Podcast Transcriptions

Pursue What Matters

Episode 95: Burnout Book Review

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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Are you feeling a little burned out from the last year? You know, 2020 might be over. But you might still be feeling the effects of this last long and bumpy road. Well, I have got the best book for you. Join me.

Dr. Melissa Smith 0:40
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Well, I am so excited for our book review today. When I read this book, the first thing I did besides you know, uh, thank the heavens above for this book, because I just, I needed this book, and I loved this book. I loved everything about it. After that, this The second thing I did was I bought this book for everyone that I work with all of my dear friends, because we all need this book. And let me just say, women everywhere you need this book. And I was so excited to share this book with you for the book review, and I’ve just like been biding my time. So here it is. We are talking about the excellent book burnout, the secret to unlocking the stress cycle. This is written by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski DMA. And you guessed it, they are sisters. They’re twins actually. Now you may be familiar with Emily Nagoski. She is awesome she is she is a researcher, and an author. She wrote my favorite book cover ever. It is also an excellent book. I love this book. I recommend it all the time to clients as she wrote the excellent book Come As You Are about a female sexuality and just like coming into your own. And you gotta check out the book cover because that is a freakin awesome book cover. And so she has written I think maybe she’s written other books too. But anyway, she’s got a very popular TED talk as well. And for Burnout, her sister Amelia has joined her. And this is a really lovely book, to, to read by both of them. And I listened to the book and read it. So I did both because I’m a super geek that way. And I knew I wanted the book to reference it, because I’m using it all the time. I’ve already been using it in presentations, and of course now for the book review. But this is super useful. So I’m so excited to share it with you.

Dr. Melissa Smith 3:09
And of course, before we jump into the details of the book, every week on the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters and to you know, strengthen your confidence to lead. And I try to do that in one of three areas, leading with clarity, leading with curiosity, and leading and building a community. And so today, what I would say this book review is all about helping you lead with curiosity. And so if you recall, curiosity is all about slowing ourselves down and building a secure foundation from which to lead. And so when I think about curiosity, I think about self awareness, I think about self leadership. And boy, this book speaks to those principles. Because if you cannot take good care of yourself, how can you show up for others? But more than that, we want you to take good care of yourself because you deserve to feel well, and especially for women. And we are the nurturers, we are the givers and that is who they dedicate this book to, to the givers. And unfortunately for for many women, we believe and we were self sacrifice as a badge of honor. And it’s Yeah, it is kind of a thankless prize actually. And they make such a valuable point in this book that you know, we deserve to feel well and to have a secure foundation. And it’s it’s important just because, you know, we matter. It’s not so we can serve better. It’s not so we can show up for our kids or for our work or that or anything like that. And those things are great and those are important and those are bonuses. But you deserve to to have rest and pleasure and relaxation, just because. And that’s one of the things that I absolutely love about this book. And I think it is an important shift that we all need to make, especially as women, I think I think some men need to have that shift as well. Any of the self sacrifices out there need to have this shift. And I think it’s an important one. Because we shouldn’t have to take a dose of guilt when it comes to taking good care of ourselves. Like that’s actually a necessity as part of being an adult. So, enough about that. Let’s learn a little bit about what folks have to say about this excellent book.

Dr. Melissa Smith 5:45
Okay, so first, first of all, I love this from Peggy Orenstein. If you know anything about Peggy Orenstein and I do I’ve been familiar with her work for many years, I’ve heard her speak. And especially in the eating recovery world, she’s spoken brilliantly and written brilliantly on what it means to be a woman and body image and all of that great stuff. So she wrote, “This book made me cry with gratitude and relief. It is that revolutionary.” Let’s see. Okay. Yeah, she says a little bit more, “in burnout Emily and Amelia Nagoski deconstruct the stress we experience as women. And their compassionate science based advice on how to release it made me cry with gratitude and relief repeatedly in public. The book is that revolutionary, and its authors that wonderful and wise. So that’s a really, that’s a really high endorsement. From Peggy Orenstein. She’s the author of Girls And Sex, navigating the complicated new landscape. And then this is an endorsement from Sarah Knight, “burnout is the gold standard of self help books, delivering cutting edge science with energy, empathy, and wit, the others know exactly what’s going on inside your frazzled brain, and body and exactly what you can do to fix it. Truly life changing.”

