This episode is all about burnout from a neuroscience angle and completing the stress cycle.
Amelia Nagoski, D.M.A. (it stands for Doctorate of Musical Arts), is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Music at Western New England University. Her job is to run around waving her arms and making funny noises, and generally doing whatever it takes to help singers get in touch with their internal experience. Amelia is also co-author, with her twin sister Emily, of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. She lives in New England with her husband, one cat, and two rescue dogs.
In this podcast, The Secret To Unlocking The Stress Cycle, we cover:
Signs that you have burnout
The ways that social media contributes to a warped perception of our lives
How burnout works from a neuroscience angle
Why emotional interactions do not need to be face to face
How you can complete the stress cycle
How to Know if You Have Burnout
There are three things that tend to be common in people who have burnout. One is emotional exhaustion. Another is depersonalization. So you keep doing the work, but you no longer feel connected to it; it doesn’t feel meaningful. And three is a decreased sense of accomplishment. Burnout is the experience of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and yet still feeling like you’re not doing enough. It’s not just about the work you do; people go into jobs where they love this work, they are committed to helping people, they get a sense of meaning from what they do. But that is not enough.
How Social Media Contributes To A Warped Perception Of Our Lives
We are constantly bombarded with images of people’s perfect houses and perfect bodies. It’s all posed and staged and fake. Here’s the secret, no one looks like that, no one lives like that. It’s all a lie. But it’s being held out to you held before you over and over and over. And the purpose of this is to tell your subconscious, brainwash you, condition you to believe that this is the expectation, and you must meet it. That is a lie, you can set your own goals, and there is literally no pressure from any force that matters that you have to conform to.
Does Emotional Interaction Need to Be Face to Face?
The medium of connection does not matter, and it doesn’t even have to be with a person necessarily. For example, people who’ve been through trauma often don’t feel safe with other people. So for them, it could be a connection with an animal or going out for a walk in the woods and feeling a connection with nature. Here’s the thing, your brain doesn’t know the difference between something you’re experiencing in your imagination versus in the real world.
When you read a book and your heart races, and you’re excited about what’s going on in the story, that’s your body responding to actual stimulus. That’s not vicarious or made up; that is your body actually having that feeling. So the medium does not matter because when people come together and work together, there is an exchange of energy that is greater than the sum of its parts.
How You Can Complete a Stress Cycle
How can you complete a stress cycle? Amelia shares that she gets asked this question often because many people have never reached that state – they don’t remember what it feels like. You need to find the thing that you really loved to do when you were a kid, the thing you were just obsessed with because it felt great. Because maybe that was the thing that was completing stress response cycles for you. Try those things first, and see if you can recognize what is happening in your body. If you start to see that it is taking your stress down a notch when you do it, you might be on the right track. Eventually, in a few months or so of doing this regularly, you’ll start to see that this really feels different.
Dr. Mindy I have a lot of questions because I did read it and go, Oh my gosh, I think I have burnout. So okay, this is probably more like, gonna be more of like a personal consultation for me. So anyways, but let’s let’s start with this idea. This one of the first things that like grabbed me in the book, or was your description of the three things that give you an indication that you have burnout? And I was when I started to look at those three things. Not only did I apply it to myself, but I started thinking everybody in my life is burnt out. So can we start the conversation with what these three things are? And how do we know we have burnout?
Amelia Nagoski Sure, these three. I don’t know if they count as symptoms, because it’s not a disease. But there’s three things that tend to be really common in people who have burnout. One is emotional exhaustion. Another is depersonalization. So you keep doing the work, but you no longer feel connected to it, it doesn’t feel meaningful. And three is a decreased sense of accomplishment. So like, you’re still doing the same job you usually did, but it no longer feels gratifying or like you’re, you know, making a success of something. And yeah, these feelings are. I mean, the world is extremely stressful right now, right? Like, for all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. So yeah, it is, we describe it as the experience of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, and yet still feeling like you’re not doing enough. Yeah, and it’s mostly been studied, this original study was with air traffic controllers. And a lot of the early research was specifically about work related burnout. But the thing is, people don’t work in a vacuum, they work in a society, they work while they’re raising families. So anything job related, cannot be separated from what their family life is like. So if you’ve got a really supportive, loving home environment where you can go home and do what you need to do to take care of yourself, you are not as likely to get burned out from a work related stress, or does that make sense? Right,
Dr. Mindy yeah. And here’s one of the challenges that I’ve thought about with just overworking and burnout and per se is if you love what you do, is can you still get burnout? Like what else? Yeah, like that’s cuz that’s one of the things that I feel is I love what I do. The biggest
Amelia Nagoski lie, the biggest lie because I’m a musician, primarily by training. The biggest lie I hated my whole life was do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. Yeah, that’s just not true.
Unknown Speaker I
Amelia Nagoski you have to love what you do very deeply to pursue a career in music. It is so stressful and so hard, and especially as a music educator, educators in America are undervalued, underpaid, underappreciated, in real, tangible ways. And burnout is hugely prevalent in education. I think the average last time I checked, the average time it took for a teacher to burn out was seven years. Wow, I made it five. And that was it. Women aren’t yet the majority of doctors, but they’re the majority of nurses. They’re the majority of homecare workers. So these are the population. So it’s not just about the work you do, which people who again go into these jobs, love this work, they are committed to helping people they get a sense of meaning from what they do. But that is not enough. If you live in a society that really just fundamentally believes that women owe the world their time, their lives, their bodies, that women do not deserve the resources and the time to care for themselves. And trying to convince yourself that it’s okay to do the self care. Fighting a constant tide of what’s the word? It starts with a P, it starts with a P. Sorry, about the color so I have
Unknown Speaker brain fog. It’s all good.
Amelia Nagoski And sometimes I’ve heard that panned, Oh, God,
Unknown Speaker it’ll come do
Dr. Mindy it no matter what, when you don’t think about it will come to you. So here’s something that I thought was really interesting, that you pointed out is are there you can be burnt out at different parts of your life, like you talk about parental burnout. And I was like, when I read that I thought, Holy moly, nobody’s ever called that out because as a parent, you are you would appear callous you would appear. You know, like you didn’t love your children if you’re like I’m flippin burnt out, but that’s a job that never ends.
