Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Feeling Burnout? Quench the Flames
Category:
Mind
"...the stress we experience from unmeetable goals and unceasing demands is not a personal weakness or problem. It's the system that needs to change, not the individual who needs to buck up and deal with it."

Are you feeling exhausted? Do you catch yourself feeling more negative about your job? Do you feel like you have less control of your work day?

According to the World Health Organization these are the most common symptoms of burn-out syndrome, a state of health resulting from chronic stress that hasn’t been successfully managed.

The global organization recently announced it has classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon as part of its updates to the International Classification of Diseases.

This isn’t news to sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski. Emily, the former director of Wellness Education at Smith College, and Amelia, a conservatory-trained choral conductor, are co-authors of the new book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle and co-leaders of the upcoming Esalen workshop of the same name this September. We posed our most burning questions on how to navigate stress in today’s stress-fueled world.

Esalen News: Has burnout always been part of our modern society or is something changing in its intensity and prevalence?

Amelia: Burnout is definitely a more prominent part of people's conversations than ever before, and a powerful aspect of the WHO's definition is the recognition that our work environments can damage our health. It clarifies that the stress we experience from unmeetable goals and unceasing demands is not a personal weakness or problem. It's the system that needs to change, not the individual who needs to buck up and deal with it.

We can see the same dynamic outside work environments in society as a whole. For women, whether they work outside the home or not, unceasing demands and unmeetable goals include wrestling with body image, sexual harassment, the government chipping away at our bodily autonomy, and so on. We've been talking about the consequences of misogyny on women's well-being since Betty Friedan, but hopefully the idea is finally being taken seriously.

Esalen News: In your new book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, you distinguish the difference between the stressor — what activates our stress response — and stress itself. When we don’t complete the stress cycle, and our body doesn’t know the danger has passed or the danger isn’t significant, what happens next?

Emily: So let's say you're walking down the street and some guy catcalls you. Your brain responds by preparing you to deal with a threat — fight or flight. But you're not gonna run, that would be wimpy, right? You tell yourself you're too strong to be bothered by some jerk. And you can't fight him.

It might be gratifying to punch him in the face, but that would probably also escalate the situation and put you in danger. So you shut it down. You walk calmly on. But all those fight-or-flight hormones and neurotransmitters have no outlet when we need to stay calm for these good social reasons, so they sit there in our blood and our muscles.

Our bodies were preparing us to run, to fight, increasing our blood pressure, suppressing our reproductive systems, changing our digestive functions. Every individual is different, so in some of us it turns into a stress headache, or a stomach ache, or muscle stiffness — all leftovers from the stress response.

Or sometimes we don't feel anything at all until quite a few incomplete cycles start building up, and we don't notice until suddenly we're in the emergency room and the doctors can't pin down exactly what's wrong. We've lost count of the number of women who have told us they have been hospitalized with stress-induced illnesses.

But luckily there are many ways to complete stress cycles; and once you learn how, you can prevent all of that.

Esalen News: Do you have a favorite way to complete your stress cycle?

Amelia: I find it magical when I can combine different approaches at the same time. Horseback riding, for example, combines physical exertion with mindfulness and connection with an animal. I'm lucky that my work as a choral conductor is inherently filled with creative self expression and human connection. There's nothing like rhythmic play, working together toward a shared goal, to harness our evolutionary capacity for ultimate well-being.

Esalen News: Please share with us more about the concept of positive reappraisal and how we can leverage that when we find ourselves feeling frustrated or “stuck” with a certain situation or person?

Amelia: Positive reappraisal involves looking at a difficult situation, and recognizing that the difficulty is worth it, that the challenges really are opportunities for growth. Some of the studies that illustrate this have been on students who read information in an awkward font versus a clear font. The students who read in the awkward font found the reading more difficult, but demonstrate better comprehension. Another study showed that groups made up of diverse individuals find it more difficult to solve problems together than homogeneous groups do, and they are less happy with their results, but their solutions are better.

Natural optimists have no problem with this, and their overall wellness benefits from it. Pessimists like me, on the other hand, need to learn that it is genuinely true that things that seem bad are not inevitable or permanent, but they are worth facing, and can make our lives better in the long term. It gives us the capacity not only to recover from adversity, but to grow beyond what we were before.

Esalen News: So often we are told to just “power through” a challenge or a deadline. Yet you point out that we are not built to persist incessantly and in fact we need about 42% of our day for rest. Can you share what happens in our bodies when we skip that recovery period?

