Making Stress Suck Less with KD Hurlbutt

In this episode, we talk to KD about burnout, how to make stress suck less, and using your body, breath and brain to figure out and help when you’re stressed.

march 29th, 2022

Episode Notes

Memorable Moments:

  • 4:16 According to the World Health Organization, [burnout is] chronic workplace stress that has been unsuccessfully managed. And usually the ways that you can tell that you are burnt out is there’s a decrease in professional efficacy, in energy, chronic exhaustion, increase in irritability, and/or decrease in engagement, just to name a few. 
  • 5:01 Most importantly, what burnout is, it’s chronic stress that has been unsuccessfully managed. And the reason that’s so important is because it takes, I think, an often hard to define, hard to recognize, hard to wrap your hands around concept of burnout, and it makes it that much more tangible. Plus, it makes it actually something you can tackle and do something about because there’s a lot of ways that we can go about handling our own stress levels and how we interact with the stressors in our life.
  • 7:07 I was high functioning. So to the rest of the world, they perceived me as she’s got her stuff together. She is on the track. She’s checking off the boxes. But on the interior, I felt like everything was falling apart. I had a handle on nothing and it felt debilitating. So I quit my corporate gig and I started to try to heal my own nervous system.
  • 7:48 What I started to figure out is that all health and wellbeing, including our mental wellbeing, if it’s a house, it sits on top of a foundation that is a healthy, nervous system that we know how to regulate. 
  • 10:53 Because when you actually know what stress is, it’s not a good or bad thing. It’s a neutral thing. Stress has let us evolve into the creatures that we are today. And it’s one of the reasons that human beings have been able to survive. Like, there’s a very important role that it plays in our lives and keeping us safe and in, honestly, helping us to activate a lot of our systems that get us energized to have productivity and creativity.
  • 11:21 Stress in and of itself isn’t bad. Where it gets to be a challenge any why the goal is to make it suck less, is because too much of it too often actually drives, clinically proven, health consequences. Everything from inflammation, digestive disorders, intercepting our endocrine system, which means we can have fertility and reproductive challenges, to high blood pressure, clogged arteries, like the list goes on and on and on, in my opinion, all disease is either caused by or correlated to our stress levels. So, too much of it is the problem. The other problem is there are too many stressors and the number of stressors that we’re exposed to now versus what our brains, our amygdala in particular, were adapted to be able to filter for us and interpret for us are no longer aligned.
  • 12:26 So to try to eliminate stress, even to try to eliminate all negative stress is just like, it’s a fool’s errand. Let’s not even try it. So then the question becomes okay, if we’re not trying to eliminate stress, but we are trying to eliminate burnout because maybe we don’t have to be chronically stressed, and if we’re trying to make it suck less, how do we do that? 
  • 17:05 How [your body] speaks to you is through the three B’s, which are breath, body, and brain.
  • 19:13 Boundaries are value-based, energetic limits on where you wanna invest your time and talent.
  • 19:19 The reason I think the mental health crisis, the burnout crisis and the climate crisis are all connected is because they’re all rooted in a fundamentally faulty assumption, which is that you can take energy and resources from people or the planet with no limits or boundaries and no respect for rest or restoration and not have consequences. That just actually defies physics and the law of conservation of energy.
  • 19:51 Ownership is about staying accountable to those boundaries that we are, or are not, setting and communicating them because nobody is a mind reader. So even though we want people to be mind readers, they’re not, and they often need help understanding where our boundaries are and why.
  • 20:33 Support is two-fold. It’s what is in your support system of your self-care tools and the ways that your daily habits that you’re using and leaning into to help reduce the total amount of stress and create resilience when triggers come up. But it’s also about how are we asking for help? 
  • 21:16 Self-compassion is, in its simplest state, is learning how to not judge ourselves. That doesn’t mean we’re not holding ourselves accountable. That’s why ownership is there. We definitely hold ourselves accountable, but we can do it in a way that’s loving in a way that supports our growth and our learning.
  • 22:11 And when we pause and ask ourselves, okay, but what’s your purpose? Why are you here? What brings you joy? How do you wanna show up and serve this world? What is the most daring vision of your life and this world that we’re all in, that you want to invest your talent and energy in? It helps to flip the script on like, okay, I see that the problem is not that I am driven.The problem is not that I like to work hard or to contribute, but that maybe the why that underpins all of that is unfulfilling and/or just not for me and that’s okay. 
  • 24:25 I think the biggest thing that we get wrong is that we assume it’s the problem of the individual. And so I’m so elated and excited for the amount, the increase in investment and emergence of apps and technologies and tools that help individuals support their own wellbeing. It’s an incredibly important part of the systemic solution and it’s insufficient because the environments and cultures that are creating those challenges and/or making it impossible for somebody to set a boundary or to have a courageous conversation because they don’t feel psychologically safe or other systemic challenges that they’re facing, they can’t solve, they actually don’t have the agency or control to do anything about. And so it is amazing that we have these solutions and it’s not enough. 
  • 25:55 The same kind of self-compassion you can extend that to organizations for organizational compassion. You can have, you can assume positive intent. You can assume that everyone’s doing their best inside of an economic system. That makes it really hard to change and to, it’s fundamentally not designed to prioritize people’s wellbeing, but you can have compassion for all of that and say we can do better and we can do differently. And how do we do that in conjunction with supporting the individual so that they converge, and then you have this amplified ripple impact. 

Dear Mind, You Matter is brought to you by NOBU, a new mental health and wellness app. To download NOBU, visit the app store or Google Play

This podcast is hosted by Allison Walsh and Dr. Angela Phillips. It is produced by Allison Walsh, Ashley Tate, and Nicole LaNeve. For more information or if you’re interested in being a guest on this podcast, please visit

Show Contributors

Kasey Dreier Hurlbutt

KD is a Stanford environmental engineer, burnout prevention coach, creator of The Reset Deck, a card game with 45 ways to make stress suck less, and the CEO of Bask + Being — a company that builds workplace wellness strategies, that well, work. After experiencing her own case of burnout, KD left her role as a brand director and sustainability manager for a Fortune 500 company to become a TEDx speaker and a burnout consultant for companies like Salesforce, Apple’s Media Arts Lab, Kaiser Permanente, and more. Committed to (re)building an economic ecosystem (not an empire) that’s inclusive, just, and equitable for people and the planet. KD weaves accessible science, relatable stories, and practical tools to shift the way people experience stress and sustainability.

Social Media: @curiouslykasey