On Grief & Burnout

A Deeper Dive, An Open Conversation

The APW team was on our weekly staff call on Monday and, as has been the M.O. for almost a year now, we were checking in with each other. Not like grocery store cashier check-in (though, those folks deserve gold medals for always asking), but like real ‘how are you holding up?’ moments. We are really lucky, here at APW, to have a company culture of honesty and self-care—and frankly, I don’t know that any of us knew how truly lucky we were until we’ve been faced with this long, slow, never-ending version of trauma and life. We’re lucky that we are a group who wants to check-in with each other and get real answers. We’re lucky that we have a boss who respects us as humans, honors our needs to step away to care for ourselves, and models what that looks like for us. It’s just not lost on us that not everyone is so lucky. And still, in the same breath, I can say… we are also all burnt out and have all been teetering on the edge of falling apart at many moments over the last year… but especially this moment. Last week, we decided as a team, to stop holding ourselves to an hours-based schedule, and instead focus on honoring a need for productivity and a serious need for breathing room and time for rest.

“It’s true that rest makes us more productive, ultimately, and if that’s an argument that helps you persuade your boss to give you more flexibility, awesome. But we think rest matters not because it makes you more productive, but because it makes you happier and healthier, less grumpy, and more creative. We think rest matters because you matter. You are not here to be “productive.” You are here to be you, to engage with your Something Larger, to move through the world with confidence and joy. And to do that, you require rest.”
― Emily Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle (a book that is guiding me through this season)

How Right Now Is Kind Of Like Grief, Even If It Doesn’t Seem Like It

(Quick background info: The entire core APW team is well versed in grief. In fact, we’re all members of the Dead Parents Club. We’ve all walked through trauma and grief, and it informs a lot of who we are and how we see the world.)

As we discussed the overwhelm and burnout we’re all in, Meg said something so profound about our worldwide shared experience, that I just couldn’t skip out on talking about. She said, “Well, like we all know… anniversaries, deathiversaries, and dates matter. And we’re creeping up on the first big one… the one-year anniversary of COVID crashing into our lives. Oh, and it’s just not ending.”

Woah. Stop. Read that again.

Y’all, it’s about to be the one-year anniversary of this weird version of life, it’s not over, and we need to honor that dates and anniversaries matter. You may, like myself, not even know that the date is creeping up on the calendar… but your body damn sure does. (read: The Body Keeps The Score) I mean, even with death and grief anniversaries, you know you’ve gotten past the ‘thing’ itself, and now it’s the ‘aftershocks’ and acclimating to the life you’re left with—not so with COVID… the ‘thing’ is very much still here (see: 501,000+ deaths in the U.S.).

This made me think about a book that is currently changing my life. I’ve been reading Emily Nagoski’s Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, and really loving it. I’m just going to assume that you’re also feeling burnt out, and at the end of your rope, and like you just can’t catch a break… so, the team and I (with the help of Emily Nagoski‘s brilliant books) have some thoughts that we hope might help you—and we want to hear your thoughts, too.

Stress is not the problem

“The good news is that stress is not the problem. The problem is that the strategies that deal with stressors have almost no relationship to the strategies that deal with the physiological reactions our bodies have to those stressors. To be “well” is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.”
― Emily Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

According to Emily, and her sister Amelia, in this book, stress is an emotion. Emotions are like tunnels, and they do not last forever. And, what we haven’t figured out in our society, and as women, is how the heck to move through those tunnels. Their tips and tricks include breathing, getting outside, and definitely exercise (I know, I hate it too… at least at the beginning). Because what we cannot control is the stressors… there is still COVID, we are still postponing our weddings, we still have to work, we’re educating our kids at home, we’re trying to crawl out of the political nightmare we’ve been in for years… the stressors, frankly, aren’t going anywhere. So we have to learn what to do with the stress.

“Emotions are tunnels. You have to go all the way through the darkness to get to the light at the end.”
― Emily Nagoski, Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life (another book of hers that will change your life!)

“A simple, practical exercise is to breathe in to a slow count of five, hold that breath for five, then exhale for a slow count of ten, and pause for another count of five. Do that three times—just one minute and fifteen seconds of breathing—and see how you feel.”
― Emily Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

On Goals

“The moral of the story is: We thrive when we have a positive goal to move toward, not just a negative state we’re trying to move away from.”
― Emily Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Don’t freak out yet… no one is saying you should be setting big huge goals and crushing them. Because… y’all…. no. We have to be reasonable with ourselves and recognize that all the cortisol in our bodies is giving us brain fog.

So what am I suggesting exactly? Small goals. Maybe it’s to take a 10-minute walk each day this week. Maybe it’s to get out and prep your garden for spring (I live in California and realize that might be impossible where you are.) Or it could be to play with your dog, cry it out, call a friend and take turns venting, join an outdoor workout class… it could be any number of things. It just has to be a goal that works for you, feels reasonably attainable, and ideally will help you process and move through that emotional stress tunnel so that you can start to see the light—instead of, what I’ve been doing for months, which is curling up on the couch under a blanket and hiding (read: running) from all the things that are overwhelming right now.

So apw… i know we’ve asked before, and we’ll ask again… how are you? Like, really, how are you holding up? DId anything in this make sense to you? Did megs comparison of death anniversaries and covid’s anniversary make your head explode, too? How have you found to work through the stress and emotions that are sitting in your body? Tell us all the things, what’s working, what isn’t… we’re in this together… still.

P.S. Not up for reading the books right now? Listen to Emily and Amelia Nagoski on Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us.

P.P.S. We aren’t getting paid for this post. We just really think Emily’s books are helpful, and this conversation is needed. But if you buy a book from one of our links, we will get a small commission to help pay the bills.

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