It’s only February, and the term “burnout” surely has to be a candidate for one of Oxford University Press’s words of the year for 2021. The public conversation around burnout has been opening up in the last few years, but it has spiked to unprecedented levels during the pandemic. Health care workers are burned out. Grocery store employees are burned out. Working mothers are burned out. Perhaps to some degree, we are all burned out.
But the stigma around burnout is starting to fade. Previously perceived as weakness at home or in the workplace, burnout can no longer be ignored by either employers or employees. To help prevent burnout, many more resources are available for identifying stress and anxiety and triggers—or even when we’ve surpassed our breaking points.
This is a small selection, but here are five books, both fiction and nonfiction, about burnout that could help readers with a condition that shouldn’t be deemed taboo, but something to which we can all relate.
Unf*ck Your Brain: Using Science to Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs, and Triggers by Faith G. Harper
Certainly, we can sometimes be our own worst enemies. But even our own demons can be vanquished. Professional counselor and TEDx presenter Dr. Faith Harper offers a scientific approach to addressing panic attacks, addictions, and trauma. But this isn’t a textbook. Harper’s approach is blunt—like the best friend who would offer you the hard truth that leads to solutions rather than fleeting comfort.
Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski
Having it all. Lean in. Live your best life. These might have been conceived as mantras to encourage women, but really, the pressure to live up to these ideals and constantly employ them day to day is overwhelming. In Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, sisters Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., and Amelia Nagoski posit that burnout affects women differently than men, underscoring the expectations placed on women at home, at work, and just how we are supposed to look in society are extremely different. But rather than suggesting we ignore those hardships and just act tougher, the Nagoskis offer a more compassionate and even optimistic guide (with worksheets and exercises) enabling positive change within our lives within our respective means.
Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen
Anne Helen Petersen’s long read on millennial burnout was Buzzfeed News’ most-read article in 2019—and for good reason. Whether it’s the gig economy or the experience of layoffs during the Great Recession and again during the COVID-19 pandemic, millennials have been taught that work is precarious and that their jobs will not provide them with the benefits needed for a decent standard of living. As they’ve become parents, millennials—especially millennials of color—have faced impossible standards as they’ve often been required to work full-time, and women are still expected to do most of the housework. And in the face of apps monetizing our attention, as well as social media that pressures us to “perform” our beautiful vacations and well-behaved families, true leisure has become a distant fantasy.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
When Ottessa Moshfegh’s brilliant but almost disturbing novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation debuted in 2019, the primary plot device seemed a bit over the top (not to mention medically impossible). In a nutshell, the very young and wealthy main character is so depressed and burned out with her current postcollege life that she persuades her therapist to give her experimental sleeping pills so that she can sleep for days, weeks, and even months at a time. But revisiting this book after 2020, maybe that wouldn’t have seemed so bad last year. Regardless, while it might seem hard to feel sorry for the main character, Moshfegh induces those feelings anyway through a first-person narrative that is so haunting, it will leave you thinking about and dreaming about her for a long time to come.
Self Care by Leigh Stein
Set in a female-founded startup selling a platform centered on “self-care” for women, Leigh Stein’s 2020 novel might seem like a frilly beach read, based on the cover and title. But this book is not a rom-com. While there is a humorous tone, this book deals with some very dark and very real issues affecting women in tech and venture capital, while also highlighting the very wide gap between white women and women of color. The plot focuses on the two white female founders, who do work hard—but to the point that they completely lose sight of their original vision and who they are, both as business partners and as individuals.