Amelia Nagoski Exactly. And it is the unceasing demands and unbeatable goals. I mean, unceasing demands are just kind of inherent in Parenthood, except you’re supposed to have a village to share these responsibilities with so that you can have a time when you’re not meeting unsafe. demands and the unbeatable goals. Those are socially constructed. Like my kid has to get into the best school, my kid has to play this many sports, my kid has to eat this amount of that, like, a lot of this is socially constructed. And trying to convince yourself that doing your best is good enough social media posts and advertisements, and, you know, interviews and magazines that all suggest that there’s a way to parent and you must do it this way. Otherwise, you’re causing damage to your child, like how do you fight that constant onslaught of advice? Suppose good advice. And and remind yourself that that you are enough that you are a loving, attentive parent. And if you sometimes fail to give your kid vegetables, like, there’ll be fine, it’s fine kids are grown, they’ll they’ll make nutrients out of anything you feed.
Dr. Mindy Yeah. And do you think our kids growing up right now, I mean, I have a 21 year old and an 18 year old. And I sometimes look at the world they’re growing up in. And if you just take something as simple as they have to declare their major before they get into college, we just went off to college and figured it out. Once we were there, that society has a lot of new half twos for that generation.
Amelia Nagoski Yeah. And I think the best thing for them and for us is to recognize that these are arbitrary social standards that were invented by people and we can just decide not to conform to them. Yes, people were all worried during the pandemic, that kids who weren’t going to school, were going to be damaged in the long term. Now, will their education be different? Yes, that’s absolutely true. But I mean, public mandatory education is brand new to human society, right? kids live with their families and worked at home. That was the standard operating procedure for millennia. So like, your kids are fine, they’re made of rubber. Like, yes, they’re going to need different kinds of support and different kinds of attention. And it is going to be hard to change, not because of the nature of having your kids at home with you and being, you know, doing a thing that’s different. That’s not the hard part. The hard part is adjusting your behaviors. In a way that means that you don’t feel like I’m not doing the thing I was supposed to do. Therefore, I’m failing. I don’t know. You’re just doing a thing that’s different. And you’re succeeding in a new way. That’s a way that’s different. And we need to detach, well, not I’m not gonna say we need to do anything. But it does benefit us sometimes, when we can detach from these socially constructed ideals, and decide for ourselves what the ideal is, yeah.
Dr. Mindy Do you think social media continues to cause a warped perception of what we’re supposed to be doing in our life?
Unknown Speaker Yes. Yeah.
Amelia Nagoski I mean, it’s just that simple. Yes, of course, it is. Because we’re bombarded with images of people’s perfect houses and perfect bodies. And like it’s all posed and staged and fake. No, here’s a secret. No one looks like that. No one lives like that. It’s all a lie. But it’s being held out to you held before you over and over and over and the purpose of this is to tell your subconscious to kind of brainwash you to condition you to believe that this is the expectation and you must meet it, it is a lie. You do not have to meet that expectation. You can set your own goals and your own level of you know, style and cleanliness. Is it safe for you, you get to decide you, there is literally no pressure from any force that matters that you have to conform. Now, it is appealing to a very deep part of our psyche that comes from, you know, our evolutionary heritage because where’s the safest place in the herd? The middle, if you are on the outskirts of the herd, you are much more likely to be attacked and killed by the lion or whatever predators out there. So we’d feel a deep biological drive to blend in to fit in our bodies believe that it’s life or death. Because it used to be millions of years ago it was life or death if we didn’t fit with the herd. But these days, these days our bodies haven’t unlearned that need so the things that make us feel like we have to fit in are no longer life or death. Like you don’t have to have all white cabinets in your kitchen
Unknown Speaker in order to survive. But
Amelia Nagoski can I tell you how many people I’ve met who are like I really need to renovate my kitchen it makes me so uncomfortable. I hate it in there like and if you if it’s because it’s a style that just makes you uncomfortable. Okay but so many times it’s because you’ve been indoctrinated by HGTV to believe that you have to have white cabinets because everyone else has white cabinets and your your your inner zebra is like oh my god get the cabinets get the cabinets.
Dr. Mindy Oh my god that’s so that’s so funny that you actually bring that up because we remodeled our kitchen years ago and I really love it but it’s got dark cabinets at minecon like 10 I’d like a green countertop. And I’ve noticed recently everybody’s got these white pristine kitchens. And the thought crossed my mind like, is my kitchen outdated now? Like, I just didn’t,
Unknown Speaker how could it be
Amelia Nagoski white and that drive to feel like you need to change, you need to have the same thing. Everybody else. It’s so it’s so deep in our, you know amygdala.
Dr. Mindy Yeah, right. And this is what I love about science. And this is what I love about your book is that science helps us understand these bizarre behaviors that we have. And it helps us, like realize that we’re normal, in some sense, and that we’re all thinking the same thing. Because if we’re all biologically designed to fit with the pack, then Okay, so when you are feeling left out, there’s a primitive reason for that. So the next question becomes, what do we do about it, because you’re going to override this primitive desire to fit in?
Amelia Nagoski Yeah, what how you actually go about doing it is to surround yourself with what we call the bubble of love. The bubble of love is a group of people around you who care about your well being as much as you care about their well being. And now they create this kind of barrier, this buffer between you and Instagram, and HGTV,
Unknown Speaker and
Amelia Nagoski they remind you that you are worthy of love, that you are worthy of resources to take care of yourself. And that conforming to the superficial appearance of blending into humanity is not actually necessary for you to be worthy of their care to be worthy of their time and resources in paying attention to you. And making sure that you don’t slip through the cracks or fall into burnout. Just like you wouldn’t allow them to do that. That’s amazing. How
Dr. Mindy do you find this level of love?
Unknown Speaker Like, questionnaire?
