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Burnout & Recovery from the Stress Cycle

Emily Nagoski

It’s no secret that our stress has gone through the roof in recent years. More and more women are reporting feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and burned out, and the external stressors we face are unlikely to change anytime soon.

Instead of asking us to ignore the very real obstacles and societal pressures that stand between women and well-being right now, we need to understand what we’re up against and learn how to fight back.

This episode of Women Amplified is a replay of a session from the 2021 California Conference for Women. We will explore the difference between stress and stressors and talk about practical, research-based steps to complete the stress response cycle and avoid or recover from burnout.

Emily Nagoski

EMILY NAGOSKI, PhD 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 and The Come As You Are Workbook, and co-author, with her sister Amelia, of Burnout: the secret to unlocking the stress cycle. She began her work as a sex educator at the University of Delaware, where volunteered as a peer sex educator while studying psychology with minors in cognitive science and philosophy. She went on to earn a MS in counseling and a Ph.D. in health behavior, both from Indiana University, with clinical and research training at the Kinsey Institute. Now she combines sex education and stress education to teach women to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies. @emilynagoski

Celeste Headlee

Celeste Headlee

Celeste Headlee is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving, Heard Mentality and We Need to Talk. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million total views to date. @CelesteHeadlee


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Transcript of Emily Nagoski’s Talk on Burnout in 2021

I am Emily Nagoski, I am the author, with my identical twin sister, Amelia of Burnout: The Secret To Unlocking The Stress Response Cycle, and I’m here to talk about burnout and unlocking the stress response cycle.

One of the mistakes people make when they hear the phrase stress response cycle is they think they need to break free of the cycle, or escape the cycle. And the first thing that I need you to know is that the stress response cycle is a biological process in your body that you are not required to escape, any more than you’re required to escape your digestion.

Human beings’ bodies are made up of a series of biological cycles. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Like digestion, right? It’s got a beginning, middle, and an end. And if you don’t get all the way to the end, some not so good things can happen. Our sleep is the same way. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. We’re not intended to stay asleep all the time, we’re intended to oscillate into sleep and back into action. We’re intended to oscillate into deep, emotional and social connection, and back into autonomy.

So wellness is not a state of mind, it is not a state of being. Wellness is a state of action. It is having the freedom to oscillate through the cycles of living in a mammalian body. So recognize that the stress response cycle is not about the world out there, it’s about the whole world that lives in here. That’s the first thing to know. So we’re going to talk about how burnout happens. Burnout happens when you get stuck in the middle of the stress response cycle. So we need to figure out exactly what the stress response cycle is.

Number one, it is the evolutionarily adaptive response to any kind of threat perceived by your brain. So this is anything that you see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or crucially think, believe, or imagine, that your brain codes as something that could potentially harm you. When your brain recognizes any of those things, it activates the stress response cycle. In the beginning, it is a rush of adrenaline, and cortisol, and glucocorticoids oh my, right? We know the physiology of this. It increases our heart rate, it increases the respiration rate. It moves blood away from the surface of your skin. Because if you’re about to get cut, you don’t want to bleed less.

It slows down your digestion. It’s slows down your immune system. It slows down your reproductive functioning. Every organ system in your body is impacted when you witness some sort of stressor, the thing that activates a stress response. Every system in your body is activated. And in the environment where this has evolved, those stressors usually had claws, and could run 30 miles an hour. And the thing that completes the stress response that’s been activated was the same behavior that dealt with the stressor itself.

In this case, if we imagine that we’re being chased by a lion, what do you do when you see a lion that’s chasing you? You run, right? So imagine that you run away from the lion, and you manage to escape. And you run all the way back to your village. And you tell the story about how you outran this lion, and other people high five you, and hug you. And you’re glad to be alive. And you feel so grateful for your friends and family. And the sun seems to shine brighter.

That is the complete stress response cycle, with the beginning of noticing the thing that activated the stress response cycle. The middle of some action that tells your body, you are moving away from danger, and the completion, the end where you do escape and survive.

It’s easy to believe that the cause of the end of the stress-response cycle is the removal of the stressor, but it is not. In our modern days we’re almost never chased by lions. Instead, our stressors are things like our family, money, the political world, I don’t know, a global pandemic, the earth frying itself to death, small things like that.