Emily: If you've ever slept all the way through the first day of your vacation, or come down with a terrible cold at the end of a semester, you know what happens when you don't get adequate rest. If you don't get the rest, the rest will get you. It will grab you by the face, shove you to the ground, place its knee on your chest, and declare itself victor of your life. In the short term, it has the same effects as alcohol: slowed reflexes, impaired judgement. In the long term, sleep deprivation is a form of torture. It will slowly kill you.

Yes, there are times when we just can't get the rest we need, and you don't have to get 42% every day — it can average out over a week or a month, and that's fine. But it's not sustainable. We are built to oscillate from effort to rest, from connection to autonomy, through all the cycles of being human.

Esalen News: Whose idea was it for both of you to collaborate on a book?

Emily: I'm the one who said, "We should write a book about that." I wrote Come As You Are while Amelia was writing her doctoral dissertation, and it was right in front of me that this kind of project is just barely possible to do alone.

Doing it together just seemed practical. We had different perspectives and different journeys that lead in surprising ways to the same conclusions. And then once we started, and started putting various far-flung pieces of research into the context of feminist stress management, I saw evidence that supported my instinctive pull toward collaboration. We humans are not built to do big things alone. We're built to work together. That's what we wrote about, and it's how we wrote it.

Esalen News: What was it like to work and write together?

Amelia: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times! The writing wasn't the hard part. It was the fact that we were writing about such a difficult subject, and trying to keep everything on the page hopeful and positive. That meant both of us were absorbing a lot of dark, sad, enraging information and using our own hearts as filters to keep the tragedy out of the book. We ended up splashing it on each other a few times, but at least we were also immersed in the research about how to fix that!

The most intense example was when Emily was preparing for her TED talk, and she was very very very very stressed. She was so stressed that she was in denial about how stressed she was, completely oblivious to the ways she was taking it out on me. But I could see that it was her stress, not her real feelings. So one day I just put her dogs in my car and told her to go to take a break.

It was like the final scene in Moana where Moana turns toward the lava monster and says, "This is not who you are." I think I may have actually sung the song: "They have stolen the heart from inside you/ but this does not define you..."

She argued like a drunk person insisting they're okay to drive. "I'm fine, gimmee the keys!"  But I stole her dogs so she had no excuse to stay home. Three hours later she was texting me from the beach saying how right I was. The lava monster turned back into the goddess of creation, and we all lived happily ever after.

The experience of writing about this stuff together gave us this shorthand, gave the ways of seeing ourselves in stories with a clarity that means even when we can't actively help each other in this direct way, we always feel connected and supported.

Esalen News: Is this the first time you’ve both taught in a workshop?

Amelia: No, we've been teaching the material in Burnout at seminars and conferences and workshops for about three years. We get better at it every time, and we're at the point now where we can finish each other's...

Emily: Sandwiches.

Amelia: That's a Frozen joke. Sorry. There's also a lot of singing of funny songs in our teaching, which is mostly my fault.

Esalen News: What do you hope your workshop participants take away from their time with you at Esalen?

Emily: We intend to give participants practical tools for managing their stress, but even more important is recognizing obstacles to their wellness. A lot of popular wisdom suggests that if we're stressed, it's because at best we're not mindful enough or disciplined enough, and at worst we're weak or lazy. Basically, if we're burned out, the world tells us it's our fault because we didn't meditate enough, or we ate too many pretzels, or whatever.

But that's not true. There are large-scale systemic forces creating a culture where people — especially women — who take care of themselves are selfish, and that assumption creates a false choice: selfish or burned out. Unpacking that lie is where the learning happens.

Amelia: That's why the most important thing is that the cure for burnout is not self-care. Self-care is the bomb shelter you build in your basement because the government says it's your job to protect yourself from nuclear war. And if you've got the resources to build a bomb shelter, go for it.

But that's not how we save the planet. We need to work together to create a world where this threat is no longer a mainstream, acceptable way to live. We can't do that until those of us with some amount of privilege have enough time and energy to advocate for other people, which needs to begin with self-care. But the cure for burnout is, and can only be, all of us caring for each other.

Esalen News: What’s next for both of you?

Emily: Burnout was inspired by questions women asked me about my first book, and the next project is looking like it will be inspired by questions we get from women when we talk about Burnout, many of which are about sleep. And I'm already a sleep evangelist, so I think the next project is a mini-guide to sleep.

Amelia: I'm organizing an approach to conducting that cares for singers' well-being, finding ways to help other conductors make great music by nurturing performers' bodies and minds. It means dismantling the conductor-as-tyrant stereotype that's deeply entrenched in people's imaginations, but that's just one small part of the patriarchy smashing we all have on our to-do lists.

Emily and Amelia will be teaching Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle at Esalen the weekend of September 27-29, 2019.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

Feeling Burnout? Quench the Flames

About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Category:
Mind
"...the stress we experience from unmeetable goals and unceasing demands is not a personal weakness or problem. It's the system that needs to change, not the individual who needs to buck up and deal with it."

