I’ve been reading a book called ‘Burnout – the secret to solving the stress cycle’ by Emily and Amelia Nagoski and I’m having so many a-ha moments that I couldn’t even wait until I finished the book to share them.
I’ve always thought burnout is when you fall in a heap after having too much on your plate for an extended period of time.
This might in part be true, but in reading this book I’m realising there is much more to it!
According to the Nagoski sisters, burnout is the result of a stress overload that leaves you with feelings of inadequacy and futility—you’re exhausted, you stop caring, and you struggle to connect with others.
Now I don’t always identify with this definition of burnout, but I have felt:
like I’m constantly running on empty, even when there’s seemingly nothing major stressing me out.
overwhelmed and exhausted by everything I have to do, but still worried I’m not doing enough.
not particularly stressed or anxious, but tired, unmotivated, irritable and foggy.
These can all be signs of chronic stress and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way at times, because I hear similar conversations in clinic AND I see the physical effects in your bodies, almost daily.
So why are so many of us chronically stressed and why are we struggling to manage it? Well, I believe there are a few factors at play:1. We’re not actually aware of how much we have on our plates
The things on our plate are the things that are external to us. Our responsibilities & obligations. Kids, pets, relationships, household, work, health, finances. Stuff like that. These are the obvious things and they command our attention a lot of the time. They are also the first place we look to justify our stress.
But there is also this very sneaky thing called mental load which encompasses all of the invisible, emotional, and cognitive labor involved in managing a household and family. I’m talking things like:
- Making to do lists, grocery lists, meal plans
- Keeping track of and making appointments
- Paying bills
- Keeping on track of ALL of the school emails
- Planning holidays, date nights, play dates
- Delegating jobs at home (even when you’re not the one to do it)
- Noticing when you’ve run out of bread & milk (even if you’re not the one to pick it up)
Whilst every relationship dynamic and household differs, the research tells us that in most heterosexual relationships, it’s the women who take on more of this ‘invisible household labour’ (we could get into cultural and societal norms, traditional gender roles and the patriarchy here, but let’s leave that for another time)
I believe this is the reason so many of us are struggling with chronic stress. Our plates are already overloaded by the stuff we CAN see, let alone the stuff we can’t see.
2. We’re focusing too much on the external stressors, rather than how we manage our stress.
This brings me to one of my favourite messages in the Burnout book (so far)- there is a difference between the stressor and the stress. Our toddler throwing a huge tantrum in the middle of a shopping centre is a stressor. The embarrassment, frustration, despair we feel (i.e the physiological and psychological reaction) is the stress. Our boss demanding an unreasonable amount of work to be completed by a deadline is a stressor. The frustration, anger, resentment we feel as a result is stress.
Even when we remove the stressor, we still have to deal with the stress reaction in our bodies. As the authors of the book say – we must learn how to complete the stress cycle. They suggest a few very effective, evidence-based ways to do this, including physical activity, connection, affection, laughing, deep breathing. But I believe the big message here is being aware of what we can control and not fixating on the things we can’t.
3. The patriarchy, social media and our cultural loss of ‘the village’
Haha do you like how I’ve grouped three MASSIVE issues into one little category?? Now we’re not going to solve these big issues today (trust me, I’ve tried with friends over a glass of wine MULTIPLE times), but I think to sum it up – the expectations on women, and particularly mothers, are greater than ever before, with less support than ever before. I’m just going to leave that there for now.