Dr. Mindy Do you like okay, hey, you want to be my friend? I have 10 questions for you. Could you get up with something like that?
Unknown Speaker I doubt
Amelia Nagoski because it’s not intellectual. So people ask us this question all the time is like, well, what if I don’t have people like that in my life? And we at first, when people started asking us this, we didn’t anticipate this question. But we realized that we did know the answer, because how it worked for Emily and me is that we’re identical twins grew up in the same household. We were never close, our family of origin was one where our feelings were not allowed. And we by far are not the I mean, this wouldn’t have sunk into us if we weren’t also living in a society where feelings are dismissed. vulnerability is a weakness and, and expressing emotion is makes you hysterical. So we have a lot of reinforcement that like emotions were bad. And connection and intimacy were like gross and don’t. But when we started writing the book together, actually, we were reading the science that said that really the way to wellness is connection is love and support from a community of caring for each other that we say all the time in the book and elsewhere that the cure for burnout is not self care, it’s all of us caring for each other. And this is not the information we wanted. Like we’re both strong introverts are both kind of awkward about feelings. But we like read the science. And that’s what it said that we were supposed to do. And we found ourselves as we worked on the book, seeing the bricks of the walls, dividing us art to crumble, and discover that on the other side of that wall was someone who is longing and needed, no matter if it was actually conscious or below the level of consciousness. There was someone already there who wanted the same connection, who was, you know, starving for it, really. But society was telling us that we weren’t supposed to. And so we never made that leap over the wall. We never broke down the barrier. Because we thought we weren’t supposed to
Dr. Mindy write
Amelia Nagoski we weren’t allowed to. But we were already there. We just had to make that step and decide that it was okay.
Dr. Mindy Do you think that we put so much emphasis on achievement, that what I’m hearing in that statement is that we don’t put enough emphasis on the the magic of having incredible friendships or having connection with others? It’s part of it is we’re not searching for it. Be we’re searching for the rays. We’re searching for the accolades. We’re searching for something outside of us and and minimizing human connection. Do you think that’s Yeah, do you think that’s what’s going on?
Amelia Nagoski Yeah. And I think there’s a there’s a two pronged attack coming on those on toward that goal. One is that achievement, financial success, being able to appear as though we belong with everyone else. There’s that of the information from the outside world telling us that that is a worthy and reasonable goal that every One should strive for. And at the same time there is the fundamental misogyny of our society which deems connection and emotions to be woman lish to be weak that if you need help, and if you’re reliant on anyone else, you’re a failure, the only way you can demonstrate success as if you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do it alone, and we only respect people who you know, who do it without any help from anybody else. But um, that’s true. That’s just a lie. That’s that’s literally the opposite of what humans are designed to do in the world. There’s a social psychologist named Jonathan Hite, AJ IDT, who’s written some books about this. And he describes human beings as 90% chimp 10% be, we are a hive species, if we’re going to use what comes naturally to us, in order to achieve what we want to achieve. It’s going to be way more efficient if we use the resources we have within us. And one of those resources is the drive to connect in is a biological need. If you raise a baby feeding and all the food it needs keeping it the temperature needs to be, but you never pick it up and hold it. That baby will die of loneliness is a drive as important as food and shelter and water is connection with other human beings. And I am one of the strongest introverts I have ever met. I was I had COVID, and I was isolated for eight days. Before I even thought, you know,
Unknown Speaker I’d like
Amelia Nagoski to, like hang out with a person right now. Rather than just like texting people. I’m a very strong introvert. So I was like, That can’t be true. Turns out Yeah, turns out it’s true. No matter
Unknown Speaker for introverts.
Amelia Nagoski Everyone needs some connection with human beings. And more overwhelming than the degree of introversion or extroversion, is the degree to which society has praised people who can be independent and made those who really are like going to spend time with other people, we have made them feel like that’s a weakness, and they’re a failure. And that’s just wrong. Oh, well
Dr. Mindy said. So well said, Do you think that connection has to be face to face can are we connecting when we’re texting on the phone, or you know it through zoom or though is, is it just you’re having an emotional interaction with a human and that’s what matters, it doesn’t matter the medium,
Amelia Nagoski certainly, because it doesn’t even have to be a person necessarily. For people who’ve been through trauma, a lot of times other people don’t feel safe. So a connection with an animal or going out for a walk in the woods and feeling a connection with nature. For people of faith, the connection to the sense of divine of being held by a loving creator can be a sense of connection, it absolutely can be, because here’s the thing, your brain doesn’t know the difference between a thing you’re experiencing in your imagination versus in the real world. When you read a book and your heart races, and you’re like so excited about what’s going on in the story, that’s your body responding to actual stimulus, your imagine has received a stressful story and your body responds to it. That’s not vicarious or made up. That is your body actually having that feeling. There is a bodily and kinesthetic benefit to actual co presence. This is new science person to person neuroscience or two person neuroscience. The idea that when people come together and work together, there is an exchange of energy that is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m a musician and my, my area of specialty is choral conducting. So what I do for a job is bringing people into a room to move and breathe in time together. And there is something mystical about that. There’s something so powerful, it draws people who have worked all day and they want to go home, eat dinner, put on their pajamas and go to bed, but instead, they eat dinner, and then they keep their pants on. And they leave the house to come sing. Not because they feel a responsibility, not because it’s you know, hugely exciting, but because there’s something that relates to our deep, Primal need to connect in a room together, not even just like bodily contact, but co presence. So there is something special about being in a room together about this. It sounds so dumb when I say things like synergy, but I mean, there’s a real thing that actually happens. It’s measurable, that we move in time together, it changes who we are. And it’s that special. But if we recognize that that’s not possible or safe for a variety of reasons, we can absolutely still benefit from connection through texting or zoom, you can intensify the value of those interactions if you’re interacting not just through visual or aural, but you add other sensory experiences. So if you both Go to the restaurant and pick up the same meal. And you’re eating the same food together or drinking the same drink together. And you share that sensory experience you add to the ability of your imagination to tap into that connection.
