Friends, obviously I read a lot of self-help. When I was younger, I read a lot (okay, all) of Nancy Drew and I wanted to be a detective. Now it’s self-help and I guess the objective is similar?
A coach is a kind of detective. We’re looking for solutions to a mystery and if we’re doing our job at all well, we’re open to new solutions every time. Hence the need to be up on all the latest solutions available. I kinda kid myself that all this reading—skimming—is a crucial job requirement, but let’s face it: there are a bunch of duds, time wasters and dead ends in the mix.
Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, is an exception. This book is thoroughly good, entirely readable and has made a big difference to me and to many of my clients and colleagues as well.
The Nagoskis are identical twins in very different fields: sex education and music education. But both Emily and Amelia have a deep interest in the topic of stress and … well, I don’t want to say “how to manage it,” because stress management is—refreshingly!—only part of their point.
Two big ideas
The first thing I learned reading Burnout surprised me. It’s one of those ideas that seems obvious after someone else has articulated it, but before being stated in the open air appears as a cloud of vague suspicion. (And we all know where vague suspicion points its poisonous misty finger first: at the self, aka Why it Takes a Village Reason no. 1.)
The first key idea (I paraphrase) is: Stress and stressors are different. Stress is a bodymind process; stressors are people, places and things. And so dealing with the stress is not the same thing as managing stressors.
You can use all the classic tactics to cope with your terrible boss—quit (flight), argue or file a grievance (fight), give in and maybe stay later every day (fawn), etc. And you probably have done all these things, if you have held a job in the 21st century.
Those actions might placate your boss or get you out of harm’s way. That is to say, they manage the external stressors. Maybe. For a minute.
But, sadly, managing stressors is not the same thing as completing the stress cycle. Not as far as your body and mind are concerned; they’re still a-going, in sort of a parallel process.
Completing the stress cycle is an internal, systemic need. Have you ever replayed an argument in your brain 1,000 times? Yeah, because you’re not done yet. You may be free of the external situation, but the endocrine system is jacked up and locked down on the inside. You’ve got some nervous system management to do.
And here’s the thing, aka Why it Takes a Village Reason no. 2: The human organism wasn’t really designed to manage the stress cycle on its own, or, to quote Capt. Jack Sparrow, “all by me onesie.” We were built to co-regulate (hot new term, all the kids are saying it; reading paying off right now!) with our sisters and fellows. Sometimes we do this by discharging (“Listen to what that jerk said this time!!”).
Even better is to do it by being received, held, loved and kept company. Best of all: with hugs.
Wow do we ever need a village around here.
Just to make the obvious explicit again, some of us are in dire need of a village right about now. If reading the Nagoskis gives you nothing else—unliiikely! as Capt. Jack Sparrow would say—let it remind us we are not alone in our struggles, maybe especially in our struggles over feeling alone.
I hope you’ve got a real-life village. There is also a village right here in the form of MDK.
It’s a village that’s saved me more than once. And it’s a big one. Come on in. Let us in on your stress management and stress-cycle-completion secrets in the comments below. We can all learn so much from each other.
P.S. This is only a small part of what Burnout has to teach. I recommend this book highly for anyone wearied by life or even just the past year-and-a-half. Bonus for the burnt out: every chapter has a handy TL;DR at the end. Just skim for what you need and go straight at it. Let me know how you like it.
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