Are you suffering from stress?

I don’t mean do you have occasional, manageable stress. But the relentless feeling of being overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, depressed or even flat-out angry?

Yeah, me too.

But, much like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, Emily and Amelia Nagoski are here to tell you “Its not your fault. No. Really. It’s not your fault.” And that 20-second hug Robin gave Matt Damon? That’s actually part of the solution.

The Nagoskis have published a book called “Burnout: the secret to unlocking the stress cycle” and it is a health-changing life-saver. Literally. We’ve all heard that stress is bad for you health. In fact the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently recognized burnout as a syndrome.

But Emily, a PHD in Health Behavior, explains that the platitudes about relaxing with bubble baths, coloring books and green smoothies aren’t enough. They do not get to the root of the problem which is – Live is hard, messy and exhausting. Emotionally exhausting.

She recognizes that you have stressors in your life – some that you may be able to remove, but many you can’t. So you need to strategies to manage how you physiologically react to that stress. And that’s what this book does. Each chapter has a strategy with a Spark Notes type summary at the end, and a worksheet (so you can play along at home!)

Here are the things I found the most helpful:

Kill the Lion

Stress is your body’s natural reaction to a dangerous situation. You’re being chased by a lion. Either you get eaten (end of problem) or you run away. Your adrenaline spikes, you either kill the lion or you run fast enough to evade him and you feel relief. Problem solved.

Nowadays, the lion follows you home, lurking in your bushes All. The. Time. Your adrenaline’s spiked but there’s no relief. You need to kill the lion – metaphorically–since the lion is likely your boss or spouse or child or seemingly everyone who crosses your path.

Human Giver Syndrome

You want to help people. It’s who you are. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of your well-being. And it is, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. These are going to be things you’ve heard a million times, but the Nagoski’s make it sound doable. And once you know why it works, it’s much easier to justify building them into your schedule.


  • Sleep more – it’s important and you need to make it a priority–and they tell you how.
  • Exercise – you don’t have to strive for that impractical 60 mins/day, 5 days/week nonsense unless you want to. But moving your body helps clear your brain and mentally Kills Your Lion. When you’re feeling stressed, take a walk, do yoga stretches, something. It helps.
  • Make a human connection – Talk to a friend or coworker. Share your stress with someone who understands. Or my favorite solution which harkens back to my Good Will Hunting reference–share a 20-second hug with a loved one. It allows you to press pause in your life and feel valued.

The Madwoman in your Attic

I wasn’t sure this chapter was relevant to me. Until I sat down, had a nice heart-to-heart with her and then let her rampage in her dusty room, breaking things like an enraged toddler while I relaxed downstairs with a lovely Chardonnay.  And I had the best night’s sleep in months!

Let me explain.

Most women–and maybe a few men–have that voice in your head that tells you all the ways you’re failing. Sure, you (pick whatever’s appropriate) went to work, addressed 15 crises, picked up snacks for your kid’s sports team, cooked a healthy dinner, paid bills, did laundry, called your mom, listened to your husband/child/friend’s complaints about their lives, brushed and flossed and went to bed. But then the madwoman in your attic pops in to remind you that you didn’t give the dog his heartmedicine or lose 5 pounds or you were mean to the sales clerk. See, failure.

The Nagoskis are referencing Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre. Was she really crazy or was she a perfectly normal woman trapped in the insufferable cage of patriarchy (ugh) and Rochester just locked her up there for his own peace of mind?

Because women weren’t supposed to have their own dreams and desires and expectations, they were put on this earth to make others happy, look pretty, be kind, patient, organized and never ever get angry. See, madness!

Yet those unrealistic expectations still haunt us today. We are expected to be perfect–either internally, or by external forces like family, friends, the media, the world–and the madwoman in your attic is keeping track of all the ways you’ve let them down. Those thoughts are what turns your daily life from productive problem solving to relentless stress.

You need to talk to her, ask her why she keeps nagging you to be better. In some things, she’s right. So give her permission to rage about the unfairness of life, unrealistic expectations and failure of others to give you what you want. And while she’s throwing plates and slashing pillows, lay there calmly and figure out what you can fix, how you can perhaps move the needle in the right direction for a longer range solution.

She’ll eventually complete the stress cycle, kill her lions and fall into sleep. Hopefully you will too. And you’ll emerge rested and ready to face the day.


Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with the Nagaskis or their publisher. I am simply a fan of both of Emily’s books BURNOUT and COME AS YOU ARE. She offers women engaging and practical advice that is grounded in science.

Seriously, they are life-changing. You should read them and then buy them for friends and family-