Dr. Mindy So cool. I love this. I was also thinking with the with the choir example, you know, if that person goes and start singing, they’re also stimulating the vagus nerve. So you’re getting the human connection plus, you’re strengthening your parasympathetic through the vagus nerve. That’s actually I’m not a singer. But I could see that that would be quite helpful.
Amelia Nagoski Singing is great for your health. I mean, there’s just the deep breathing, there’s the paying attention to what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Practice that is mindfulness. Meditation, singing is a meditation, it is breathing, it is being in tune with your physical experience. Yeah,
Unknown Speaker singing is,
Unknown Speaker I mean,
Dr. Mindy you’re a little biased on
Amelia Nagoski it. advertise my own thing. But like, for real, though, yeah, instrument is almost as good but singing it’s so it’s, it’s all human. It’s all of your, you know, monkey suit engaged in this special thing. And also not just connection to your body right here right now, not just connecting to the music, you’re singing right here right now. But connection to the audience, connection to the imaginary audience that you’re pretending you’re going to connect with when you finally perform this. And it’s also connection to the person who wrote that music maybe hundreds of years ago and halfway around the world. And you see, oh, my God, Bach really gets me How did he know what it would feel like? Well, it’s because we’re all human. And we get this sense of being one with the world, one with humanity, one with the universe. And that sense of we call this the Uber bubble, Uber bubble, not just the bubble of love, the Uber bubble. And that means that you feel connected, not just to who’s in front of you, but to the larger sense of connectedness to creation. And so cool. Yeah, we’re so primal, you know, we
Dr. Mindy do in my, my audience and following, we do a lot of fasting together. And there’s a couple of things I’ve learned from teaching fasting techniques to all these people. One is that food is a state changer. And what I’m learning now in many discussions I’ve had, but I’m also hearing this in this discussion is that there are there are primal needs that we have, that will move our state like I always tell people turn on music, if you’re feeling bombed, like turn on music, and now I’m thinking, Okay, turn on music and start singing. Start dancing, whatever you need to do, because you’re now tapping back into who you’re meant to be. And no physiological need that you have. So
Amelia Nagoski yeah. Even if you’re not moving your body and engaging physically, if as you listen, you turn toward the feelings that come up. Like, people think, why do people sing the blues, if they’re so sad, they should just not they should listen to happy music instead.
But there’s something about singing music, that is the way you feel right now, that actually helps move you through the cycle. Because nothing is permanent, right? Everything’s a cycle that happens in your body. Stress is a physiological, it has a beginning, a middle, and then just like all emotions, so if you’re really, really angry, and you listen, not to music, that’s soothing, to shut your anger down, but to really angry music, it has a way of moving you all the way through the anger to the end to let your body reach the conclusion of the anger and whatever cause the anger is still there. But you are in a place where you can better face it. Because you’ve not let the anger go. But you’ve allowed it to complete its cycle.
Dr. Mindy Yeah, so let’s talk about that. Because that was another Aha, in the book, I learned something about myself in the pandemic, was that when I get anxious, if I get out and I walk, that it calms my nervous system down, and then I saw some science saying yes, because when you’re in a state of anxiety, the body wants to run from the tiger. So you need to go walk so that you can come and so it wasn’t just like, Oh, I like to walk to help my stress. Oh, my body actually wants me to walk. Yeah. And I thought what you said was so powerful. In the book about how we have a stressor, we’re dealing with that stressor, the stress goes away, but we haven’t physiologically completed the cycle in our body. So we still think the stressors there, and we’re still damaging our body. Talk about that, because that is another phenomenal takeaway from the book.
Amelia Nagoski Yeah, this is great news. Our fight or flight system evolved in our environment of evolutionary adaptiveness to protect us from life or death death situations like being chased by a tiger. And the way that we complete the stress response cycle, the fight or flight cycle is to actually run or hide or use our body in some way. And then there’s two possible outcomes either you do not escape the tiger in which case none of the rest of those matters or you have to escape the trap. And how you feel at the end of that year, you’re shaking, you’re excited, you’re, you just want to hug somebody and jump up and down and and declare this monumental holiday, you love your friends and family, the sun shines a little brighter. That’s how you’ve gotten to the complete end of the stress response cycle. That’s back in the evolutionary days, when dealing with the thing that caused your stress. escaping the tiger is also the same behavior that deals with the stress in your body. These days, this is not the case, we are rarely chased by tigers. Instead, we’re stressed about our commutes, while we used to be and our taxes and our children. But we can’t deal with those things through fight or flight. You know, you cannot run away from your children, please don’t. So we need to deal with our children by being patient, and kind. So we very appropriately stuffed the frustration down and ignore it.
Unknown Speaker And that’s
Amelia Nagoski great, because then we don’t feel like we have to let the rage out in front of in places where it’s not appropriate or it’s not safe. But instead, we can like tuck it away on a shelf for a minute and then go do something that tells our bodies that we have escaped the tiger, it thinks that there’s a threat, which is more likely to be an existential threat now than it is to be like a physical threat. And we need to allow it to, to escape from the dire from the mental tiger. And that involves moving your body physically, although honestly, that doesn’t work for everyone. My identical twin sister is a natural exerciser her whole life, she has known that if she goes for a walk or a bike ride or dancing, she’s going to come out of that feeling better. I have never once ever had that experience. And lots of people don’t. And now because I’m a COVID long haul and I have chronic fatigue. any physical activity is dangerous for me, I can end up back in bed for three days, if I exert too much. And other people for lots of reasons don’t have access to physical activity. So the good news is, we have like a dozen things in our book that right, tell your body that has completed the stress response cycle, some of them are not physical at all, they’re purely on your imagination. And some of them are really easy to access, like having a big old cry, and you know, a big old belly laugh. Some of them are more challenging because of contextual issues, like getting a good night’s sleep, they used to, you know, there’s a saying sleep on it, you’ll feel better in the morning. And I always thought that was honky because I thought well, the problems still gonna be there in the morning. How is that gonna make me feel better. And the thing is that your brain actually changes while you’re sleeping through the process of REM sleep, and you do wake up and you’re more able to face whatever the situation is, with more clarity. And you actually you actually do feel better in the morning. But how can you do that? When the world is playing stress Olympics, and telling you that unless you were like a contender for gold, by working 80 hours a week and trying to raise a family and trying to do a side hustle on Etsy, then you are a failure, like how can you then getting sleep is a stressor we have lost track of the number of women who have told us they feel guilty for sleeping? What you’ll see yes. But it’s so common. I mean, Emily taught at Smith College and the first time she taught this kind of stuff. Her 18 year old students 18 years old were like, but if I sleep, I’m not doing any good for anyone else. It’s only good for me. But the truth is that of course when you are well rested, you are less cranky, you are less likely to be at fault in a driving accident. So it actually is for the good of the world that you get a full night’s sleep. Coincidentally, it’s also important and necessary. Yes, your well being and you deserve to be well to sleep well.
