BURNOUT - Is stress bad for you?

I just finished reading "BURNOUT: The Secret To Solving The Stress Cycle", the excellent new book written by identical twin sisters, Emily and Amelia Nagoski. In their book, the sisters try to explain why women experience burnout differently from men, and how to process it without using the typically recommended strategies of "me time" and downtime, such as drinking green smoothies, coloring books, making gratitude lists, taking bubble baths, scented candles, massages, etc.

In their book they teach us how to separate the stress from the causes of stress, and how to allow the stress to make its way through our body, rather than lodging there, causing chronic illness. They write: “Stress is not bad for you, being stuck (in stress) is bad for you.” Women are conditioned from birth to care and nurture others and be eternally self-sacrificing.

The Nagoski sisters offer straightforward solutions based on science rather than scented candles. First, we need to understand the stress cycle so we don’t get stuck in it, which is what causes the long term harm to health. The body cannot differentiate between the stress caused by an external stressor (lion), or the stress caused by overwork, worry, or unhappiness, so in order to close the stress response cycle, we need to signal to the body that everything is ok. Scented candles cannot do this.

Some ideas of stress calmers they offer include deep breathing, laughter, physical affection (a six-second kiss, a twenty-second hug, with someone you love), positive social interaction (even minor stuff), creative expression, or having a good cry. All effective in resetting the body. Longer-term they suggest connecting to “Something Larger.” This basically, means finding meaning and connection with something outside of yourself, which is not the same as seeking pleasure to distract yourself from stressful reality.

Meaning generally comes from three sources:

1. the pursuit and achievement of ambitious goals (ending climate change, finding a cure for cancer, etc).

2. service to the divine or other spiritual callings (doesn’t always work for everyone).

3. having loving, emotionally intimate connections with others (attainable to all humans, irrespective of status or circumstance). Another option is to combine all three, as suits your life.

It’s all about belonging, contributing, connecting. But it’s also about resting, which makes us more productive and resilient; pushing through when we are exhausted is not just a waste of time, it’s also bad for our health. “The idea that you can use ‘grit’ or ‘self-control’ to stay focused and productive every minute of every day is not merely incorrect, it’s gaslighting,” say the Nagoski sisters, adding, “You don’t have to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.”

Lizi Oceransky, M.A., CPCC, PCC Professional Certified Coach Registered Psychotherapist Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator and Case Consultant (CDWF-C) 408-373-2003


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