Burnout: The secret to solving the stress cycle

Burnout - Emily Nagoski, Amelia Nagoski

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Not exactly an eye-opener, since I was already considering a lot of the stressors and consequences it lists as, well, logical—but in that regard, it was also good to see that “ah, so it’s not just me seeing weird things where there isn’t anything.” The concepts of Human Giver vs. Human Being especially make a lot of sense when you think about how society tends to view, and divide, and force a lot of things on women. (Not that men don’t have stressors and burnout either, but the book is labelled as being about women, not as a more generic book about burnout; and I doubt that being seen as “human givers” is the main cause for men anyway.)

“Human giver” has to be understood here as a person whose existence is seen as being devoted to others, and only others—and if they dare listen to themselves and take care of themselves for a change, shame on them, how dare they! I’m sure that if we take the time to think about it, a lot of us will have to acknowledge that it’s true (and is not only limited to obvious forms of giving such as volunteering etc.). I can clearly sense the discrepancy myself when I mention that I don’t want children and don’t want to devote my life to them, for instance: at some point I can cross out the “you’re so / what’s wrong with you” cases on my personal bingo, whereas the guy next to me who doesn’t want kids either gets a milder reaction. Or all the usual crap about getting your bikini body (‘tis the season right now, huh), about being pretty, about changing your body: the media don’t tell this to women because people are genuinely concerned about their health, but because that’s how women are supposed to present, and if they don’t—shame on them. I wouldn’t necessarily have linked this to Human Giver Syndrome, not just in passing, but in hindsight, it stems from the same source.

(And no, the solution isn’t for us to all become selfish monsters, but for a redistribution of the giving, i.e. women are human beings too, not only givers; and men are just as able to give as well. So if everyone gives a little here and there, it balances out. Makes sense.)

Again, nothing exactly new for m; however, seeing it in writing, seeing words put on my thoughts, allowing me to formulate them better, is something that I think can help in general. When we can word a feeling (or anything, in general), my take is that the “thing” becomes more tangible, more like something we can act upon. In that regard, I believe this book can definitely be of help.

The book is well-researched, as far as I can tell, with suggestions, self-help exercises and other ideas outlined. While they may not all be convenient, or applicable, or ground-breaking (exercise is good for you = who doesn’t know that by now?), what was most useful to me was the reasoning behind it, because once I understand the causes-and-consequences chain, then it makes sense and I can more easily devise my own techniques. For instance, now I can specifically explain why I’m always more productive, sleep better, and generally feel better when I walk back home from work (a 40 minutes brisk walk), even when the day was physically tiring and I would expect additional physical activity to tire me even more: this was/is all part of my own unconscious attempts at “closing the stress cycle”. Now the whole thing makes so much more sense.

(Basically, dealing with the stress and dealing with the stressors are two different things. The symptoms of stress—adrenaline, etc.—are hard-wired in us as old, old reactions, back when “stressor” was likely to be some wild animal threatening us—and so, we’d need to run. And once back to safety, after the run, that was “completing the stress cycle”, with our bodies being able to come down from the whole thing, and we’d be fine again. But you can’t do that anymore in a lot of situations now: if the stressor is your jerk of a boss belittling you at work, you can’t very well run away or smack them… so the cycle isn’t completed, and the stress, well, just stays.)

Now, to be honest, I didn’t always agree with the writing (the blog-like tone would work in a review or an article, but not in a book, I think) or about some of the quotes (Cassandra Clare… really?). Sometimes it threw me out of my reading. I would also have liked a little more science in it, or rather, a somewhat more scientific writing—so that ties more with the aforementioned tone in general for me, and not with the research itself.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. A lot of things I already knew/suspected. Some things I didn’t and that now make more sense. Some things we’re still a long way of getting out of our lives (Human Giver Syndrome), but once you get how it works, at least you can start. Also, beware: “Jane Eyre” spoiler in Part III.