Dr. Mindy And people need you to be well too. If you really if you put it in the in the way that people are thinking about their families and the people around them. Like you’re of no use to your family. If you’re not sleeping and you’re and you’re locked in your amygdala all the time. Do you think that if we have a stressor, and then the stressor goes away, and we’re like, Okay, well that event was done. I’m gonna sit on the couch and binge watch Netflix and drink a bottle of wine. And then you go to sleep the next morning you wake up and you’re like, Okay, I feel better. And then two days later, another stressor comes and then we do the same thing. Do you feel like distress come? Is it like compounding on us? Where do we literally I think of it like you get locked in that midbrain? Is that what it is like your amygdala is now running you more than any other part of the brain.
Amelia Nagoski I think that like sleep deprivation can definitely make you less takes away all your frontal lobe activity for sure.
Unknown Speaker If
Amelia Nagoski bingeing something on Netflix takes you on an emotional journey. journey that leaves you feeling elated and powerful. All of that are experiences that can help you complete the search response cycle in the right context with the right intention, there’s no wrong way as long as you perceive it as being helpful. So there’s no like, there’s one way to do this that’s better than others. Although society will tell you that like getting physical activity is a superior way to complete your stress upon cycle, because you’ll also lose weight, which is literally a not true and be just gaslighting. So that people start to believe that the reason they should get physical activity is so that they will be pretty to conform to the culturally constructed beauty ideal. So that actually makes physical activity, a stressor for a lot of women. They’re like, I hate going to the gym, because I have to put on makeup and wear the right clothes like Oh, girl, no, just go punch a bag and like take your rage. So anyway, sleep is not considered one of those morally superior ways to complete the stress response cycle. Sleep is considered selfish, it’s actually part of the Puritan History of the United States. The you know, Puritans believed that that too much sleep, which is like more than six hours sleep was sloth, and it was a sin. And this is this the nation we, we, we created for each other is this, you know, this grind culture anyway. So there are some means of completing the start response cycle that are given moral superiority. And that’s just not true. Like if you’re, if it helps your body do it. But if what you’re doing is only temporarily relieving you, it’s like helping you ignore the stress, then that is not helpful. You’re just like stuffing the stress deeper into your body. And what happens is that
Unknown Speaker all those
Amelia Nagoski hormones and neurotransmitters they get released in the stress response cycle, have to go somewhere, yeah, they’re going to get stuck someplace in your digestive system in your reproductive system, in your circulatory system, in your respiratory system, in your muscles, in your joints, you’re going to have inflammation in your body as a result of not having allowed these chemicals to go where they need to go. I mean, that’s how I ended up in the hospital because of burnout is I had stress induced illness, the inflammation in my dog in my digestive system was so intense that I did not I didn’t even know that I was under this much stress, right until I was in the emergency room. Because again, we’re all taught like not to attend to our own internal sensations.
Dr. Mindy I live I think your dog has some things to say about stress.
Amelia Nagoski Oh, gosh, she’s so Yes, she’s.
Dr. Mindy So how would you know you’ve completed the cycle? That’s one thing. So I like I love that the way that you open it up for variety, and people can choose what’s their best way to complete the cycle? I really like that idea. But how will I know if I’ve completed the cycle?
Amelia Nagoski Yeah, that’s a great question. We also get asked this all the time, because a lot of people have never reached that state. They don’t remember what it feels like. Emily always knew what it felt like because again, as a natural exerciser, she would ride her bike to the top of the hill and feel the mountains and the pastures and the sun shining down and have that sense of overall well being and oneness with the universe. That is what it feels like to get to the end of the cycle. And people think that if they go running, they’re gonna get that runner’s high, and they’re going to feel the thing, not necessarily, you got to find what works for you. And most of us are walking around with such a backlog of uncompleted stress response cycles, that is not going to happen the first time we try a thing. My advice is find a thing that you really love to do that when you were a kid, you were just obsessed with you just really wanted to do it, it felt great. Because maybe that was a thing that was completing stress response cycles for you. And you can recognize that happening in your body. Try that thing first or those things first. And before you start, kind of take assessment of First of all, this leads to the conclusion of or the question of how can I notice what my body is feeling, which is a whole other skill. But once you know how to do that you can turn toward your body and say, Okay, what level of stress? Do I feel right now in my body? And then you go do the thing. And you turn again, and assess what level of stress do I feel my body now and if it’s gone down from like an eight to a six, then you might be on the right track. Because eventually, in a few months, maybe if doing this thing regularly, you’ll get down from a four to a one. And then you’ll start to be like, Oh, yeah, this really feels different.