Dr. Melissa Smith 7:13
Now, I really agree with Sarah’s endorsement there. This book is so helpful. You know, I just found myself I’m like, Oh, this is such a good reference book. But it doesn’t, it’s not dense. Like, it doesn’t feel like oh my gosh, they’re like killing me with research. Now, if you know anything about me, you know, I really like research. So I can tolerate a lot of research. But it’s so conversational. The book is just delightful. It’s so good. But I just remember, when I was reading it, I was like, Oh, I need like, people need to know about this, like, this is why I bought it for so many of my friends, because I’m like they need to know this. Like we all need to know this. And so many of these principles I talked about every single day, in my clinical practice. And so to have it all in one location, with the research to back it all up. I just it was like an answer to prayer. So it’s really, really, really remarkable.

Dr. Melissa Smith 8:13
Okay, so let’s see. Let’s, let’s look at the book. So this is what they’re saying. This groundbreaking book explains why women experienced burnout differently than men, and provides a roadmap to minimizing stress, managing emotions and living more joyfully. So some of the things that they focus on in the book is you’ll learn what you can do to complete the biological stress cycle. And now one thing that I really like about that, I’m just going to say a couple points about this right now. And I’ve talked a lot about this. So I’ve talked about the Upside of Stress, which of course is an excellent book by Kelly McGonigal, Dr. Kelly McGonigal and this idea that stress is not the problem, but how we cope with stress. And the Nagoski sisters also take that tack as well, that this idea of like we need to complete the biological stress cycle, that stress is part of part of life. And it’s when stress gets locked in our body, that it becomes a problem. And so part of self care. And coping is the process of completing the stress cycle. And so that is something I really appreciate about this book, because they’re challenging this idea that stress is the problem. And that the solution is to get rid of stress in our lives. Because Hello, that’s not a thing, like good luck with that you’re not going to be successful on that one. So it’s really helping you to take a proactive stance in terms of how can I complete the biological stress cycle? Because As humans, we are meant to work with stress. And right we need to cope with it effectively. And the way that we relate to stress actually shifts the impact it has on our body, whether that’s towards more resilience, or whether that’s towards poor functioning. And so they do review some of that research in this book like mechanical does, and the upside of stress, and I just love it. It’s fascinating research.

Dr. Melissa Smith 10:22
Okay, so you’ll learn about that. Also how to manage the monitor in your brain that regulates the emotion of frustration. And that’s a really great part of this book. Because that frustration piece, our reaction to stress is often what gets us locked in that stress cycle, rather than being able to move through it and complete the stress cycle. And then I love the way that they speak to this third point is really wonderful how the bikini industrial complex. So you heard that right. The bikini industrial complex, makes it difficult for women to love their bodies, and how to defend yourself against it. So right this is this part specifically, is, is acknowledging the challenges women face, when it comes to our relationship with our body, and how so much of our life and our society and the bikini industrial complex, which they unpack a little bit in the book is really designed to have us question ourselves and designed to undermine self care. And I just love that they take that on. And they also acknowledge how incredibly difficult it is to, to challenge that. So that is, that’s what they tackle in this book. And they’ve got practical advice. They’ve got great research, and they’ve got a lot of humor and a lot of perspective. So it’s really lovely. So now let’s learn a little bit about the authors.

Dr. Melissa Smith 12:06
Okay, so Emily Nagoski is an award winning author of The New York Times bestseller Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. So that’s the book that I mentioned. She has an MS in counseling and a PhD in health behavior, both from Indiana University. And yeah, it’s a great book. So if you’re interested in a book on the science of sexuality, it’s very good. And she has a great TED talk as well. And then Amelia Nagoski holds a DMA in conducting from the University of Connecticut, and assistant professor and coordinator of music at Western New England University. She regularly presents educational sessions discussing the application of communication science and psychological research for audiences of other professional musicians, including beyond burnout, prevention, embodied wellness for conductor, so I think that’s really cool. So she is a performance, professional, and, and teaches and then also talks a lot about burnout, which obviously, you would see how valuable that would be in her profession. And she does speak to that, and her own experience with burnout. And so they have a really lovely style and relationship that shows up in the book as well.

