Self-Care: The Stress Cycle

Our lives are all full of stress. It’s how we respond to this stress that can dictate our well-being.

Twin sisters Drs. Amelia and Emily Nagoski describe the stress response cycle in their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Like everything, there is a beginning, middle, and end to this cycle. However, many of us do not complete the ending of a stress cycle so they can build and build on each other. Our bodies and minds can start to feel the toll when we are living in a constant state of stress. This leads to all sorts of physical ailments (e.g., fatigue, daily headaches, etc.) and mental illnesses (e.g, increased anxiety). This also leads to significant burnout and emotional exhaustion.

In their book, they also identify the difference between stress and stressors. They write: “The good news is that stress is not the problem. It’s how we deal with stress—not what causes it—that releases the stress, completes the cycle, and ultimately, keeps us from burning out. You can’t control every external stressor that comes your way. The goal isn’t to live in a state of perpetual balance and peace and calm; the goal is to move through stress to calm, so that you’re ready for the next stressor, and to move from effort to rest and back again.” 

They describe 6 evidence-based strategies for completing our body’s stress cycle:

  1. Physical activity – this can be conventional exercising at a gym or maybe it’s just going on a walk or dancing around your house
  2. Creativity – make something (like a painting or candle) or sing at the top of your lungs
  3. Laughing – we’re talking about that belly laugh here
  4. Crying – let it out and do feel any shame for doing it
  5. Physical affection – you don’t need to have a romantic partner for this! Hug someone deeply for 20 seconds or pet an animal
  6. Deep breathing – just a few minutes of this can calm your vagus nerve and complete your stress cycle

I encourage everyone to try and discover what helps you when you feel stressed out—do you have healthy or maybe not so healthy coping mechanisms? Can you implement any of the above to help complete your stress cycle?

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