Dr. Mindy So it’s getting to know yourself is what I hear,
Amelia Nagoski unfortunately. So some of us have had to learn explicitly. And the good news is that it is a learnable skill. takes practice and it takes time but but yeah, absolutely. The number one thing is to learn to listen to your body and what it’s telling you and then to believe it and to trust it. Over the advice of outsiders or so called experts, or what social media is telling you, like, a lot of us judge our health by the size and shape of our body, rather than by listening to our body and what it needs. And Amen. Yeah, that’s, I didn’t believe that for a long time. Which is why I ended up in the hospital with stress induced illness because I was not listening to what my body was telling me. I was like, I’m in pretty good shape. I must be fine. Yeah. Oh,
Dr. Mindy no. Yeah, being in health care for so many years, I am shocked at how many people are disconnected from what’s going on in their body. And I think, to your point, it’s because we have put so much emphasis on the outside activities that we’re doing, that we’ve trained ourselves to be disconnected. So I love that you said you can train yourself to be connected again. And I hope everybody’s like that’s listening to this is grabbing that message. And that you also are saying everybody has a different way. I’m like your sister exercises more my way. But I also honor the fact that that doesn’t work for everybody. So we all have to find our individual way. I love that the most
Amelia Nagoski difficult part of that struggle is not just getting to listen to your body when that’s hard for you. But also then unlearning and learning to disbelieve x outside expectations like all those billboards or those, you know, curvy women, and whatever you have to, you have to dig down into your subconscious where those messages have routed themselves to say this is the expectation, you need to conform to this, you need to find that and you need to excavate it, you need to dig it out and teach yourself to be leave a brand new message. And at the same time, while you’re doing that, you’re going to be bombarded with more images. And you have to keep it’s a cycle. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. And then it starts all over. So it’s this constant re evaluation, this constant re examination. And this is where the bubble of love is so important, because then it’s not just you being like, I believe that I am healthy, I believe that I am healthy, I believe that I’m healthy, you have someone else telling you, yes, it doesn’t matter what the size, shape or size, your color of your body, or how much body hair is on it. What matters is that you feel healthy. And when you have others to surround you and help you convince yourself that you deserve to believe your body that your body is worthy of trust. That’s how you not don’t get burned out from having to struggle against social external pressures.
Dr. Mindy I love that. I love that. So okay, so we have to recognize burnout. I love the way that those three things that you mentioned, we have to prioritize connection. I love that. I hope everybody’s hearing that. And then we’ve got to have a toolbox for completing the cycle. And I would assume that it’s not just one thing. Usually people have many, because sometimes you got to pull for a different tool if the one tool is not working. Absolutely.
Amelia Nagoski When we talk in the book about an interview that Rachel Maddow did in at Smith College when Emily was still there. And Emily asked a question from the audience. How do you manage stress and prevent burnout. And Rachel Maddow talked about how when she’s in New York, and she’s working, it’s like one kind of stress, and she really loves her job. But what really helps her is to go back to Massachusetts, with her family with her pets going into the woods, and just changing gears, because while one gear is all worn down, it can build itself back up while you go work another gear. And so that shift, we say on the book that wellness is not a state of being or a state of mind. wellness is the freedom to oscillate through all the cycles of being human. So from physical activity to rest, from effort to relaxation, from autonomy to connection, and back again, just like your body runs on the cycle of you know, diastolic and systolic blood pressure and inhalation and exhalation up and down. You know, you are made of cycles and allowing your body to have the freedom to go through all of them to have permission. That’s that’s gonna be a fundamental change for a lot of
Dr. Mindy people. Yeah. And hopefully in the pandemic taught us all to be really flexible. I think definitely. That was what I see in my inner circle. My What do you call it my love bubble, like, you know, everybody bubble of love, like everybody is learning to be a little more flexible, because adversity kept coming. So I think that is powerful. The other thing that you said that in the book that I thought was profound was this idea that burnout can happen because we are either operating being pulled towards a big vision or something that is delightful and exciting to do. Or we are running from something we don’t want to do. And I think in career we do this a lot like I’m going to go to work so I’m not poor so that I can you know, live in a house and have food on my table. That’s going to burn you out a lot quicker than oh my gosh, I have a vision, I want to change the world and do this. And by the way, I’ll get paid for it. How is it that was pivotal as well, and I don’t think enough people realize that.
Amelia Nagoski Yeah, this actually comes from a study of that’s called the alum the GS is how we refer to her to the book. And this study was this, they present a participant with a maze on a piece of paper just to, you know, normal maze, and you need to either take a little mouse on the paper through the maze, and imagine the mouse reaching a piece of cheese, which is the kind of goal oriented, I’m going to get to that cheese, or there’s this owl looming up in the corner, like the owl is going to attack the miles unless it escapes to the other side. So there’s either, you know, directing towards something positive, or running away from something negative. And the result of that experiment is that participants who are running away from the owl, were slower at competing the mazes or didn’t complete them more often, as opposed to people with the going towards a positive goal tend to to stay more relaxed, and to get through more mazes more successfully. Which shows like an underlying physical response of when you shut down out of even just the smallest amount of threat, like an imaginary Owl and an imaginary mouse, just that small amount of stress is enough to lock us down and make us less flexible, to make us less able to think critically and to be imaginative, and to you know, really fulfill our potential.
Dr. Mindy Yeah. And I’ve noticed that my own life, which is why I think I resonated with it is that when I have a vision, when I have a target, when I’m excited about something, it’s just everything feels effortless, it kind of just flows really nicely. But when I’m doing something because I don’t want the opposite of it. I don’t want the neg it’s like it feels so laborious and just exhausting to go through the process. Exactly.
Amelia Nagoski Yeah. And it’s not just even like your conscious feeling. The fact that you’re aware of it consciously means that you’re probably pretty attuned to how your body feels. But lots of us are not. Right? So we, it all happens below the level of conscious awareness for us. So we may not even notice the difference. But it’s still happening. Just because you don’t notice it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Yeah,
Dr. Mindy yeah. Well, I don’t even know if I noticed it till I read the book. And like, I like took a picture of the page. I sent it to my love bubble. And I was like, Oh my god, this is exactly true. What do you guys think? So I didn’t even know I had a love but love bubble either. Until you so there’s so many things I like you connect the dots for me in this book. It was so good. Yeah. Before we close down, I want to the one other really profound thing you say in the book is this human giver syndrome. And we got to talk about that because I am surrounded by a lot of givers. And I watched them and I watch how they get burnt out. So talk a little bit about what that is, and how do we avoid it?