If we take a very small example of the kind of stressor or that we experience on a day to day basis, take our commute. Because we used to commute, and we will again one day commute. So you are taking public transportation, or you’re in your car, and people are being particularly a pain in the ass today. And so you’re sitting in your public transportation, and your shoulders are trying to become your earrings, and you’re getting more and more angry and frustrated. People are all in my way!

Why is it happening? Your chemistry is very, very similar to the chemistry that happens inside you when you are being chased by a lion. But what are you doing with your body while you’re sitting in traffic? This. You’re sitting totally still. And you make it home. You get to your home. And when you get to your home, after your difficult, pain in the patoot commute, when you finally get home and you walk in the front door, do you feel like you love your friends and family, and you’re grateful to be alive? Usually not, right? You’re still stressed out, and you take it out on whatever mammal you meet first at the door.

The difference here is that you have dealt with the stressor, the thing that your stress, the potential threat, but you did not deal with the stress itself. The process of dealing with your stressors in modern life is no longer the same as the process of dealing with the stress in your body. And we have to do both.

Burnout happens when we get stuck in the middle of the stress response cycle. While our stressors pile on, and we try to manage and deal with all of them, our stress stays stuck and we never complete it. Because we’re waiting for our stressors to be gone before we complete our stress response cycle. So this is bad news in a sense, because stressors these days tend to be what are known as chronic stressors, they last for a long time.

Parenthood lasts decades. Once you’re a parent, you’re never not a parent, no matter what stage or how long your child lives. Parenthood is permanent. Are you just going to stay permanently in a state of stress? Jobs. You want to work for decades, right? If your job is stressful, do you want to stay in a permanent state of stress until you retire? The goal is to learn how to manage the stress response cycle, complete that stress response cycle, so that you can return to a state of calmness and be well enough to deal with a stressor that is still going to be there for you tomorrow.

The nature of our stressors requires that we separate the process of dealing with those long-term stressors from the process of dealing with the stress itself. So in a way it’s really good news. Because it means even though our stressors are chronic, our stress doesn’t have to be.

So hopefully you’re asking yourself, okay, well Emily, so if I can complete the stress response cycle without eliminating the thing that caused the stress, what are some strategies for completing this stress response cycle? I’m going to tell you at least seven, but I want to spend one more minute explaining how important it is that you actually do that.

What is wrong with staying stuck in the middle of a stress response cycle? Well, let’s look at just the cardiovascular system. We know that when that adrenaline and cortisol hits your body, it increases your respiration rate, and your heart rate, and your blood pressure, right? Your blood vessels are designed to handle a sort of steady, flowing stream of blood. And when your blood pressure increases to deal with the increased heart rate and respiration rate, so that you can run when you’re stressed out, it increases your blood pressure, which results in damage to your blood vessels, which are designed for that steady flowing trickle.

But that’s okay. Because in the environment where we evolved, your stress only lasted 10 minutes, and then you would get to the end of the stress response cycle, your immune system would come back online, your blood pressure would go down, and your immune system would fix, it would repair any damage that was done to your blood vessels.

But when you stay in a chronically elevated level of stress, when you’re stuck in the middle of that stress response, your immune system is still suppressed, and more and more damage is being done to your blood vessels. And those locations of damage, those little tears in your blood vessels, are where plaques form and gradually, over a matter of years, result in heart disease. And that is how stress very literally causes heart disease.

Are you motivated? Do you want to talk about the digestive system? I do. Most people don’t, but just for a couple of minutes, let’s recognize that when you’re in the middle of that stress response, it speeds up gastric emptying, but it slows down bell functioning. And if you stay in that state of imbalance over the long term, irritable bowel syndrome caused by “stress.” Which, if you’re like my sister, Amelia, who was hospitalized twice for stress over the course of getting her doctorate, you’ll know that, you’ve been told by a doctor that it’s “Just stress,” that is building the foundations of heart disease, building the foundations irritable bowel syndrome.

I thought Amelia’s experience of being hospitalized for “stress” was rare and extreme. But since we have been traveling, talking to people about burnout, we have lost count of the number of people who told us that they have been hospitalized, who’ve had chronic pain, chronic illness, chronic infection, no particular diagnosis that anyone could decide on.

And now it turns out it was their chronically elevated stuckness in the middle of the stress response cycle. Are you motivated? Do you feel like it’s important to complete the stress response cycle, separate from the process of dealing with your stressors? Okay, good. Let’s talk about evidence-based strategies for completing the stress response cycle. Woo!

