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The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

By Emily Nagoski, PhD, Amelia Nagoski, DMA
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Burnout by Emily Nagoski, PhD, Amelia Nagoski, DMA

Burnout (2019) offers women an honest and practical look at the causes of their everyday stress and anxiety and the different ways in which science can help. Since women continue to face a very different set of expectations to men, it stands to reason that women also deal with a different form of burnout. Authors Emily and Amelia Nagoski offer scientific, as well as personal, insight into what’s really going on and what women can do to not only persist but thrive in the modern world.

Key idea 1 of 9

Emotional exhaustion is a component of burnout, and it can happen when we get emotionally stuck.

Do you know that feeling when you’re completely and utterly exhausted, yet there’s something in the back of your mind saying you still haven’t done enough? If you’re a woman, chances are you’re all too familiar with this sense of being overwhelmed by life.

When it feels like you’re constantly trying to meet your own demands and expectations and those of your job, family and friends, you can easily slip from benign tiredness to stress, anxiety and emotional exhaustion.

Emotional exhaustion happens after you’ve spent too much time caring too much. It is the first of three components identified by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1975 in his clinical definition of burnout.

Second is depersonalization, which is when you find your capacity for compassion, empathy and caring dwindles.

The third component of burnout is a decreased sense of accomplishment. In other words, that feeling of “nothing I do matters.”

All of these symptoms may sound familiar to you, but you may not know how they come about. For starters, how exactly can one exhaust one’s emotions? The answer? It happens when we get stuck.

You can think of an emotional experience like a tunnel: it starts, then you’re in the middle of it, and then it ends. However, when you’re experiencing the same emotion all day and every day, there is no satisfactory end to that feeling. You’re stuck in the emotional tunnel with no relief.

So it’s no wonder that people in jobs that require caring and helping, such as teaching and the medical profession, report very high levels of burnout. Some 20 to 30 percent of teachers admit to it, and for the medical profession, it’s upward of 52 percent. It may come as no surprise to hear that parental burnout is a fast-growing phenomenon.

Fortunately, there are strategies to keep burnout at bay. And no, we’re not talking about bath bombs and coloring books; we’re talking about real, scientifically sound strategies to make sure you don’t get stuck in your emotions.

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