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Burnout: The Hidden Reason Behind Your Decrease in Sexual Arousal

By Zanna Haney

We all know the feeling of being overworked, overwhelmed, and just down-right exhausted. So many of us live in this state day after day and only have a short time, if we’re lucky, to decompress on the weekend. It’s when this occurs for weeks, months, and often years that we move from a state of exhaustion to a state of burnout. So, it’s not surprising that for so many people they experience a decrease in sexual arousal (aka: sex drive) during this time.


The question is, what is the answer to this common dilemma? Most people can’t decrease their hours at work, the responsibility of their kids are not going away anytime soon, and they can’t add more hours to the day……so what can they do? Of course, there are small changes that can be made, such as outsourcing anything that requires additional time and energy, such as grocery shopping. A variety of grocery stores now offer pick-up or delivery, but this also comes with privilege. Not everyone is able to utilize those resources and how much of a difference is that really going to make?


Emily and Amelia Nagoski tackle this issue in their recent book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. They explain the significant difference between getting rid of the stressor in our lives, versus actually completing the stress response cycle. They share the physiological reason behind the need to complete the stress response cycle and the release that it brings to us as a result. But what exactly does all of this mean? Our body is designed to experience stress in a way to keep us safe. We experience a rush of chemicals in our body that puts us into fight, flight, or freeze mode. However, once we have been in one of these states, we must be able to complete the cycle in order to release the stress from our bodies.


I learned about this concept when I received training in trauma-informed therapy during my practicum in graduate school. I received training in somatic-based therapy to help trauma survivors. I remember a particular exercise that was used to assist survivors of sexual trauma that had experienced the freeze response during their assault. The exercise was known as Push Hands, and it was used to help the client release the physical tension “stress” that was trapped in their nervous system. I personally was able to witness the power of this intervention. So, it only makes sense that this same concept of somatics (aka: body-oriented work) can be applied to our every- day stress response cycle. The Nagoski sisters express that it’s prominent for us to speak our body’s language in order to send the message to us that we are safe. It’s truly amazing how powerful our bodies actually are. They share “while you’re managing the day’s stressors, your body is managing the day’s stress, and it is absolutely essential to your well-being- the way sleeping and eating are absolutely essential- that you give your body the resources it needs to complete the stress response cycles that have been activated.” So now the question is, how do we do that?


Emily and Amelia share a variety of simple and achievable ways to complete the response cycle. This can be done through physical activity, breathing, positive social interactions, laughter, and affection. So, although this may take a little bit of extra time, the benefits of these simple tasks have a much greater benefit. So, go grab that beer after work with a co-worker, lay outside in the grass and breathe in the warm air, attend an inspiring event, watch a funny clip on YouTube, or hug your partner when you get home. Not only will you feel like you have been recharged, but your sex life will thank you for it. 

Resource: Nagoski, Emily & Nagoski, Amelia (2019). Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the 

Stress Cycle. New York: Ballantine Books: imprint of Random House


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