Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

by Emily Nagoski PhD, Amelia Nagoski DMA


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This groundbreaking book explains why women experience burnout differently than men—and provides a simple, science-based plan to help women minimize stress, manage emotions, and live a more joyful life.

“Essential reading.”—Bustle

Burnout. Many women in America have experienced it. What’s expected of women and what it’s really like to be a woman in today’s world are two very different things—and women exhaust themselves trying to close the gap between them. How can you “love your body” when every magazine cover has ten diet tips for becoming “your best self”? How do you “lean in” at work when you’re already operating at 110 percent and aren’t recognized for it? How can you live happily and healthily in a sexist world that is constantly telling you you’re too fat, too needy, too noisy, and too selfish?

Sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, are here to help end the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Instead of asking us to ignore the very real obstacles and societal pressures that stand between women and well-being, they explain with compassion and optimism what we’re up against—and show us how to fight back. In these pages you’ll learn

• what you can do to complete the biological stress cycle—and return your body to a state of relaxation
• how to manage the “monitor” in your brain that regulates the emotion of frustration
• how the Bikini Industrial Complex makes it difficult for women to love their bodies—and how to defend yourself against it
• why rest, human connection, and befriending your inner critic are keys to recovering and preventing burnout

With the help of eye-opening science, prescriptive advice, and helpful worksheets and exercises, all women will find something transformative in these pages—and will be empowered to create positive change. Emily and Amelia aren’t here to preach the broad platitudes of expensive self-care or insist that we strive for the impossible goal of “having it all.” Instead, they tell us that we are enough, just as we are—and that wellness, true wellness, is within our reach.

Praise for Burnout

Burnout is the gold standard of self-help books, delivering cutting-edge science with energy, empathy, and wit. The authors know exactly what’s going on inside your frazzled brain and body, and exactly what you can do to fix it. . . . Truly life-changing.”—Sarah Knight, New York Times bestselling author of Calm the F*ck Down

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984817068
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/26/2019
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 19,796
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Emily Nagoski is the award-winning author of the New York Times bestseller Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. She has a MS in counseling and a PhD in health behavior, both from Indiana University.

Amelia Nagoski holds a conductor with a DMA in conducting from the University of Connecticut. An assistant professor and coordinator of music at Western New England University, she regularly presents educational sessions discussing the application of communications science and psychological research for audiences of other professional musicians, including “Beyond Burnout Prevention: Embodied Wellness for Conductors.”

Read an Excerpt

This is a book for any woman who has felt overwhelmed and exhausted by everything she had to do, and yet still worried she was not doing “enough.” Which is every woman we know—including us.

You’ve heard the usual advice over and over: exercise, green smoothies, self-compassion, coloring books, mindfulness, bubble baths, gratitude. . . . You’ve probably tried a lot of it. So have we. And sometimes it helps, at least for a while. But then the kids are struggling in school or our partner needs support through a difficulty or a new work project lands in our laps, and we think, I’ll do the self-care thing as soon as I finish this.

The problem is not that women don’t try. On the contrary, we’re trying all the time, to do and be all the things everyone demands from us. And we will try anything—any green smoothie, any deep-breathing exercise, any coloring book or bath bomb, any retreat or vacation we can shoehorn into our schedules—to be what our work and our family and our world demand. We try to put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others. And then along comes another struggling kid or terrible boss or difficult semester.

The problem is not that we aren’t trying. The problem isn’t even that we don’t know how. The problem is the world has turned “wellness” into yet another goal everyone “should” strive for, but only people with time and money and nannies and yachts and Oprah’s phone number can actually achieve.

So this book is different from anything else you’ll read about burnout. We’ll figure out what wellness can look like in your actual real life, and we’ll confront the barriers that stand between you and your own well-being. We’ll put those barriers in context, like landmarks on a map, so we can find paths around and over and through them—or sometimes just blow them to smithereens.

With science.

Who We Are and Why We Wrote Burnout

Emily is a health educator with a PhD and a New York Times bestselling book, Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. When she was traveling all over talking about that book, readers kept telling her the most life-changing information in the book wasn’t the sex science; it was those sections about stress and emotion processing.

When she told her identical twin sister, Amelia, a choral conductor, Amelia blinked like that was obvious. “Of course. Nobody teaches us how to feel our feelings. Hell, I was taught. Any conservatory-trained musician learns to feel feelings singing on stages or standing on podiums. But that didn’t mean I knew how to do it in the real world. And when I finally learned, it probably saved my life,” she said.

“Twice,” she added.

And Emily, recalling how it felt to watch her sister crying in a hospital gown, said, “We should write a book about that.”

Amelia agreed, saying, “A book about that would’ve made my life a lot better.”

This is that book.

It turned into a lot more than a book about stress. Above all, it became a book about connection. We humans are not built to do big things alone, we are built to work together. That’s what we wrote about, and it’s how we wrote it.


When we told women we were writing a book called Burnout, nobody ever asked, “What’s burnout?” (Mostly what they said was, “Is it out yet? Can I read it?”) We all have an intuitive sense of what “burnout” is; we know how it feels in our bodies and how our emotions crumble in the grip of it. But when it was first coined as a technical term by Herbert Freudenberger in 1975, “burnout” was defined by three components:

1. emotional exhaustion—the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long;

2. depersonalization—the depletion of empathy, car- ing, and compassion; and

3. decreased sense of accomplishment—an unconquerable sense of futility: feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.