Amelia Nagoski Yeah, this is so fundamental that like we talked about the stress cycle in chapter one, and we get into the human giver syndrome in chapter two, because it’s one of those things you need to know in order to understand what comes in the other six chapters. Human giver syndrome is language that we adopted from a book called down girl, the logic of misogyny by a philosopher called Kate man. And in her book, it’s a book of moral philosophy. So she posits a world in which there are two kinds of people, there’s human beings who have a moral obligation to be their humanity, to express it, and to require whatever resources are necessary in order to accomplish that. And then there are the human givers who have a moral obligation to give their time their lives, their bodies to the human beings. And you can probably tell even from this, like cartoonish black and white sketch, which one the women are remembering, that is from a book called the logic of misogyny, and this dynamic of people who are entitled, and people who are morally obliged to give until they have nothing left is it is the perfect dynamic for Bernie out half the population. The solution to this as she points out on the book is not for all of us to become human beings, not for none of us to feel entitled to the time and lives and bodies of the givers. But for us all to be givers and surround each other with care and to remind each other that we all deserve resources and love just as we are. And it only becomes toxic to be a giver, when you are stuck in the system with human beings. And we have a list of how you might know if you might be suffering, not just like, I’m a giver, and it’s great to give to society, but you might be suffering because of it. And that is human giver syndrome makes you feel like you have a moral obligation to be at all times. Pretty happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others. And if you at any time fail in your moral obligation to be at all times pretty happy, calm, generous and attentive to the needs of others, then you deserve to be punished. And if there’s no one around to punish you, you will go ahead and punish yourself. So if any of that rings true, you might be suffering from a dynamic where other people feel entitled to your energy.
Dr. Mindy Yeah. And how do you break that?
Amelia Nagoski of love? Well, recognizing like, we are sometimes in relationship with people who feel entitled to our time in our lives in our bodies. If we can change those relationships, eliminate those relationships, great. A lot of times, we can’t, this is a member of our family, this is our boss at work, and there just isn’t a way to change that relationship permanently. We Emily and I both found that it was really helpful just to recognize, oh, that person is a human giver, and they feel entitled to my time, my life and my body. And I actually don’t owe them that. And this is where the bubble of love comes in to help remind you and reinforce this truth, because that human being is going to come back into your life and be like, hey, you owe me your time, your life and your body. And it takes such skill and ability and comfort from other people to maintain that sense of No, no, that’s a lie that’s made up by society. And it’s not true. The truth is that I deserve resources for myself, I deserve not to have to give until there’s nothing left.
Dr. Mindy What if I What if I get pleasure in giving?
Amelia Nagoski Oh, of course, people get pleasure in giving. It’s one of the main pleasures of life, that’s fantastic. People do not get pleasure from giving in a human being human giver, dynamic human giver syndrome. Makes giving feel terrible. Because you’re giving an involuntary way, in a way that you’re not comfortable with in a way that depletes you of resources that you need to stay alive. Giving in a bubble of other givers is like, it’s almost as good as singing. For me, like it is it is one of the it’s one of the things that connects us people love giving presents, you know, at Christmas time, or at Hanukkah, or other birthdays, like people love giving each other swooping in at the last minute, and like bringing the desserts like if somebody needed it, you know, that feels amazing. It’s one of the prime joys of being human in the world. But in a dynamic where someone feels entitled, that is terrible, that’s not going to feel good. And you’re going to know once you this is what Emily, and I discovered is that when you have this frame in your mind, and you can recognize, aha, this is why this relationship feels terrible is because that person feels entitled. And you can you know, go back to your bubble, and minimize your emotional investment in the relationship with the human being.
Dr. Mindy Yeah, I love that I had a friend when my kids were little, you learn really quickly how important your friendships are and the people that are there supporting you. And it was one of those dynamics where like, I would take care of her kids, she would take care of mine. Like we are just constantly like supporting each other. And we came up with a term called positive energy exchange that we decided when we were in each other’s presence. There was this energy exchange that lifted us both up. Yeah, and I think people need everybody needs more friends like that.
Amelia Nagoski Yeah, and it turns out that energy is not metaphysical or imaginary or just your like, touchy feely woowoo interpretation that energy physically happens when two people share trust together, they actually increase the amount of energy that both of them are feeling you actually increase it’s not to care for each other is not to drain each other to care for each other is literally to create more energy together to allow you to be able to give more energy to your families, and then they create more energy in the world to go care for other people. It’s this is why the cure for burnout is not self care. This is the cure for burnout. All of us caring for each other.
Dr. Mindy I love that I love that that’s like a good I get told all the time like by my love bubble like Mindy you got to take better care you know more self care more downtime. You put me now I’m an extrovert. So you put me in a silo by myself. And I’m not feeling like that’s good self care. I need to be around people that like lift me up and give me more energy and then I’m good I can go so just like you might do well as an introvert being more in isolated.
Amelia Nagoski Like you said that silo I was like sounds like and this is where it turns out that it’s really necessary for each person to know what works for them because yo put me in that silo. I’m gonna be like, ah, whereas you would be like banging on the door. Give me some
Unknown Speaker people please. Yeah, I love the memes that went around in the pandemic where they’re like, you know, the introverts are like sitting on the couch so joyful and the extroverts are like at the window like I know, that was just
Amelia Nagoski tipped as an introvert. As an introvert what I felt like when lockdown started was Now the extroverts know how I feel all the time. They can, they can’t get what they need. I mean, this is terrible. It’s literally a trauma for them. But if I had this little moment of like, okay, introverts, can I just remind you that I feel like that all the time, because the world is made for like interacting with people. And people are more valuable if they’re charming, and if they can be around people, and they love it, like the world is more friendly and accepting those people. And if you’re an introvert, and you just can’t, like it’s life is a little harder for you. So, I mean, I don’t wish the trauma of not being able to have your needs met on anybody. Yeah. But if it can help, you know, share it open people’s minds to what other people’s experiences like and that those experiences are equally valid.
