I just finished a huge writing project. My last edit was done in my pajamas, with unwashed hair and sweaty armpits. When I got in the shower after hitting the big SEND, I began to wonder why I didn’t feel relieved. Then I remembered what I read in Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle:

Remember, your body has no idea what “filing your taxes” or “resolving an interpersonal conflict through rational problem-solving” means. It knows, though, what jumping up and down means. Speak its language- and its language is body language.” (15)

Completing my writing project told my brain that I had just cleared a huge hurdle, but all 51ch2nslwil._sy346_the rest of my body knew was that we had been staying up late, pacing, stressing about wording, and panicking as a deadline came and went. I need to complete my stress cycle, expending energy and telling my body systems that we were no longer on high alert.

The failure to complete the stress cycle causes our bodies to hold onto the hormones and internal stressors that cause significant difficulties to our bodies, especially over the course of our lives. Burnout is not just another book, selling self-care. It is actually a book talking about the science of what it means to be chronically stressed and how that affects us and shortens our lives.

I appreciate that the authors noted the commodification of self-care. They also make an effort to offered modified options for completing the stress cycle. Not everyone is capable of going for a long run, but most of us can practice tensing and releasing muscles, laughing, having a good cry, or spending time with positive companions.

The other reality of this book is that it acknowledges the systems of (mostly Western) patriarchal dominance and oppression that cause our burnout cycles. Rarely do we desire to be exhausted. It is, instead, a systemic stripping of self and community healing capacity of women and femme-identified people that drains us as we are crammed into an alleged One-Size-Fits-All “Human Giver Synodrome” suit that pinches in all the wrong places.

It pinches everywhere.

Human Giver Syndrome is so deeply ingrained, it takes being confronted with statistics and dates to reveal the imbalances and injustice to us. Without large-scale, objective measurement and historical perspective, it’s all too easy to feel comfortable with the familiar inequalities: Human givers don’t own or control anything, not even their bodies… Accusers get death threats, and the accused is put on the Supreme Court. (88)

By acknowledging the reality of patriarchal oppression, including how it influences women to treat one another negatively, Burnout provides serious food for thought. This isn’t a book about more life balance or taking a spa day, it’s a book about how to live in a world that makes a daily attempt to kill your spirit. It is only by acknowledging the threat that we can acknowledge the stress and then begin to deal with it, one cycle at a time.

I listened to this audiobook and I bought the hardcover edition. I have so many friends for whom I would like to buy this book, but I don’t have unlimited resources. So I will settle for giving it a high recommendation. Even if you only like 80% of the book, that will be enough to encourage you to make some helpful changes in your own life, which may get longer and better as a result.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Big Timber Lutheran Church (ELCA)  in Big Timber, MT. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit and is President of the board of RevGalBlogPals, Inc.

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3 thoughts on “RevGalBookPals: Burnout

  1. Julia, thank you for this. I am sitting on my couch, trying to get through a stomach bug, and recalling that this has been a week of high stress related to pastoral care issues for my congregation. Last night– before I got sick– I called my partner and asked her whether she would take a short walk with me. I knew I didn’t want to go straight home and make dinner; I needed the outdoors. We walked through a small park at the confluence of two rivers, and over a footbridge. We watched the sun sinking, and we watched the water churn. No one made a lot of progress on their steps, or got their heart rate up to training level. But I smelled fresh air, felt my body relaxing, and my spirit taking in things that didn’t need ethical consideration, or careful phrasing, or poetic language in the form of a prayer.

    All of which is to say, I think I’ll get this book. Thanks.


  2. I heard an interview with the authors the week it was released and went out to the bookstore that day to buy a copy (I usually buy books online, but couldn’t wait for shipping since I needed this book now).

    I’m currently about half-way through (because Lent and Holy Week), but am finding it immensely helpful at understanding why I handle stress the way I do, and how to handle it even better.

    I definitely second your recommendation!


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