Are you feeling exhausted? Do you catch yourself feeling more negative about your job? Do you feel like you have less control of your work day?

According to the World Health Organization these are the most common symptoms of burn-out syndrome, a state of health resulting from chronic stress that hasn’t been successfully managed.

The global organization recently announced it has classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon as part of its updates to the International Classification of Diseases.

This isn’t news to sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski. Emily, the former director of Wellness Education at Smith College, and Amelia, a conservatory-trained choral conductor, are co-authors of the new book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle and co-leaders of the upcoming Esalen workshop of the same name this September. We posed our most burning questions on how to navigate stress in today’s stress-fueled world.

Esalen News: Has burnout always been part of our modern society or is something changing in its intensity and prevalence?

Amelia: Burnout is definitely a more prominent part of people's conversations than ever before, and a powerful aspect of the WHO's definition is the recognition that our work environments can damage our health. It clarifies that the stress we experience from unmeetable goals and unceasing demands is not a personal weakness or problem. It's the system that needs to change, not the individual who needs to buck up and deal with it.

We can see the same dynamic outside work environments in society as a whole. For women, whether they work outside the home or not, unceasing demands and unmeetable goals include wrestling with body image, sexual harassment, the government chipping away at our bodily autonomy, and so on. We've been talking about the consequences of misogyny on women's well-being since Betty Friedan, but hopefully the idea is finally being taken seriously.

Esalen News: In your new book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, you distinguish the difference between the stressor — what activates our stress response — and stress itself. When we don’t complete the stress cycle, and our body doesn’t know the danger has passed or the danger isn’t significant, what happens next?

Emily: So let's say you're walking down the street and some guy catcalls you. Your brain responds by preparing you to deal with a threat — fight or flight. But you're not gonna run, that would be wimpy, right? You tell yourself you're too strong to be bothered by some jerk. And you can't fight him.

It might be gratifying to punch him in the face, but that would probably also escalate the situation and put you in danger. So you shut it down. You walk calmly on. But all those fight-or-flight hormones and neurotransmitters have no outlet when we need to stay calm for these good social reasons, so they sit there in our blood and our muscles.

Our bodies were preparing us to run, to fight, increasing our blood pressure, suppressing our reproductive systems, changing our digestive functions. Every individual is different, so in some of us it turns into a stress headache, or a stomach ache, or muscle stiffness — all leftovers from the stress response.

Or sometimes we don't feel anything at all until quite a few incomplete cycles start building up, and we don't notice until suddenly we're in the emergency room and the doctors can't pin down exactly what's wrong. We've lost count of the number of women who have told us they have been hospitalized with stress-induced illnesses.

But luckily there are many ways to complete stress cycles; and once you learn how, you can prevent all of that.

Esalen News: Do you have a favorite way to complete your stress cycle?

Amelia: I find it magical when I can combine different approaches at the same time. Horseback riding, for example, combines physical exertion with mindfulness and connection with an animal. I'm lucky that my work as a choral conductor is inherently filled with creative self expression and human connection. There's nothing like rhythmic play, working together toward a shared goal, to harness our evolutionary capacity for ultimate well-being.

Esalen News: Please share with us more about the concept of positive reappraisal and how we can leverage that when we find ourselves feeling frustrated or “stuck” with a certain situation or person?

Amelia: Positive reappraisal involves looking at a difficult situation, and recognizing that the difficulty is worth it, that the challenges really are opportunities for growth. Some of the studies that illustrate this have been on students who read information in an awkward font versus a clear font. The students who read in the awkward font found the reading more difficult, but demonstrate better comprehension. Another study showed that groups made up of diverse individuals find it more difficult to solve problems together than homogeneous groups do, and they are less happy with their results, but their solutions are better.

Natural optimists have no problem with this, and their overall wellness benefits from it. Pessimists like me, on the other hand, need to learn that it is genuinely true that things that seem bad are not inevitable or permanent, but they are worth facing, and can make our lives better in the long term. It gives us the capacity not only to recover from adversity, but to grow beyond what we were before.

Esalen News: So often we are told to just “power through” a challenge or a deadline. Yet you point out that we are not built to persist incessantly and in fact we need about 42% of our day for rest. Can you share what happens in our bodies when we skip that recovery period?

Emily: If you've ever slept all the way through the first day of your vacation, or come down with a terrible cold at the end of a semester, you know what happens when you don't get adequate rest. If you don't get the rest, the rest will get you. It will grab you by the face, shove you to the ground, place its knee on your chest, and declare itself victor of your life. In the short term, it has the same effects as alcohol: slowed reflexes, impaired judgement. In the long term, sleep deprivation is a form of torture. It will slowly kill you.