Dr. Mindy Yes, yes. Yeah. So well said. Okay, so I have five questions for you. This is again, your book has really helped me like take what individual thoughts I had about life and stress, and you just connected the dots. I’m also a science geek. So I just loved all the science in there. And and I love the human body. I love the human brain. I think that there’s so much we don’t understand about it. So I just got to thank you for that. First one. If you could go back to your 20 year old self and have a conversation with her about avoiding burnout. What would you tell her? Well,
Unknown Speaker I have I have done that I
Amelia Nagoski wrote burnout. We wrote burnout for 20 year old me if we ever had a question of should we include this? Should we How should we explain this? The question was, what would 20 year old Amelia need to know? How would you need to explain to her that that was the guiding principle, the
Dr. Mindy book? Yeah, I love that. I wrote a book on menopause. And I always say that this was the book I needed. So and I think it’s author as authors, we often do write what we wish we had had. So yeah, yeah, I love that. Okay, second question, which ties in to books. If there was one book that changed your life, and you were like, oh, everybody needs to read this book. What book would that be?
Amelia Nagoski Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte? Yeah, it’s fiction. But it’s also so true in so many ways. I mean, what Jane goes through, I mean, we, so like your your Adverse Childhood Experiences score, how many certain adverse experiences you have as a child tend to affect your health in adulthood. But like the ways to prevent any negative health outcomes from childhood adverse experiences, is to do things like you want to develop resilience by learning to express yourself in art, by having good friendships by acting upon autonomy. Jane does that 150 years before there was any science on this? Jane does it and there’s so much like that where the truth of human experience is described through story and through character that were our last chapter of the book is called the mad woman in the attic, which is a metaphor that comes from Jane Eyre, because I mean, Mr. Rochester has got a mad woman in his attic. And Don’t we all?
Dr. Mindy Yeah, I love that. And I love that it’s fiction. I love that we’ve gotten a lot of different comments when when I asked this question, but that was, that was awesome. And I plan on writing it now. Thank you. Okay, what’s your personal favorite strategy for completing the stress cycle?
Unknown Speaker horseback riding?
Dr. Mindy Interesting, okay,
Amelia Nagoski how, because it combines connection with an animal and physical activity, it’s very physically demanding. And it also at the same time is very, requires mindfulness a paying attention to what you’re doing every moment that you’re on the horse, or every moment that driven with the horse. So it just, it’s this combination of lots of different things that complete the stress response cycle, all at once. So it just it I go riding for half an hour, and I feel like a new person.
Dr. Mindy I love it. You know, my daughter did gymnastics on the back of a moving horse. It’s called vaulting. And yeah, and she now that she’s not doing the horse being with the horses as much she often talks about the loss of that. So I love that. I love that. Okay, what are some of your personal strategies to avoid burnout? Like, do you do you look down the road at your calendar and go, Oh, gosh, this is looking like life’s gonna be really full. I better do X, Y and Z. Do you have a system for that? Um,
Amelia Nagoski can I swear?
Unknown Speaker Of course Yeah. I said that in the beginning.
Amelia Nagoski My my primary strategy for preventing burnout in myself is giving no fucks love it. Like I just I don’t cultivate Fox my fuck field is barren. So when outside world gives me information about who I should be and what I should be like, I’m just like, haha, that’s funny that you think that because none of that is true. And God, it’s so much easier to go through the world not fearing that I have to like be exactly who someone wants me to be. Yeah, I can just be myself and if there is if I’m not their cup of tea, that’s fine.
Dr. Mindy I love that. You know I interviewed until a book I’ll tell you to read that you might love is called rushing woman syndrome. And it’s written by Dr. Libby Weaver. I interviewed her a couple of weeks ago on this podcast. And one of the things that she said is, if you look at what causes us so much stress is that we’re afraid of letting somebody down where we have a fear that if we do don’t do X, Y, and Z, then the people around us will either lose our job or will end friendships. I think not giving a fuck is, is probably an incredible strategy. So congrats. That probably is a learned behavior. Yeah, absolutely.
Amelia Nagoski Yeah. And so if it was not always this way, yeah, I burned out twice. I mean, like I hospitalized with stress induced illness. I, I was just I was made of fucks. To give, you know, because I thought that’s how society worked. And that’s how it had to be turns out, no, you can, you can learn to just like, let that shit go. and have it to the idea of the Russian woman being afraid that she’s going to let somebody down. We get talked about, we talked about this all the time with journalists and stuff, too. And the fact is, you are 100% guaranteed going to let people down?
Dr. Mindy Yes. Like, yes,
Amelia Nagoski yeah. So why are you going to like rush around and give yourself stress into stillness, trying to prevent a thing that is literally inevitable? I love I mean, if you’re doing your best, that’s enough. You don’t have to be like, you know?
Dr. Mindy Yeah, I love it. I love it. Okay, last question. If you had one message that you could get implanted in every person’s mind on this planet, what would that message be? You are
Amelia Nagoski worthy of love, just as you are.
Dr. Mindy I love that. I love that. Do you know how many times when I asked that question, people bring up the concept of love. They all in they all have a different way of saying it. But at the root of what everybody wants, and what everybody should feel is love.
Amelia Nagoski And the thing that shocked me, shocked me is that that’s what the science says. I also have research that all points in the same direction, that what makes people well in the world is care is being loved and loving others. I mean, I I was shocked by this because I’m not like I wasn’t into the woowoo you know, the touchy feely
Unknown Speaker hippie dippie.
Amelia Nagoski Like that was not me. But when we read the research, it said,
Dr. Mindy it said love. Amazing.
Amelia Nagoski So it turns out people know exactly what they should be doing. We already know what’s good for us. We just need to contradict the external message that telling us that love doesn’t matter as much as money. Right? Just need to unlearn that and let it let get away from us and slide off of us. And remember that that loving each other is the thing that’s going to be the best thing for our health because the cure for burnout is not self care. The cure for burnout is all of us caring for each other.