Dr. Melissa Smith 13:35
So let’s start first with a definition of what burnout even means. So when we think about burnout, there are three components that that contribute to a definition of burnout. And you know, as a psychologist, this is something that I have had to guard against my entire career. So anyone that works in the helping professions really does need to be on guard for burnout. But really, anyone in a leadership position needs to be paying attention to burnout. So the three components include first emotional exhaustion, the fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long, too, is depersonalization, the depletion of empathy, caring and compassion, and three, decreased sense of accomplishment. And that is an unconquerable sense of futility. Feeling that nothing you do makes any difference. Wow. And not I mean, doesn’t that just kind of weigh heavily on you as you hear about that? So here is the really difficult thing that they point out. That burnout is really very, very common. And 20 to 30% of teachers in America have moderately high to high levels of burnout. Now, this was before COVID. So can you even imagine what the rates of burnout are for teachers in particular, right now, similar rates are found among university professors, international humanitarian aid workers. And for medical professionals, burnout can be as high as 52%. And so when we think about helping professionals, it’s people who help people, right, but we also see parental burnout. So any parent can tell you that, that’s a theme. And, and, and so this is, this is the thing, you know, that I just want to highlight is that if we weren’t burned out before 2020 has done us in. And so you know, we just so much more has been asked of us with few fewer resources, you know, not because people don’t want to be supportive, but just we’re all strained, we’re more isolated, less engaged. And so it’s really very, very difficult to, to cope with it all.

Dr. Melissa Smith 16:18
Okay, so I definitely am not going to go through the entire book, but I do just want to give you a taste for it. And I will share with you how they organize the book, because I think it’s clever, and it, you know, will kind of give you a sense for it. So first of all, they talk about human giver syndrome. And that’s kind of the reference that they use throughout the book in terms of like this burnout that women in particular experience where they’re just so attentive to the needs of others, that their own needs get missed or get ignored. And so they speak specifically to women, that human giver syndrome is our disease and that this book is the prescription. Okay, so they make a bold statement there. And so they divide the book into three parts. So Part one is what you take with you. And they use a little bit of pop culture to talk about these. So during Star Wars Episode Five, The Empire Strikes Back, right? Luke Skywalker sees an evil cave, right? So looking toward the entrance and dread, he asks Yoda what’s in there, and Yoda answers only what you take with you. And so the first part of the book takes that as its theme. And it really talks about three internal resources that we carry with us as we take our heroines journey. So the stress response cycle, the monitor, which is the brain mechanism that controls the emotion of frustration, and meaning in life. So when they talk about meaning in life, it’s they say that it’s why we go through why we go through difficult things. And that meaning is good for us. Right? So it’s, it’s a sense of purpose in life. So that’s the that’s the first part. That is what you take with you.

Dr. Melissa Smith 18:32
And then the second part of the book, which they call the real enemy, and they have another pop culture reference, which is the Hunger Games, right? So they’re talking about Katniss Everdeen. And she’s forced into the game. And her mentor says to her, remember who the real enemy is. Okay, so she, so they said, Can you guess who the enemy is in this book. So they’re saying the enemy is the patriarchy. They say most self help books for women leave this chapter out, and instead discuss only the things readers can control. That’s like teaching someone the best winning strategy of a game without mentioning that the game is rigged. Fortunately, when we understand how the game is rigged, we can start playing by our own rules. And so they, you know, this is a thing when I read this part was like, oh, are they get to go super political, which, like I can, I can go political, right. And certainly, in my eating recovery work, it does get fairly political. But it did not feel overly political. But it did acknowledge like, especially if we think about the bikini industrial complex, like the very real challenges that women face that make it that put us at cross purposes to ourselves. And so I do think that there is value in them acknowledging that the game is rigged, that there are ways that, you know, we’re taught to love ourselves, while everything coming at us undermines that message, right? At a certain point, ladies, we’ve got to acknowledge the crazy making. That is that message. So I think there is some value to that, and actually a lot of value to that.