Yes, there are times when we just can't get the rest we need, and you don't have to get 42% every day — it can average out over a week or a month, and that's fine. But it's not sustainable. We are built to oscillate from effort to rest, from connection to autonomy, through all the cycles of being human.

Esalen News: Whose idea was it for both of you to collaborate on a book?

Emily: I'm the one who said, "We should write a book about that." I wrote Come As You Are while Amelia was writing her doctoral dissertation, and it was right in front of me that this kind of project is just barely possible to do alone.

Doing it together just seemed practical. We had different perspectives and different journeys that lead in surprising ways to the same conclusions. And then once we started, and started putting various far-flung pieces of research into the context of feminist stress management, I saw evidence that supported my instinctive pull toward collaboration. We humans are not built to do big things alone. We're built to work together. That's what we wrote about, and it's how we wrote it.

Esalen News: What was it like to work and write together?

Amelia: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times! The writing wasn't the hard part. It was the fact that we were writing about such a difficult subject, and trying to keep everything on the page hopeful and positive. That meant both of us were absorbing a lot of dark, sad, enraging information and using our own hearts as filters to keep the tragedy out of the book. We ended up splashing it on each other a few times, but at least we were also immersed in the research about how to fix that!

The most intense example was when Emily was preparing for her TED talk, and she was very very very very stressed. She was so stressed that she was in denial about how stressed she was, completely oblivious to the ways she was taking it out on me. But I could see that it was her stress, not her real feelings. So one day I just put her dogs in my car and told her to go to take a break.

It was like the final scene in Moana where Moana turns toward the lava monster and says, "This is not who you are." I think I may have actually sung the song: "They have stolen the heart from inside you/ but this does not define you..."

She argued like a drunk person insisting they're okay to drive. "I'm fine, gimmee the keys!"  But I stole her dogs so she had no excuse to stay home. Three hours later she was texting me from the beach saying how right I was. The lava monster turned back into the goddess of creation, and we all lived happily ever after.

The experience of writing about this stuff together gave us this shorthand, gave the ways of seeing ourselves in stories with a clarity that means even when we can't actively help each other in this direct way, we always feel connected and supported.

Esalen News: Is this the first time you’ve both taught in a workshop?

Amelia: No, we've been teaching the material in Burnout at seminars and conferences and workshops for about three years. We get better at it every time, and we're at the point now where we can finish each other's...

Emily: Sandwiches.

Amelia: That's a Frozen joke. Sorry. There's also a lot of singing of funny songs in our teaching, which is mostly my fault.

Esalen News: What do you hope your workshop participants take away from their time with you at Esalen?

Emily: We intend to give participants practical tools for managing their stress, but even more important is recognizing obstacles to their wellness. A lot of popular wisdom suggests that if we're stressed, it's because at best we're not mindful enough or disciplined enough, and at worst we're weak or lazy. Basically, if we're burned out, the world tells us it's our fault because we didn't meditate enough, or we ate too many pretzels, or whatever.

But that's not true. There are large-scale systemic forces creating a culture where people — especially women — who take care of themselves are selfish, and that assumption creates a false choice: selfish or burned out. Unpacking that lie is where the learning happens.

Amelia: That's why the most important thing is that the cure for burnout is not self-care. Self-care is the bomb shelter you build in your basement because the government says it's your job to protect yourself from nuclear war. And if you've got the resources to build a bomb shelter, go for it.

But that's not how we save the planet. We need to work together to create a world where this threat is no longer a mainstream, acceptable way to live. We can't do that until those of us with some amount of privilege have enough time and energy to advocate for other people, which needs to begin with self-care. But the cure for burnout is, and can only be, all of us caring for each other.

Esalen News: What’s next for both of you?

Emily: Burnout was inspired by questions women asked me about my first book, and the next project is looking like it will be inspired by questions we get from women when we talk about Burnout, many of which are about sleep. And I'm already a sleep evangelist, so I think the next project is a mini-guide to sleep.

Amelia: I'm organizing an approach to conducting that cares for singers' well-being, finding ways to help other conductors make great music by nurturing performers' bodies and minds. It means dismantling the conductor-as-tyrant stereotype that's deeply entrenched in people's imaginations, but that's just one small part of the patriarchy smashing we all have on our to-do lists.

Emily and Amelia will be teaching Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle at Esalen the weekend of September 27-29, 2019.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Feeling Burnout? Quench the Flames
Category:
Mind

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About

Esalen Team

Feeling Burnout? Quench the Flames

About

Esalen Team

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