10 Ways to Fight Burnout and the Patriarchy at the Same Time

If you’ve ever worried you’re not doing enough while yet feeling stretched way too thin all at the same time, you are a human. If you’ve ever felt those contradictory symptoms of burnout and also felt forbidden to acknowledge it, you’re probably a woman. What makes Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle such a standout is the way the authors clearly identify the underlying cause of burnout. Our capitalist, patriarchal society is hard on everyone, especially women who are expected to give, give, give, never asking for a break or acknowledgement, all while wearing a smile and remaining calm in the face of impossible standards. (Just typing that sentence was dispiriting and exhausting!) The issue is worse for women of color and other minorities who live with a whole other set of impossible expectations and rules, along with being judged as women. The good news is that when we fight burnout, we fight the patriarchy. It goes beyond the idea that self care is radical and revolutionary. It’s a mindset shift that changes the way we see ourselves and the world. And perhaps one day it will change the way the world sees us. Below are 10 ways to get started.

  1. Resist the message that women need to “be nice, be strong, be polite” all the time and never have any feelings, by finding healthy ways to process your feelings. Exercise is the fastest way. (Picture yourself smashing the patriarchy for maximum effect.) Meditation, talking with friends, laughing, and cuddling with someone you trust also work. There’s power in being able to move fluidly between feeling unsafe or stressed, and then feeling calm again.
  2. Plan ahead. Anticipate problems, write lists, schedule, budget, anticipate, and execute. (You’re probably already doing this.) Now use those skills to manage the stress that comes from living with overwhelming and unrealistic expectations. Actually schedule time to process your feelings. (Go do it now!) It will help you be strong enough to keep going.
  3. Reframe challenges as being moments when you might grow and learn. It can help both in the moment and looking back. The idea is to redefine success on your own terms. Don’t let the man tell you whether you’re winning or not. Depending on your circumstances, this might be easier said than done. But the science says it truly works.
  4. Know you’re doing a hard thing makes it easier to keep going. It’s hard if everyone keeps telling you it’s no big deal. So at least give yourself the gift of acknowledging the rules are mindbendingly contradictory and expectations are impossibly high.
  5. Set specific, personal goals that are measurable, in your control, enjoyable, and you can achieve quickly. It helps you remember your own definition of success and ignore the expectations that can never be met.
  6. Recognize the moment when you swing between feeling like your goals are unattainable and being frustrated by the system. Then name it. The Nagoski sisters call it “foop.” It’s a silly word for those tricky thoughts like “I’m sure I can save this relationship, I just need to try harder. But no, it’s hopeless, they’ll never change, I’m not good enough at feelings to help them be a better person, but ugh, it’s not my job to change them! But ugh, I should change me!” (Can the Nagoskis see inside our heads???)
  7. Make the struggle meaningful by connecting it to something larger, whether that’s your legacy, spiritual calling, or connection to others. Finding your purpose or whatever it is that makes you feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing is energizing and empowering. At the very least, it can be sustaining in the face of oppression.
  8. Fight helplessness by doing something—whatever you can. Scream. Walk. Dance. Turn your pain into art. Organize your bookshelves. Just prove to yourself that you are competent and capable.
  9. Reject the billion-dollar industry that constantly encourages us to diet in order to shrink ourselves, and to otherwise doubt our bodies. Just don’t. You are beautiful. Right. This. Very. Second.
  10. Connect with people who get you and the issues you face. That might mean a very loving husband, a true friend, or the Nagoski sisters. Their book is a welcoming place after a long day, and reading it feels like the perfect antidote to burnout and centuries of accumulated injustice.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle is on B&N bookshelves now.

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