A long paddle ahead


I can’t emphasize this enough: I love my job, I’m grateful for my job, I’m especially grateful for my job as this pandemic wears on. But sometimes the effort of sustaining a sprinter’s pace for a marathon’s distance wears me out. Especially during this pandemic. When a friend suggested Burnout: How to Unlock the Stress Cycle by sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, I said, “A feminist and science-based self-help guide to help me live a more joyful life? Yes, please.” 

Sure, the Nagoskis do that thing that self-help authors do, which is to make up cutesy names for various conditions. Whatever! They’re also fiery and practical. This is not about developing strategies for project management; this book identifies the physical and emotional dangers associated with burnout, and serves up prescriptive advice on how to better manage stress, frustration and societal pressures.

The Nagoskis impart several lessons, the main one of which is that while we can’t always rid ourselves of life’s stressors, we can – and must – actively complete the “stress cycle” by engaging in an activity that tells our body we’re okay. The most immediate way to do so is through exercise, but other “rest” activities apply. 

I particularly appreciated how the sisters describe “wellness” as “a state of action” instead of a goal requiring time, money, products and assistants to achieve. Passively clicking on Instagram ads equating “the ultimate” in loungewear with self-care leaves me feeling like a sucker and does nothing to purge the real stress building up daily. Actively moving my body, whether going for a walk or surfing or hiking or grooving to an 8-minute dance workout, results in tangible physiological changes that leave my brain and body happier – and me in control. 

Humans like being in control. 

Which brings me to the one glaring omission in Burnout: how often women (and others) turn to alcohol as means to flip the switch. They do mention that some choices are unhealthy, but given the prevalence of booze being sold to women as the answer to everything, I would have appreciated more focus on that particular temptation. Because lovely as it can be in the moment, ultimately drinking takes us out of control – which, for those of us who have to be on all the time, can feel wonderful, until it doesn’t – and detracts from what really makes us happy – relationships, exercise, accomplishment. 


Reasons to drink are endless. But if you want to get shit done, then booze is not your friend. Or rather booze is your friend who always shows up at the wrong time to drag you away from what you’d hoped to be doing and then leaves you stuck with the bill at bar’s close. You surely do not need me to tell you if you have a problem. Mountains of studies, books, podcasts, supportive websites, groups, programs exist to help you exit one way of life and enter another. 


By December, I’d accumulated a year’s worth of vacation time (see: pandemic), so I decided to bookend our annual December 23-to-January 2 holiday break with more time off. I’ve never had more than a week or so off at a time, and even that felt luxurious. As I scrawled “vacation” across four weeks of the kitchen calendar, the chunk of time looked impossibly long, which is probably why I set myself an impossible amount of tasks to accomplish, including:

“Remodel the bathroom.” 

“Write a novel.” 

“Spend quality time on the couch with that stack of New Yorkers” 

“Figure out how to finally inhabit a daily routine that will result in getting everything meaningful done.” 

Right away my plan to follow just such a prescribed routine fell apart. Stepping away from the politics that normally make up my days made me uneasy. I also underestimated the mental toll that, without work as a distraction, some heavy family stuff would take – turns out having time to think can allow one’s mind to fill with all the fears, regrets and frustration that staying busy keeps at bay. I spent the first week in a fugue state. 

The second week led into the holidays, which bled into Week 3, leaving me about 10 days (10?!!!) to check tasks off my list while striving to include the surf-hike-yoga-meditate-dance-workout routines that are a recommended part of every day. 

Oh, and to relax. 

Oh, and to plan how to re-engage in my work world constructively. Prior to this time off, my work, meaningful as it is, had begun to feel like climbing a mountain that had no peak. I wanted to throw my laptop out the window every time a new Doodle poll showed up in my inbox. I did not want to show back up feeling like I’d failed at being away.

(part 2)