Strategy number one, when you’re being chased by a lion, Savannah of Africa where we evolved, what do you do? Being chased by a lion? You run, right? The single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle is physical activity. And it doesn’t have to be running, your body isn’t that specific. It can be going for a walk, it can be just when you get out of your car after you commute, you jump up and down, you shake your body real hard, you huff a big sigh and you go, ugh!

And that little bit of physical activity tells your body that you have arrived to a place of safety. Your body is now a safe place for you to be. Number one most efficient strategy, physical activity. Whether it’s going to the gym, dancing it out to Beyonce in your living room, or even just lying down and doing a progressive muscle relaxation where you tense every muscle in your body, hold, hold, hold until your muscles are shaking, and you really want to stop but you keep on to going, and then eventually you just let it all out.

Now physical activity, first of all, is not efficient and effective for everybody, that includes Amelia. I’m a natural exerciser. When I was stressed out any time when I was in grad school, I knew I could get on my bike, or go for a run, and in half an hour or 40 minutes something would click inside me, and I would feel connected with the sky, and the pavement, and the sun. And I would leave all of my stress behind me on that run or that bike ride.

Amelia has never had that experience in her life, and she thought I was making it up. So those of you who are natural exercises will think of this and be like, yes, yes. This is why physical activity is so important to me. Those of you who are not natural exercisers, or who for whatever other reasons, there are barriers between you and physical activity, which is very real. Maybe you don’t live in a place where you have easy access to a safe place to work out. Maybe you’re trans, and just going into the locker room at your gym is literally putting yourself in danger, and it becomes a stressor rather than a place to complete your stress response cycle.

There are lots of reasons why physical activity, it’s not available to everyone. So thank goodness there are so many more effective strategies. Speaking of living in a mammalian strategy number two is getting some sleep. Now, I know. You’re like, Emily, what a revelation this talk has been so far. You’re telling me I should exercise and get sleep, because those things are good for me. I never knew! Thank you so much for doing this.

I know. And I do have a whole hour-long talk on sleep, which I’m going to try to avoid giving you right now. Because the most important thing is not that you didn’t know that sleep is important, it’s that you can’t get the sleep. So let’s talk about the barrier that stands between us and the strategies that deal with the stress response cycle.

Possibly the number one most controllable factor that influences our access to sleep is something that Amelia and I call Human Giver Syndrome. This is a term we took from Kate Manne’s book, Down Girl, The Logic Of Misogyny. She is a moral philosopher who posits a world, and this is just like the cartoon, black-and-white, line sketch version of it. But imagine a world where there are two kinds of humans. There are human beings who have a moral obligation to be their full humanity, right? It’s right there in the name.

To be as competitive, acquisitive, and entitled as it takes to maximize their full humanity. Right? And then there’s another kind of humans, there are the human givers. Who have a moral obligation, right? It’s right there in the name, moral obligation to give their full human humanity, their time, their attention, their patience, their smiles, their love, their support, their bodies, their hopes and dreams, sometimes their very lives sacrificed on the altar of other people’s comfort and convenience.

So in this black-and-white sketch of cultural dynamics, which one do you suppose are the women? Which could it be? Now, of course, it is just a cartoon sketch to say that women are the givers and men are the beings. What I mean by that is just that when you’re born with a body, the adults around you look at your genitals and declare, it’s a boy. You’re given the human being script of how to use your body.

And when you’re born in an it’s-a-girl kind of body, you’re given the human giver script. Of course, not everybody grows up to live based on that script. And boy, does it get complicated in the details here. Gender is woe, right? And Amelia and I both are married to cis-het dudes who are natural human givers. Both of them would sacrifice everything they have in support of us. And the dynamic between us, our spouses and ourselves, is really different from the dynamic between a human being and a human giver, give where the human being feels entitled to take whatever the human giver gives. And the more the giver gives, the more entitled the human being feels like they are to take whatever else they want.

Does that make sense, that difference? So my husband has spent literally his entire day helping me to make this video because he does not feel entitled to just take anything he wants. He feels like he has a moral obligation to show up for me. And I feel like I have a moral obligation to show up for him, too. We are fellow givers, noticing each other’s expenditure of energy, and time, and affection and support, and feeling like we want to give in return.

