You can de-stress yourself without fixing the situation that’s causing stress
  • Cons: You can fix the stress-inducing situation but still feel stressed

Types of reactions to stress: Fight – Flight – Freeze. They are all your brain trying to save you. One is not better than the other (try to let go of shame & judgement for your reactions).

What to do: Complete the Stress Cycle

with notes from the podcast

Completing the stress cycle means telling your body that the stressor is gone — that you are in a safe place. 

Your body doesn’t understand thoughts. You have to do a physical action with your body.

You probably have a lot of stress cycles to complete & won’t get rid of your stress all at once. Just do one of these activities & try to notice whether you feel a little better afterwards:

  1. Physical activity: Exercise, dancing, tensing muscles & then relaxing them
  2. Breathing: Even a minute and a half will help. Slow breath in & a long slow breath out (contract abdominal muscles).
  3. Positive social interaction: Can be simple, like a friendly exchange with a cashier
  4. Laughter: Genuine laughter. Even remembering laughter can help.
  5. 20-second hug: Both people should maintain center of gravity. Stay until you feel a shift.
  6. Crying: Let it go. Don’t feed into the crying. Do pay attention to the physical feeling of crying.
  7. Creative expression: Write, draw, etc.

Also: humans need to sleep.

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