Dr. Melissa Smith 20:26
Okay, and then part three, which they say right is the thrilling conclusion. They call that part wax on wax off. And of course, if you know anything about The Karate Kid, you know about that. And so what they talk about in this third part are the concrete specific things we can do each and every day to grow mighty and conquer the enemy. So right, these are the specific, the specific things that can make you stronger. So wax on wax off, think about connection, rest, and self compassion. And so that’s really great. So the other thing that I love about this book, and at the end of each chapter, they have a TL DR List. Okay, so TL DR is the internet abbreviation for too long didn’t read. So Isn’t that awesome? And so they have, they have those lists at the end of each chapter. And those are ideas that you can share with your best friend, when she calls you in tears, and the facts you can use to disprove myths when they come up in conversation. And the thoughts we hope come to you, when your racing mind keeps you awake at night. So I think that’s fun. I think that’s really fun. And they’re all they’re all done. Based in some of the social science research, which you know, right, like, isn’t ironclad. And they do make a few caveats about, about the research, so they do talk about that as well.

Dr. Melissa Smith 22:20
Okay, so I’m just going to highlight a few things from the book that I think are really valuable. And hopefully, that will give you a good sense for the book. And so from part one, one of their points, which I think is just spot on is just because you’ve dealt with the stressor, doesn’t mean you’ve dealt with the stress itself. So right, there’s a difference between the stressor and the stress itself. And so, you know, they talk about the example of being attacked by a lion. And, you know, once the lion is gone, that stressor is dealt with, but in your body, your body is still dealing with the stress caused by that stressor. And so you still need to move through the stress cycle to deal effectively with that stress. And that happens all the time, right, that we can have a stressor at work. But if we’re not effectively moving through the stress cycle, we continue to be bathed in stress. Without effectively moving through the cycle, we get stuck, we get locked in the cycle. And some of the reasons that we get stuck are first, because if we have a chronic stressor, we will end up having chronic stress. And so that’s a big problem. The other reason we get stuck is because of social appropriateness. And so, right, maybe, inside, we’re saying I need to set a boundary here. But because we’re trying to be socially appropriate, we smile, and just we stay polite, instead of setting the boundary that needs to be set. And then the third reason is, it’s safer. And so it’s safer to to not do something because you know, maybe the stressor is bigger than you. And so that might be the appropriate response, but it results in the stress staying locked in your body. And so, of course, one of the other responses is to freeze so your body freezes. And that’s a way that stress stays locked in your body. And so the point that the Nagoski sisters make with this is that stress is a part of life, we’re going to have stressors as part of life, stressors are going to come. And so we need to both effectively deal with the stressor, but also effectively deal with the stress. And so to effectively deal with the stress, we need to move through the stress cycle. So stress does not get locked in our body. And so the most efficient way to complete the stress cycle is through physical activity. And so this is what they say physical activity is the single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle.

Dr. Melissa Smith 25:39
Other ways to complete the cycle include breathing, so I talk a lot about that paced breathing. Another one is positive social interaction. laughter laughter is a great one, affection is a big one. Hug, right? Like physical, physical affection, touch, a big old cry, so tears crying, that can be very cathartic, very therapeutic, creative expression, can be very helpful. So these are all ways that we can effectively move through the stress cycle. So you have to do something. So do not, do not stay still do not be passive. And then the last point I want to make about this is how do you know you’ve completed the cycle? And, and so they say that, you know, for some people, it’s, it’s obvious, because they just kind of feel a settling with themselves like I can, I can feel that for myself. So this is where curiosity is really helpful, where you have some self awareness. And that, you know, I can tell when I’m agitated, where I’m stressed, like, I just can’t think clearly, it’s hard for me to focus. I’m very distractible, it’s hard for me to read or pay attention to things. And then when I’ve moved through the stress cycle, I feel some relief. I can think through the problem. I can rest I can quiet myself. But for others, it can be a little harder to, to know. And so right, sometimes, you just right, sometimes meditation can help with that. Because you can you quiet yourself enough to actually pay attention to what’s to what’s happening. And so you just start to pay attention to Okay, on the stress scale, though. So just from one to 10, where was I five minutes ago versus now. And if five minutes ago, you were at seven, and now you’re at five, okay, well, that’s a great sign. So let’s stick with the pace breathing, let’s do a few more minutes of meditation, let’s maybe go for a walk, this might be a good time, you could maybe do some journaling. Whereas when you were at a seven or an eight, journal, journaling wouldn’t have been a good option. So I think that’s some really good, really good things to think about in terms of moving through the stress cycle, we don’t want to avoid it, we don’t want to pretend it’s not there, we need to move through it. And then they also give some very good signs you need to deal with the stress. And so these might be some red flags that you notice.