That is the good way it happens when it’s just human givers exchanging energy. The toxic thing that happens, Human Givers Syndrome as Amelia and I call it, is when you just go full gendered script, the it’s-a-girl body users manual, which dictates that you have a moral obligation to be, here’s the list, you ready? Pretty, happy yet calm, generous, and at all times attentive to the needs of others.

We started talking about this in the context of sleep. If you have a moral obligation to be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others, what does that make sleep? I have lost count of the number of women who told me they feel guilty for sleeping. The youngest was 18 years old. But if I sleep that much, seven to nine hours a night, which is how much we’re supposed to sleep biologically. And sleep is a biological drive, you will literally die without it. If I sleep that much, it’s selfish. I’m only helping myself. 18 years old.

When Amelia and I looked into the research we found this wonderful phrase, you’re probably already familiar with the second shift. The first shift is the make the money, paycheck job. The second shift is the, everything it takes to manage a household and a family work. And then there’s what the researchers call the third shift. Those eight hours a night when everybody’s supposed to be sleeping. But some people are sleeping more than others, right?

Some people are expected to sacrifice their sleep on the altar of other people’s comfort and convenience. If someone is sick in the night, who’s expected to get up in the middle of the night? In a heterosexual relationship, it’s the woman who’s expected to even past the inevitable insomnia-fest that is the first couple of years of a new child’s life.

There is a discrepancy between who is allowed to sleep because of this phenomenon of Human Giver Syndrome. So I want you to get physical activity. I want you to get lots of sleep. How is that going to work if, when you get home from your job, or when your partner gets home from their job, and the expectation is that you’re going to spend all the rest of that time caring for everyone else in the house, how are you supposed to get the sleep?

What you need, the cure for Human Giver Syndrome at the smallest scale, is what Amelia and I call The Bubble of Love. The Bubble of Love is a social protective nook, where you are not expected to sacrifice yourself on the altar of other people’s comfort and convenience. In a bubble of love, if you get home from a long, difficult day, or someone else gets home and you’ve had a long, difficult day at home, they notice that you are exhausted and overwhelmed.

And they say, alrighty, so you’re going to go take a shower. You’re going to take a nap. I will make the dinner. You will come down and eat. We will sit at the table and talk about our feelings. Which, it turns out, is super good for us. Which, it took Amelia and me reading a whole lot of science to believe because we did not get raised in the kind of household where talking about your feelings was the kind of thing that you did. But it turns out the science says it’s really good for you.

So that is a Bubble of Love. A pocket where you are not required to follow the how-to users manual of an it’s-a-girl body that says you have a moral obligation to be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others. Other people notice you, and they are your fellow givers. And they feel as motivated to care for you, as you feel to care for them.

They help you to build a protective pocket of time for your sleep because they recognize that your sleep is absolutely essential to your wellbeing. They know that it is the place that you can go to complete the stress response cycle. So all the stuff that happened during the day will wash itself out over the course of a night’s sleep. I hope that makes sense.

So strategy number two for completing the stress response cycle, the first one was physical activity, the second one is sleep. And if there are barriers between you and sleep, the biggest, most controllable barrier is Human Giver Syndrome. And the solution to Human Giver Syndrome is the Bubble of Love. Where the people around you care as much for your wellbeing, as you care for theirs.

Strategy number three for completing the stress response cycle, connection. And connection shows up in so many different ways in our lives. First of all, connection like sleep is a biological drive. If we are designed to connect with other people, we are not complete without connection in the same way that we are not complete without sleep. But in the same way, we are not designed to stay asleep all day. We’re not designed to stay connected all day. We’re designed to oscillate into activity and into rest.

We’re designed to oscillate into sleep and back to activity, right? We’re designed to oscillate into connection and back into autonomy, then back into connection, then back into autonomy. There’s a lot of individual differences in what connection should feel like in your life. If you’re an introvert, you need less time with people, and more time in autonomy. If you’re an extrovert, you need more time with people and less time in autonomy. People just vary from each other and there’s no moral judgment to it. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just finding what’s right for you in the same that it’s finding the right number of hours of sleep for you, no moral right or wrong. Finding the kind or quantity of physical activity that’s worth it, that works for you. There is no moral right or wrong.

