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Strategies for Completing the STRESS Cycle

“Sounds like you haven’t completed your stress cycle” my daughter said in response to my “THORN” share of the day.

Every night at dinner we take turns sharing our ROSE, THORN and BUD.

  • Your rose is the best thing about the day

  • Your thorn is the worst

  • Your bud is what you are most looking forward to the next day.

It’s one of our rituals and that night I was stuck on my thorn.

it wasn't this bad LOL

Noelle was correct. She’d apparently been listening a few days prior when I told my kids about a simple concept: completing your stress cycle.

We all know “stress happens” but how we deal with it varies greatly.

The experience of stress often lasts longer than we'd like which is one reason why it becomes a problem.

The STRESS CYCLE is a sequence of phases, initiated with a trigger (aka a stressor) that causes a stress response. It should have a beginning and an end. We turn on the stress response when we feel that a stressor is potentially threatening. Likewise we complete the cycle when we feel safe.

While we tend to think of stress as a matter of the mind, it is very much a mind-body phenomenon. A stress response can FEEL like many things: anxiety, sadness, fatigue, irritability, hypervigilance, exhaustion, lack of focus or a desire to isolate. Somatically it can present as pain, tension, dizziness, altered breathing, and GI problems to name a few.

Imagine the stress cycle as a tunnel...

..... that you need to pass through to get through to the “light” so to speak. When we repress, delay or all together ignore our stress response we get stuck in the tunnel. Often we tend to forget about the tools we already have; the ones that can lead us to the light.

Here’s a reminder

Strategies to complete the Stress Cycle

1. Physical Activity – This can entail increasing your heart rate with some type of cardiovascular exercise. However the power of even a simple walk outside can surprise you. One reason might be linked to vision. Andrew Huberman, PhD discusses the relaxing effect of optic flow as you move through space in this article and on his podcast.

2. Breathing – There is plenty of research to support the fact that breathing is one of the single best ways to calm down your nervous system. Slow nasal breathing is particularly helpful.

3. Positive Social Interaction- Community and connection are huge. In-person interactions are preferred but family and friends aren’t always in close proximity. I know I benefit greatly from several long-distance connections. Positive social interaction might also include a yoga class or an unexpected smile from a stranger.

4. Laughter- I wrote a whole blog post about the physiological benefits to laughter. Check it out :)

“Laughter, a form of eustress, has been shown to work as a

neuro-immune-endocrine enhancer by influencing multiple

stress mediators including hormones, growth factors,

neurotransmitters and components of the endocrine and

immune systems such as cytokines and immunoglobulins."

5. Crying- Much like laughter, a good cry can help complete the stress cycle. Often this is because it allows us to acknowledge and release the emotions we feel. From an evolutionary perspective crying is thought to encourage empathy and promote social cooperation.

6. Physical touch- A hand on the shoulder of a patient as they struggle, a 30+ second hug with your teen, and a snuggle with your pup or kitten.

It’s a love language my friends

7. Creativity- this means something different for each of us and you don’t need to be artistic to benefit. Listening to music, dancing in your kitchen, writing or preparing a new recipe are all creative ventures.

All these activities serve to send a signal to your body that you are well, reminding you of your innate resources that calm and secure. No need to limit yourself, you can do several of them at the same time.

How does this work?

Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski say it best:

Managing stress and dealing with a stressor are two separate processes. Both are necessary. By focusing on completing the stress cycle we open the path to more effectively dealing with the stressor - which in some cases may be long term.

How Do You Know You’ve Completed The Stress Cycle?

“As we move from fixity to flow, we begin to experience a sense of coherency” - Peter Levine

The analogy of getting to that light at the end of the tunnel makes the shift seem like the experience should be dramatic when in reality that’s not always the case. The salient feature of completing the stress cycle is that you feel different. You feel better.

The health and wellness industries are rife with therapies seeking to resolve stress and it's associated symptoms. While practitioners can serve as guides for healing, the individual must be involved in their day-to-day self-management. Strategies to complete the stress cycle empower people to take ownership and action. Different tools work for different people.

While these methods may not seem novel, I’d encourage you to self-reflect on the last time you got stuck in your own stress tunnel. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a gentle reminder of the strategies you can employ to get unstuck?

So that night I pet the dog and went on a walk before extra long bedtime hugs.

If you are interested in reading more about the stress cycle concept check out Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book “Burnout: the key to unlocking the stress cycle”.

Additionally, Gabor Mate’s book “When The Body Says No” describes how chronic stress can be a predisposing and causative factor in many of the chronic illnesses that burden society. It's a must

Photos by Xi Xi, Jess Loiterton, Isaque Pereira, Anna Shvets, Ben Mack, Anthony Derosa from Pexels

And Hasan Alması from Unsplash


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