Women Are Burnt Out—What Can We Do About It?

By Nicole Mitchell

I’m tired. In fact, I’ve been tired for years, and I’m not alone. When I ask my friends how they’re doing, most of them say they’re exhausted. How could we not be? We’re 20-somethings who work multiple jobs, lack a set sleep schedule, are in school, and more.

While fatigue can be a sign of physical illnesses, including thyroid issues or anemia, it could also be a sign of burnout. According to CNBC, 53% of women in the U.S. are burnt out and experiencing fatigue, brain fog, and chronic stress, since the pandemic hit.

One of the root causes of burnout is lack of fairness—something women are far too familiar with. Mothers typically take over most of the childcare and housework, working women have to work harder for their voices to be heard in the workplace, and high school girls are being discriminated against by their school’s handbook policies, to name a few. Being a woman is unfair in itself.

It’s ironic that this is the article subject I picked up when brainstorming. I didn’t think I was burnt out, but I saw a copy of Burnout was on sale at my local Target and ran to pick it up. This was when I was working two jobs, volunteering at Catcall, and still regularly making time to visit with my friends, read for my book club, and spend time with family. As soon as I picked up the book, it’s like my body heard me and finally took the chance to relax. I dropped all of the items I had on my To Do list—including writing this article—until my brain was ready to begin again.

That was over a month ago (whoops). I’m now working one full time job, and my schedule is far more open than before. I’m slowly getting back into things and taking the time I need to rest before life gets the best of me. I’m finally ready to continue.

Authors (and twins) Emily, Ph.D., and Amelia, D.M.A. Nagoski, write in their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle all about the issues of burnout in American women. In the book, they give seven ways to push through the stress cycle and feel better.

When asked Brené Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, what led them to write the book, the two answered that after Dr. Nagoski’s first novel—Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life—was released, most readers came out and said that the chapter on stress was the most life-changing. Dr. Nagoski’s sister Amelia was not surprised. Afterall, when Amelia was sick, Dr. Nagoski gave her books on stress. This led Amelia to discover that stress lives in your body, and she then decided that along with her  sister, they needed to make a book about stress and how to overcome it.

In the midst of writing this article, I got a reading from a psychic medium, who upon meeting me said, “Oh, you feel a lot, don’t you?” I laughed and nodded my head yes. She continued, “You feel too much. It’s good to feel, but you feel things that aren’t yours.”

The psychic continued to tell me that she could feel that I was a healer. “You are a healer. But you need to learn how to teach that too,” she said. “You heal people who aren’t ready, and it tires you out. It’s time to figure out how you can teach instead of heal. You can teach people how to heal themselves. Are you ready?”

She was right. I am tired and I feel too much, and part of that was from taking on too many feelings and problems that weren’t mine to begin with. This, according to Emily and Amelia, is Human Giver Syndrome. The phrase is one that the Nagoski sisters adapted from the book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Philosopher Kate Manne. In the book, Manne expresses that the world is filled with two kinds of beings, which the Nagoski twins describe in Unlocking Us. “Human beings whose job it is to live, to express, to be their humanity, and they have a moral obligation to acquire whatever resources it takes in order to accomplish their moral obligation,” Amelia said on the podcast. “And on the other hand, the human givers whose moral obligation it is to give their humanity, their time, their lives, their bodies, their feelings to the human beings. Guess which one women are.”

It doesn’t stop just there. Anyone can be considered a human giver. However, women and people of color tend to fall into that category more often. In fact, this can change depending on your surroundings. Human giver syndrome is an intersectional issue, too. “One of the grotesque ways that this plays out is that white women, feeling so trapped by human giver syndrome, take on the role of human being and feeling entitled to take anything they want to from people of color, from people with disabilities, from immigrants, from poor people,” Emily said on the podcast. This issue can only be fixed internally, by leaning in instead of leaning down, Manne describes in her book. And this needs to be done by white women and by anyone else who feels this sensation of placing all internal problems onto others.

As women, we’re required to be happy, calm, and smiling daily. We’re not allowed to break and yell at our boss for giving your coworker the promotion when you’ve worked there longer.

In Burnout, the Nagoski sisters explain different reasons for why these emotions get stuck. First is chronic stressor versus chronic stress. “The stress will kill you faster than the stressor will, unless you do something to complete the stress response cycle,” the twins wrote. Let’s use my life as an example. My stressor might be writing this article. It’s hard piecing together the right words, and it’s already a month late. So at the end of the day, I have to find something to do to ease my mind of the stressor—perhaps play Animal Crossing. But the next time I pick up where I left off on this article, I’ll be at the same place, mentally, as I was before. Instead, I have to find a way to ease the stress for good.

Next, social appropriateness. There are certain expectations that we have to uphold. As women, we’re required to be happy, calm, and smiling daily. We’re not allowed to break and yell at our boss for giving your coworker the promotion when you’ve worked there longer. Instead, we have to go home and be angry there.

Lastly, is safety. This relates to social appropriateness in a way. If you get catcalled on the street, you have to think about all of the ways to respond while remaining safe. Sometimes I want to scream at the men who glare at me, but retaliating in that way can be dangerous, and it’s just not worth it. The only time you can deal with that stressor then is at home or with someone you trust.

So how do you complete the cycle and get rid of the stressor? As unappealing as it sounds, the most efficient way to complete cycles is physical activity, according to the Nagoskis. Consider a runner’s high—that euphoric feeling after a quick run has to do something, right? Don’t worry if you don’t like running (I don’t either). Try to find something that you do enjoy instead. Another way to complete the stress cycle is by breathing intentionally. If you don’t have the time or energy to head to the gym, try a few minutes of guided breathing meditation. If you’re new to the idea, there are tons of videos on YouTube that can help. There is so much more that the Nagoski twins share in Burnout, but…

I could say that I’m all better now that I’ve taken some time for myself, but the fact is that I’m still learning. I will say, though, that Burnout was a book that has helped me tremendously. If anything, it helped to learn that there are so many other women who deal with burnout exactly like me.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

By Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA

This groundbreaking book explains why women experience burnout differently than men–and provides a simple, science-based plan to help women minimize stress, manage emotions, and live a more joyful life.

Purchase Here

Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., is a sex educator and author of the New York Times bestseller, Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life. Amelia Nagoski, D.M.A. (Doctorate of Musical Arts), is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Music at Western New England University.

Nicole Mitchell (she/they) is a writer and social media manager who graduated December 2020 with a degree in strategic communication. A few of her favorite things include cuddling with cats, listening to Bon Iver, making lattes, and running her book club (even though sometimes she forgets to read the books.)

Disclosure: Some of the links included are affiliate links, meaning, at no extra cost to you, Catcall earns a commission if you make a purchase. Want to check out other books we recommend? Visit the Catcall Reads bookstore.

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