For some people connection is going to be really nourishing as lightweight, superficial social connection. Like your barista makes your soy latte, as they’re checking you out, you say, hey, I really like your earrings. And they say, hey, thanks. Have a good day. And that social connection, that just polite social engagement, is the first sign that your brain looks for that the world is a safe place for you to be.

For some people it’s going to show up as a much more intensive kind of connection. The relationship researcher, John Gottman recommends the six-second hug. It’s enough to be a significant moment, but not enough to make the kids late for school, is the way he puts it. So six seconds, that’s a potentially awkwardly long time to kiss somebody, right? You’ve got to really like and trust them. And that’s the point. It’s not about the six seconds, it’s about staying close with someone long enough for your body to recognize, ah, yes, I have someone in my life with whom I can be this intimate, this close, for this long.

And you’ll feel a shift in your body, a loosening, a relaxing, a softening as your body recognizes, I have come to a safe place now. That’s the end of the stress response cycle. Another version of that is the 20-second hug. Again, it’s not about the 20 seconds, it’s about the time that you spend. You both hold your own center of gravity, you put your arms around each other, and you breathe together for a significant moment.

20 seconds is a potentially awkwardly long time to hold somebody, right? You got to really like and trust them. And that is the point. You hold each other until you feel your body go, oh right, I have a person in my life with whom I feel safe enough to be this close. I have returned to a safe place. That’s the stress response cycle completing. If you are a person who doesn’t have a person in your life that you can have that kind of intimacy, or if you’re just someone for whom human interaction is not the thing for you, the science is exploding with research that shows the way we can get this with animals, from connection with landscapes. From me it’s the beach, for some people it’s the mountains. For some people it’s the desert. What landscape is it that, when you walk through it, your body goes, all right, I have come home. I am in a safe place now.

And it can be through connection with the divine. A lot of people experience God as being held within a safe and loving family. Neurologically it’s the same thing as being held by a safe and loving friend or partner. Connection comes in so many different flavors. This is all chapter one. If you want to get deep into this stuff. So I grew up, I was raised as a teacher. And one of the things I learned as a teacher is the best way to remember a thing is spaced repetition. So what was the first strategy for completing the stress response cycle? It was physical activity. The second one was sleep. And we talked about the barriers to sleep, primarily Human Giver Syndrome. The solution to Human Giver Syndrome, which is feeling like you have a moral obligation to be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others.

The solution to that is the Bubble of Love. Creating a pocket of humans in your life who feel is obliged to care for you as you do for them so that your access to sleep is protected. Same goes for connection. Returning to the Bubble of Love is one of the great ways to get connection. That’s number three.

Strategy number four, completing the stress response cycle, a big old cry. I know there are people who say that crying doesn’t solve anything. It is true that there are very few times when crime will actually solve the stressor, but there are a lot of times when crying will complete the stress response cycle, which will allow you to be well enough to deal with whatever it was that caused the crying.

There’s a little bit of a trick to it, though. When you get to a point where you’re about to explode, and you just have to lock yourself into your office or lock yourself into your car, or lock yourself into the room or the bathroom, and there’s tiny little toddler fingers coming under the door, “Mommy, can I…” You know what I mean. You get to the point where you just have to explode.

What you do is you get to a place where you feel like you can safely cry. And instead of feeding your brain more thoughts about whatever he did, or she said, or they want, you just pay attention to what’s happening in your body. You notice the way your breath is shuddering. You notice the heat of your face. You notice all the fluids that are dripping down your face. You notice what the sensations are in your body. You allow the crying to move through you. And in five minutes, it will end on its own.

You don’t continue thinking about the stuff. Because continuing to think about the stressors that activated the stress in the first place is like continuing to eat the food that gave you food poisoning while you’re sitting on the toilet. Amelia doesn’t love it when I use the digestive analogies, but I find them very memorable. Are you going to remember now?

So a big old cry. And a trick to crying is to make sure you just notice what’s happening and you don’t keep feeding it the toxic thoughts. And yeah, it is true that your stressors are still going to be there when you get done crying. But you will feel so much better that you’ll be able to cope with them much more effectively than if you hadn’t granted yourself permission to take that time to cry. And if it doesn’t stop in just five or 10 minutes, that is a sign that you need more help. It is not a sign that you are weak. It is not a sign that you are too overwhelmed to be able to tolerate whatever’s happening, it means that you need more help.

