A Book You Need to Read

I don't take that claim lightly. Rarely do I read a book and go, "Oh my goodness, EVERYONE needs to read this book!" but I recently read one that pretty much any woman will find insanely helpful. 

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

The book is Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. 

A friend of mine (who I also teach with) recommended it to me and pretty much anyone, so I bought a copy to read over the summer. I read it in one day and highlighted the bejeezus out of it. I CONSUMED it. I will re-consume it. It's that good.

It is not specifically directed at teachers, in case you were wondering, although it's definitely a good read for those of us in "helping" professions. It is specifically directed at women, any women, and has a very un-subtle "smash the patriarchy" vibe that I enjoyed. 

It's in three parts: What You Take With You, The Real Enemy, and Wax On, Wax Off. Yes, those are all movie references (The Empire Strikes Back, The Hunger Games, and the original Karate Kid). Another reason to love the book.

AND, it's a self-help book aimed at women that is thoroughly research based, a little bit pop-culture nerdy, a little swear-y, and DOES NOT ASSUME EVERYONE HAS A PARTNER OR CHILDREN. Woop woop. 

The book starts like this: 

"This is a book for any woman who has felt overwhelmed and exhausted by everything she had to do, and yet still worried she was not doing 'enough.' Which is every woman we know -- including us." 

Rather than take you through all the things, I will instead share some quotes that I absolutely loved that will show that this book is a) awesome, b) written by people who do not belong to the Cult of Positivity, c) a practical reference for living your best life AS YOU ARE, and d) totally appropriate for infertility/resolution. 

Okay, let's do this! Soooooo many of these quotes apply to resolving without parenting, or honestly resolving from anything that did not work out as planned, and to social justice, and to self-love:

 "To be 'well' is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you, being stuck is bad for you."

"Wellness is not a state of being, but a state of action." 

[in a section labeled "Redefine Failing"] "You may do all the things you're supposed to do, without getting where you're trying to go, only to end up somewhere else pretty amazing." 

"Part of recovering from a loss is turning toward your grief with kindness and compassion, as well as completing the cycle of stress brought on by failure."

[In a section labeled "When to Give Up"] "If you want to try using this principle [explore/exploit problem] rationally, all you have to do is write four lists:
       What are the benefits of continuing?

       What are the benefits of stopping?

       What are the costs of continuing?

       What are the costs of stopping?
And then you look at those four lists and make a decision based on your estimates of maximizing benefit and minimizing cost."

"We have been taught that letting go of a goal is the same as failing."

"We share stories of people overcoming the odds to achieve remarkable things in the face of great resistance, which is inspiring. But these stories too often imply that we are the controllers of our destinies...If we "fail" to achieve a goal, it's because there is something wrong with us. We didn't "fight hard enough. We didn't "believe." Our tendency to cling to the broken thing we have rather than let it go and reach for something new isn't just a result of social learning. The stress (fear, anxiety, etc.) underlying the belief changes our decision-making, so that the more stressed we feel about change, the less likely we are to do it." 

 "'Meaning,' in short, is the nourishing experience of feeling like we're connected to something larger than ourselves." 

"...rarely is meaning something that we find at the end of a long, hard journey. For most of us, meaning is what sustains us on the long, hard journey, no matter what we find at the end. Meaning is not found; it is made."

"With compassion for the wounded parts of our hearts, minds, bodies, and communities, our recovery from adversity can include an increased sense of meaning in life, moving us from coping to thriving."

"We can't 'believe' our way out of oppression, exile, or despair. But when we make meaning, we can sustain ourselves through worse things than we can imagine." 


"The quality of our lives is not measured by the amount of time we spend in a state of perfection. On the contrary, people of vision -- think of the principal social justice leaders of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries -- see the largest gap between what is and what ought to be, and they know they will not live to see a world that fully achieves their vision of what's possible." 

"This sort of bias is called the 'headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry,' because people tend to notice their adversarial headwinds and not their helpful tailwinds. ...most of us tend to ignore or forget about advantages we've received, but remember the obstacles we've overcome, because the struggle against the obstacles requires more effort and energy than the easy parts. ... People in any dominant group find it impossible to believe that the road isn't as flat for others as it is for them; they only know they're working really hard." 

"People who live through traumatic experiences are called survivors. People who love and support people who live through traumatic experiences are co-survivors. They need all the support and care that a survivor needs. If they don't get it, they run the risk of burning out, dropping out, and tuning out. If we want to change the world, we need change agents to know how to receive care." 

"...your goal is to stabilize you, so that you can maintain a sense of efficacy, so that you can do the important stuff your family and your community need from you. As the saying goes, 'Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.' And 'something' is anything that isn't nothing." 


"What if the shape of our bodies was peripheral to our relationship with our bodies, and we could pay compassionate attention to our body's needs without assessing whether it 'deserves' food or love?" 

"The body mass index (BMI) chart and its labels -- underweight, overweight, obese, etc. -- were created by a panel of nine individuals, seven of whom were 'employed by weight-loss clinics and thus have an economic interest in encouraging use of their facilities.' ... "BMI is nonsense as a measure of personal health. It's literally just a ratio of height to weight."

"...rather than aiming for 'body acceptance,' practice 'mess acceptance.' Turn toward the mess of noisy, contradictory thoughts and feelings with kindness and compassion. ... When you engage in physical activity, you know it's good for you, because: completing the cycle and also: doing a thing. You also know that most people probably assume you're trying to 'lose weight' or 'get in shape,' and part of you might still actively want to change the shape of your body. That's all perfectly normal. Move your body anyway -- because it really is good for you -- and smile benevolently at the mess."


"What makes you stronger is whatever happens to you after you survive the thing that didn't kill you. What makes you stronger is rest."

"...women live with the expectation that we give every part of our humanity, including our bodies, our health, and our very lives. Our time, energy, and attention should go toward someone else's well-being, not be squandered on our own." 

"Diligent practice of self-compassion works; it lowers stress hormones and improves mood." 

"Being grateful for good things doesn't erase the difficult things. Women have spent centuries being told to be grateful for how much better we have it now than we did before. This 'gratitude for what you have' has been used as a weapon against us, to silence our struggle and shame us for our suffering. Gratitude is not about ignoring problems. If anything, gratitude works by providing tools for the struggle, for further progress." 


And this is just a TASTE of what's in the book. In facing this next, yet-again-unprecedented school year, I feel that this book has given me real, actionable tools to protect myself and keep myself healthy in the face of stress. No matter what you face, if you have ever felt overwhelmed or literally wanted to (or did) lie facedown on the floor, this book is genuinely helpful. Enjoy and let me know what you think!


  1. That’s awesome you found something that is so helpful. The idea of “fluid motion” through different states of calm and crisis is one I try to apply for sure. I find the idea of life as motion and transformation a very helpful concept generally.

    All these ideas feel very familiar….I know I have read most or all before in various places….but it always helps to be reminded in a fresh voice. Best of luck in the new school year (to all of us!)

  2. Thanks Jess!! I ordered this book from Thrift Books! And who orders only one book at a time?? So I also got a couple of quilt books, a couple of professional books (a formerly $95 textbook for only $5), and the latest novel by my favorite (non-YA) author. Thank you for the book shopping inspiration!! I am looking forward to reading Burnout. I think I need it.

  3. How am I ever going to whittle down my TBR stack when you keep feeding me more must-reads? I can't keep up with you!

    (What a problem to have -- too many good book choices).