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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.

MDK receives a commission for purchases made using the link above.

PHOTO CREDIT:  View of a Town House Garden in The Hague, Paulus Constantijn la Fargue, 1775. Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Walter H. and Valborg P. Ude Memorial Fund. Used with permission.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • I’ve just quit my job of 5 years (flight), because I got weary of all the changes they kept making, and not agreeing with some of them. I think I still haven’t completed the stress cycle yet, but the more I talk to others, and hopefully get confirmation of my valid choice, the closer I’ll get.The company sent me flowers and took me out to dinner, which was very nice. It also gave me a chance to explain that I wasn’t leaving because any of THEM. It gave me peace to leave on a positive note, by putting aside my feelings of revenge, and by making sure the position, and by extension, the company was in good hands. I did this by making sure the ones taking my place were trained in my duties, and let them know they could contact me if needed.
    Your post reminds me of the book I’m reading, “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van dear Kolk. He finds that the main thing that distinguishes those who keep experiencing flashbacks from trauma and those who don’t is safety. Those who find safety in their loved ones and community fare much better than those who don’t or can’t.
    Thank you for your post!

    • I left nursing after giving my 30+ years of giving and not receiving a fair wage but so much abuse

  • Oh, yes: Read this book! It’s not just useful; it’s also reassuring and funny and hopeful.

  • I heard about this book and the Nagoski sisters on Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us. It is a game changer and helped me understand the basic/essential difference between stress and stressors. I highly recommend the book (have read it twice now) and listening to their interview with Dr. Brown.

  • Oh Max — what a great article. I heard these brilliant ladies on a podcast with Brene Brown:
    I still have dreams about a job that didn’t work out for me in 2016! Now I know why — I haven’t completed the stress cycle.

  • I also read every single Nancy Drew book looking for a girl who did adventurous things which didn’t exist in my generation. I loved Johnny Qwuest as well and wanted to be in that family! My father had a fit when I loved psychology in college so you are not alone

    • Omigosh I LOVED Johnny Quest so MUCH.

    • Me, I was a Judy Bolton kind of girl and loved the old Johnny Quest. The later one is just crap.

    • So many of us were looking for a way to grow out of our roles and the current population of girls have no idea of how far we have come

      • I love that my daughter has “no idea how far we have come”! All the work we did worked!

        • I can understand that. But, many in power are trying to move us backward. If our daughters don’t understand the work it took to get here ( which is not far enough), they won’t work to keep it in place and they will lose so many of their rights as humans. Our whole culture loses then. Teaching and learning history is important. And thank you for what you did to make change for the better!

  • Thank you for very timely advice! I’ve been struggling with stress differences and even walked away from my knitting for awhile….what was it doing for me? I’m back to it now, but still have my head buried in a book most of the time, instead of being active and searching out new things to participate in.
    I will certainly look for this book!

  • Max, I always enjoy your columns on MDK, and your newsletters. MDK is a wonderful village and perhaps people have a social media village, but the fact is that we have not evolved enough to be ok without a real life village to co-regulate with us. I think that has been a terrible side effect in addition to the horrific toll of this pandemic, the isolation.

    On a cheerier note, your frequent selections of art from the MIA remind me I need to visit our local treasure more often. They open up their special exhibit to everyone for free in the wee hours of Black Friday (the museum is always pay what you can). For many years it was my tradition to go there by myself, take in the art, and buy something from the shop. I think I’m going to do that again this year.

    And buy art from living artists. The dead ones don’t need the money.

  • I have so many beloved activities to help me lower my stress: knitting, reading, hugging my pets, cooking, running. However, my most stress-relieving activity is a good long walk. All the better if it can be in the woods or next to the ocean – but even a walk around my city helps. I guess I should have been a mail carrier…

  • Max, you’re the best. I’m getting this book today.
    This past year, a group of my 4 gfs take a long weekly walk every Friday afternoon. It has been a fabulous time to connect, get feedback, follow up with each other and our struggles and joys (2 of us just sent our 1st kids away to college).
    Thankful for this community!

  • Another great recommendation, Max.
    Yes, the younger women need to understand what older generations of women went through. We have to be vigilant too, not to allow our rights to be eroded.
    And, Deepa – your comment about supporting artists who are alive is ‘priceless’!

  • Firstly, I will always listen to Max, even if it’s on a blog post versus while sipping a beverage together. Secondly, I wish there was a tip jar feature so
    I can support posts like this and my local bookstore. Thank you as always MDK and Max!

  • I’m a middle school teacher. Going back this year has been crazy!
    My main ways to deal with the stress I bring home is knitting, hanging with my home boy (discharging) and exercise. I try to really take it to heart to take good care of myself, because I want to be great teacher for my students, which I can’t do when I’m a wreck.
    This book sounds like it’s worth reading. Thank you for sharing Max!
    MDK inspires me, makes me laugh, and brings the wisdom of brilliant people (like you) into my life via the internet.
    Thank you MDK❤️❤️❤️

  • My husband & I are moving just before Christmas. Moving folks come Dec 20-21, and we fly out on Dec 22. Our stuff won’t be delivered to our new home until after the new year…Are we crazy or what? Oh, and did I mention we are moving with our neurotic cat? What were we thinking?

    Looks like I need to grab a copy of Burnout for the trip out. Wish me luck, best a few beads, pray..whatever. I need that village!

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