Burnout, baby shark & why I won't stop dancing
For a while now, I’ve been running a personal experiment in burnout, as in, How many things can I possibly put on my plate, until my plate starts forming cracks? I certainly don’t recommend this experiment, but I know I’m not alone. Are you feeling it too? That panicky, overwhelmed feeling where everything is urgent and important and all at the same time and it's just too much?
This has led me to Emily and Amelia Nagoski, whose book ‘Burnout’ makes a simple but useful distinction between stressors and stress. You can hear them talk about it in this podcast.
Stressors are the things that make us feel stressed (like working too much, having to listen to that baby shark song again, self-criticism, or living in a hetero-normative patriarchal capitalist society in the midst of ecological collapse and a global pandemic, just hypothetically speaking).
Stress on the other hand, is the physiological state, the "chemical stew" as Emily Nagowski put it, that we get into in order to deal with the stressors. That's the 'fight, flight or freeze' state that we all kinda know about.
But, here's the important thing: taking away stressors doesn’t automatically make us feel less stressed. What?
Amelia Nagowski says this means two things: "you don’t have to wait for all the stressors to go away before you can start to feel better, but it also means that when the stressors do go away, it means you have to deal with the stress itself separately."
To feel less stressed, we need to do specific things to signal to our bodies that it’s safe to relax. According to these folks, science says that the best things you can do to remove stress from the body are these:
1. Moving your body (literally any movement)
2. Breathing (deeply)
3. Having positive social interaction
3. Laughing (real laughter, not fake)
4. Hugging until relaxed
6. Expressing yourself creatively
(Listen to the podcast or read the book if you want all the details).
When I heard this, I noticed that most if not all of these things are available to us on the Open Floor dance floor. We move our bodies, we breathe more deeply than usual, which supports us to feel our emotions and allow them to move through us – sometimes with tears, sometimes with laughter. We also connect with other humans, and with our own creativity.
Since I first experienced dance of this kind, it has been such an important space for me to process what’s happening in my life. I have found it to be one of the most effective, fun, and (I cringe to write this, but it’s true) efficient ways to reach a state of clarity and calm.
So while I have been ruthlessly culling, pausing, and flicking things out of my calendar, I will keep on dancing: in my kitchen, on the beach, in the bathroom at work, and on the dance floor. You are so welcome to join me.
Also, baby sharks are just never cute. OK?