The only reason I picked up this book is because I went to the bookstore to pick up a different book by the same author called Come As You Are (a truly outstanding, mind-blowing exploration of female sexuality and the female orgasm. #yesplease). While I was there, though, I saw that Emily Nagoski (and her twin sister, Amelia) just released a new book called Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Whaaaat?! A book on how to calm the eff down? Sold!
I read Burnout in two days, and holy smokes wow, what a game changer. Probably the most important thing I learned about was completing the stress cycle—how even if you eliminate your stress trigger (e.g., your kids aren’t yelling at you anymore because you are letting them watch a movie), you still have to deal with the stress that’s floating around in your body. It literally, physically needs someplace to go. You have to workout, cry, laugh, breathe deeply, or create. Whatever it is, that pent up energy has to move through and OUT of you for you to actually feel calm again. And if you don’t allow yourself to complete the stress cycle, you basically just walk around all day every day with that constant frantic hum of electricity buzzing through your body. We’ve all been there, and it’s maddening.
Though the advice above is applicable to both women AND men, be warned that the Nagoski twins spend a lot of time talking about “The Patriarchy (ugh).” They argue (and use scientific studies to prove) that women have become conditioned to ignore cues from their bodies; push themselves too hard to serve everyone but themselves; hate themselves for not being docile, emotion-less helpmates; and then accept blame when the world tells them they’re crazy for not being able to meet every impossible demand made of them. This section is hard-hitting but incredibly freeing, I’ve got to say. Men might have a different take on it, though…
White men grow on an open, level field. White women grow on far steeper and rougher terrain because the field wasn’t made for them. Women of color grow not just on a hill, but on a cliffside over the ocean, battered by wind and waves. None of us chooses the landscape in which we’re planted. If you find yourself on an ocean-battered cliff, your only choice is to grow there, or fall into the ocean. So if we transplant a survivor of the steep hill and cliff to the level field, natives of the field may look at that survivor and wonder why she has so much trouble trusting people, systems, and even her own bodily sensations. Why is this tree so bent and gnarled?Emily & Amelia Nagoski, Burnout
It’s because that is what it took to survive in the place where she grew. A tree that’s fought wind and gravity and erosion to grow strong and green on a steep cliff is going to look strange and out of place when moved to the level playing field. The gnarled, wind-blown tree from an oceanside cliff might not conform with our ideas of what a tree should look like, but it works well in the context where it grew. And that tall straight tree wouldn’t stand a chance if it was transplanted to the cliffside.
The last and most practical section is all about how to change this stress mess we’re now in. I won’t mention all of their suggestions, but some of my favorites are:
- Sleep 8 to 9 hours at night AND make time to rest during the day.
- Connect with people who get you. (The small section here on gaslighting was so eye-opening for me.)
- Acknowledge and accept the “madwoman in the attic” who constantly tells you that you aren’t measuring up. Find a way to become her friend.
- Show yourself some compassion, even when (especially when) the healing hurts.
Most of us have spent our whole lives being taught to believe everyone else’s opinions about our bodies, rather than to believe what our own bodies are trying to tell us. For some of us, it’s been so long since we listened to our bodies, we hardly know how to start understanding what they’re trying to tell us, much less how to trust and believe what they’re saying. To make matters worse, the more exhausted we are, the noisier the signal is, and the harder it is to hear the message.Emily & Amelia Nagoski, Burnout
In short, I loved Burnout. It was the perfect book to read at this particular moment in my life—a breath of fresh air that helped me, well, breathe. I’m recommending it to every woman I know (and even a couple men…).