Dr. Melissa Smith 28:49
So you notice yourself doing the same apparently pointless thing over and over again, or engaging in self destructive behaviors. I think this is such a good sign. And this is actually something that I noticed for myself. So I do not spend much time on social media, I will post on social media as part of work and that sort of thing. And I like to stay engaged for that. But otherwise, I don’t spend much time scrolling or anything like that. But if I am stressed, sometimes I will notice that I will spend time just scrolling on social media. And that to me, right like that’s an that’s a pretty pointless thing for me. And so that is one of my red flags that I will notice. And that’s a sign that I’m that there’s something I need to work with. There’s some stress that I need to work with. Another sign that you need to deal with stress is chandelier. And so this is a term that comes from Brene Brown, and it is it is this sudden overwhelming burst of pain. so intense you can no longer control it. Now chandelier, so the way that Brene Brown uses it as she’s talking about emotional pain, chandeliering, originally, that term comes from the medical field, we talk about chandelier in pain. So when you, you know, you touch a finger, and there’s like, there’s pain that shoots a person to the chandelier. So you know, maybe indicating a broken finger or something like that. But Brown talks about it in terms of emotional pain that is out of proportion to what’s happening in the here and now. It’s not out of proportion to the suffering that you’re holding inside. But it has to go somewhere and so erupts. Right, so it’s that eruption, to the chandelier. And it’s a sign that you’re past your threshold, and you need to deal with the stress before you can deal with the stressor. So right, you need to deal with the stress before maybe you have the conversation with your supervisor, about the specific situation. So those are two signs you need to deal with stress. This, even if it means ignoring the stressor, right, so address the stress before you address the stressor, or the specific situation. So third, you turn into a bunny hiding under a hedge. So right, you get super avoidant. And the fourth sign is your body feels out of whack. So have you noticed that in yourself, maybe you have a hard time sleeping, that is a classic sign? For me, if I have a few nights where I cannot sleep at all, that’s a sure sign of stress for me. Or maybe you get sick all the time you have chronic pain, you have injuries that won’t heal. And if you have a, you know, autoimmune illness or chronic issues that maybe flares, so maybe like chronic joint pain that starts to flare, pay attention to those sorts of things, because they can absolutely be exacerbated and activated by a stress response. And so developing this sensitivity to your stress response. And so again, I love that they point out that the good news is that stress is not the problem. And of course, that’s something that I’m always talking about. And the problem is that the strategies that deal with stressors, have almost no relationship to the strategies that deal with the physiological reactions our bodies have to those stressors. And so they really want you to remember that stress is not bad for you. But being stuck is bad for you. So being stuck, being locked in the stress cycle is what is bad for you. So wellness happens when your body is a place of safety for you. Even when your body is not necessarily in a safe place, you can be well, even during the times when you don’t feel good. And I think that’s a really important distinction. And so the moral of the story here, when it comes to stress and stressors is that wellness is not a state of being but a state of action. So what are you doing to help yourself? And what are you doing, to deal with the stress so that you can be well enough to face another day of stressors. And so I do think that so that’s one of their first points in the book, I think it is one of the most powerful points in the book. And so if you were to get nothing else from the book, that would be plenty because it moves us to a proactive stance rather than being passive to life and to our stressors. But let me tell you, there’s a lot more in this valuable book. It’s not a big book. It won’t take long. It’s very user friendly. It’s engaging, it’s fun to read, and there’s so much value.

Dr. Melissa Smith 34:22
So give this book to the women in your life. Give it give it to the man in your life who needs to understand you. But it’s really such an excellent book. I really highly recommend it. Head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/burnout one more time. That’s www.drmelissasmith.com/burnout. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.

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