And here’s an understatement: Burnout is highly prevalent. Twenty to thirty percent of teachers in America have moderately high to high levels of burnout. Similar rates are found among university professors and international humanitarian aid workers. Among medical professionals, burnout can be as high as 52 percent. Nearly all the research on burnout is on professional burnout—specifically “people who help people,” like teachers and nurses—but a growing area of research is “parental burnout.”

In the forty years since the original formulation, research has found it’s the first element in burnout, emotional exhaustion, that’s most strongly linked to negative impacts on our health, relationships, and work—especially for women.

So what exactly is an “emotion,” and how do you exhaust it?

Emotions, at their most basic level, involve the release of neurochemicals in the brain, in response to some stimulus. You see the person you have a crush on across the room, your brain releases a bunch of chemicals, and that triggers a cascade of physiological changes—your heart beats faster, your hormones shift, and your stomach utters. You take a deep breath and sigh. Your facial expression changes; maybe you blush; even the timbre of your voice becomes warmer. Your thoughts shift to memories of the crush and fantasies about the future, and you suddenly feel an urge to cross the room and say hi. Just about every system in your body responds to the chemical and electrical cascade activated by the sight of the person.

That’s emotion. It’s automatic and instantaneous. It happens everywhere, and it affects everything. And it’s happening all the time—we feel many different emotions simultaneously, even in response to one stimulus. You may feel an urge to approach your crush, but also, simultaneously, feel an urge to turn away and pretend you didn’t notice them.

Left to their own devices, emotions—these instantaneous, whole-body reactions to some stimulus—will end on their own. Your attention shifts from your crush to some other topic, and the flush of infatuation eases, until that certain special someone crosses your mind or your path once more. The same goes for the jolt of pain you feel when someone is cruel to you or the ash of disgust when you smell something unpleasant. They just end.

In short, emotions are tunnels. If you go all the way through them, you get to the light at the end.

Exhaustion happens when we get stuck in an emotion.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Part I What You Take With You

1 Complete The Cycle 3

2 #Persist 29

3 Meaning 54

Part II The Real Enemy

4 The Game Is Rigged 77

5 The Bikini Industrial Complex 103

Part III Wax On, Wax Off

6 Connect 131

7 What Makes You Stronger 154

8 Grow Mighty 188

Conclusion: Joyfully Ever After 213

Acknowledgments 217

Notes 219

References 233

Index 261

About The Authors 275

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Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous 8 months ago
I tried to get into this book, but I found it a bit too much. I couldn't find any clear and effective solutions. Since I have experienced a great deal of burnout in my career as a teacher, I was hoping for some easily accessible help. This book simply didn't offer what I needed. I don't think that makes it bad; just not for me. DNF'd around 20%. *Special thanks to NetGalley for proving me with an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Amy2020 9 months ago
I found this book to be very relatable and applicable. I highly recommend for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by life's daily stressors.
SevenAcreBooks 10 months ago
If you are the type of person who enjoys sitting around with your best friends, having a coffee or cup of tea, and getting into a deep and emotional conversation, this book will be a perfect fit for you. The further I got into this book, the more it felt like I was right there with the authors and their best friends. It’s an incredibly accessible look at how women, and men but the book focuses on women, get caught up in a cycle of trying to meet everyone’s needs, be everything to everyone, and then got lost to the burnout that follows. Twin sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski combine real life stories from their own friends and statistics to provide a path to completing the stress cycle that affects so many women. At the end of each chapter, there is a “tl;dr” list-that wonderful abbreviation for “too long, didn’t read”. In this section, the authors provide a short list of key facts and questions to help summarize the chapter-as someone who doesn’t read as much nonfiction as she should, I found this very helpful. I found this book to be very helpful and insightful. There are so many layers to our stress-and how we deal with it-that we don’t necessarily think about or know what to do with. The authors provide practical tips on how to cope with stress, how to set limits for yourself, and how in creating boundaries and limits with others we can improve our relationships with those that stress us out. As a person who deals with chronic pain, when the authors discuss the connection between chronic illness and chronic stress, it was like, Yes! You get it! Thank you! Guess what else contributes to burnout in women-the patriarchy. Not surprised? I wasn’t either. I found myself nodding along as the authors discussed how the constant stress of worrying about sexual violence, body image, gaslighting and work success is ingrained in women from the day of their birth. I initially thought that this section was just preaching to the choir-but I do think there are a lot of women out there who may not realize how deeply established these ideas were in their own upbringing and that it is ok to draw boundaries, especially to preserve your own health and happiness. Now, this book will not eliminate all the stress in your life. Life is stressful. What this book will do is help with completing that stress cycle and to find that balance that we all seem to be seeking. Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. All opinions are my own.
marongm8 10 months ago
I was looking forward to reading this book due to the abundant amount of requests we get for books that help the mind and reduce stress. Dr. Emilt Nagoski constructed the book in an easy layout for the reader to follow and has shared some interesting techniques that I know will help some people. The book was very informative and detailed but not too detailed to the point where it runs on and I know from books similar to burnout that was a huge turn off for our patrons that are interested in these books. An insightful book with interesting ideas that are sure to help reduce stress. We will consider adding this title to our stress relief display in our Non-Fiction section at our library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.