This is one of the key take ways. If you remember nothing else from this talk, remember this. When you feel like you need more grit, what you need is more help. When you feel like you need more discipline, what you need is more kindness. And when you look at someone else and feel like they need more grit, what they need is more help. And when you look at someone else and think they need more discipline, what they need is more kindness.

So if you find that you cannot stop crying, though it is an excellent strategy for completing the stress response cycle, that is the time to reach out for help.

Strategy number, physical activity, sleep, connection, a big old cry, a big old laugh. Not the sort of superficial, social, that’s so funny kind of feeling laughter, it’s belly laughter. Slightly embarrassing, helpless laughter. If it can be with other people, so much the better. If it’s just by yourself, that’s great too. If it is just talking to someone with whom you shared that belly laugh, that also can be effective.

Spaced repetition. One, physical activity. Two, sleep. The barrier to accessing sleep is usually Human Giver Syndrome. The cure of Human Giver Syndrome is the Bubble of Love. Three, connection. Four, a big old cry, five, a big old laugh. Six, creative self expression. And seven, imagination. I left this one to last because it’s the one that finally worked for Amelia.

Our motivation for writing the book came from the moment when she was host hospitalized for chronic undiagnosable abdominal pain. Her white blood cell count was through the roof. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone to the hospital to see your identical twin sister crying in a hospital johnny, saying that she doesn’t know what’s wrong, but she feels like her body wants her dead. And you’re a professional health educator, and your job is to help people with situations like this. But I have.

I started giving her all kinds of peer-reviewed science, and then really practical books about what to do about all the stuff that was happening in her body. And the thing that finally fixed it for her, the thing that granted her access to completing the stress response cycles that were building up in her body. And let me pause and say, the reason those stress response cycles were up in her body is because she was completing a degree program where she remains the only woman who has completed that doctoral program. That is how toxic classical music remains. And it put her in the hospital twice.

So what did it for her, finally, was a combination of physical activity, which has never done it for her. She exercised five times a week because she is a good girl who does what she is told, and everybody said exercise is good for her so she did it. But then she added imagination. What she did was imagine herself, she was on the elliptical machine, and she imagined herself as Godzilla stomping on the bursar’s office, and the parking lot, and her advisor’s office. Destroying everything while she moved her body, giving herself a motivation and her imagination.

Your brain really doesn’t know much of a difference between actually doing something and vividly imagining doing it. And you don’t even have to use physical activity in combination, you can just lie in bed and viscerally imagine yourself destroying whatever it is that has activated your stress response. And your brain will find its way to the end on its own. It usually only takes a few minutes if you allow yourself, as you’re imagining it your muscles get tighter, and your breathing changes, and you feel the shift in your chemistry, it will go through the process. It will complete the stress response cycle on its own.

And remember, the stress response cycle is not the enemy. It is a natural part of being alive, just like going into connection, and back to autonomy, and back to connection is part of being alive. Going to sleep, and waking up and working in your life, and caring for people, and then going back to sleep, and then waking up and doing things is a natural cycle.

The stress response cycle is just built in. The stress itself is not the problem, it is getting stuck that is the problem. We don’t need to break free from the stress response cycle. We need to unlock it. We need to learn how to complete the stress response cycle, even when our stressors are still there. So that we can be well enough to continue fighting against the stressors that are there, day after day. White supremacy, the patriarchy, rapidly exploitative late capitalism, these things are not going to end soon enough for our bodies to be able to recover from it. We have to turn toward our own bodies’ needs with kindness and compassion.

And there’s one more trick I want to give you. In the process of doing the research for this book, what Amelia and I found is that the cure for burnout is not self care. It can’t be. When you’re burnout, you’re stuck. You’re in the middle of your stress. It has to be the cure for burnout is all of us caring for each other. Noticing you each other’s difficult feelings and turning toward them with kindness and compassion. That’s what we wrote our book about, it is how we wrote it. And it’s how we have been surviving together through the pandemic.

Amelia is now a COVID long-hauler. She’s been sick for eight months. And if we didn’t know that the whole point of this being alive thing is to turn toward each other with kindness and compassion, to be there for each other in times of need, it might be easy to feel frustrated, and drained, and like we don’t have enough. Like, here I am doing this talk all by myself, I need Amelia, but Amelia is a COVID long-hauler. The cure for burnout is not self-care. It’s all of us caring for each other.

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