Book review: “Burnout”

I’m starting off 2023 on a self-help kick, which isn’t unique or new to me. I love a nonfiction read that has the potential to change some part of my life for the better.

However, I came to the realization that the majority of my self-help/inspirational reads are written by men, with the exception of The Year of No Nonsense.

For the longest time I tended to avoid the self-help books authored by women because, frankly, a lot of the anecdotes were too goopy and the advice too cliched. The stories about marriage and motherhood didn’t (still don’t) apply to me, so books that were focused on “putting yourself first because happy moms mean happy kids” weren’t all that helpful. A lot of the marital anecdotes reconfirmed that me being single really isn’t something to worry about or be ashamed of.

But most of all, I found myself getting either irritated or insulted by the assumption so many of these women’s self-help authors have that we, as women, as this monolith, live in constant states of self-hatred, self-absorption and guilt (which for too many people is a symptom of self-absorption.) Taking the authors at face value, Every Woman is supposed to hate her thighs, hate her ass, be way too concerned with the opinions of strangers, always worry about overreacting to abusive men, self-flagellate if she’s anything less than a Mary Poppins kind of mother, and be so full of self-loathing that all some influencer has to is speak in clichés and she’ll be all healed – or willing to fork out money for some ebook and a retreat in a quest for healing.

But then I was perusing the library and stumbled upon Burnout. I didn’t get any goopy vibes from the cover, and “the secret to unlocking the stress cycle” is exactly what I need to learn. So I decided to check that out with two other books (stay tuned for those reviews next month!), get home and get to reading.

The Review

Burnout is the labor of love and research from sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. I mean the research part quite literally – I lost track of how many footnotes are throughout the book. The Notes and References sections are chapters of their own. You can definitely tell the sisters are two educators based off the sheer number of sources.

And that sheer number of sources is what made it a great read. I think I’m too used to women’s self-help books relying on anecdotes – which have their time and place, don’t get me wrong – while the Nagoskis really break down the research behind bunrout, stress cycles and how to effectively complete the cycle. That’s Chapter One, the importance of completing the stress cycle and not just minimizing or eliminating the stress. The advice on how to complete the stress cycles is practical and can be used in daily life, such as working out or coming home and having a “shake it off” dance party by yourself, or creatively expressing what’s going on inside.

The second thing I enjoyed was the example of two fictional women, Sophie and Julie. Sophie and Julie are composites of the numerous women the Nagoskis have met, worked with or gotten to know on a personal level. The stories of struggling with perfectionism, feeling like you have to do it all, of marital stress and professional stress of being The Only One (in the example of Sophie, she’s a black woman working in a field that’s predominately white men and works to bring diversity into her profession, as well as show that it’s not just white guys who work there.) You know a story is good when you fall into neither of those demographics, and yet I was able to understand and empathize, as well as see some of my own challenges and how I deal with them come to light.

Even on the parts where I couldn’t see myself – specifically, Chapter Five on the Bikini Industrial Complex, but I’m also past the age of caring what a stranger thinks of my ass size anyways – I could still see how a struggle that may not be mine can play an overall role contributing to burnout. The Nagoskis also use other metaphors to explain the struggles myself and so many women have had to carry. My personal favorite might be the Mad Woman, who lives in each of us and is either angry at injustice or nags us and contributes to feelings of shame. Don’t run from the Mad Woman – acknowledge she’s there, a part of you, but don’t take everything she says at face value and don’t talk to yourself the way you wouldn’t speak to a child if they were scared, upset or otherwise needing comfort. That part about the hurt child – and really the wounded inner child – was serendipitous, since I’m still tuning in to Patrick Teahan and Anna Runkle of Crappy Childhood Fairy and making so much progress with myself and some of my old wounds.

Burnout is a quick, enjoyable and feels more like a talk with friends instead of a traditional self-help. It’s a well-researched but casual conversation with none of the presumptions about Every Woman. Frankly, it was a relief to read a book about women’s mental wellbeing that actually gave solid, useable advice and didn’t feel like some corny influencer cash grab. I’m giving it a 10/10 and recommend it to any woman who wants to be seen and ultimately help herself, which in turn makes both her world and the world she’s in a better, calmer, more joyful place.

So with all that being said, I hope you all enjoyed tonight’s review and thank you all for stopping by my corner of the Internet.

Yours in reading, running and life,

Allison

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