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airo222's picture Amy Rodquist-Kodet, MA, CHWC
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When we face anything the brain perceives as a threat, stress is the body's natural response. Like all biological processes, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. If we can move all the way through the stress response cycle, we stay healthier. Identical twin sisters Drs. Amelia and Emily Nagoski identify the difference between stress and stressors in their book, "Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle." 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.”

The problems begin if we get stuck--that's burnout. Take the example of traffic. If you have a difficult commute home, you don’t instantly feel peaceful and relaxed in your body when you arrive. Your body is still in the middle of the stress response. Even though you’ve dealt with the stressor by getting out of traffic, your body still needs you to deal with the stress itself by completing the stress response cycle.

Here are 6 evidence-based strategies for completing our body's stress cycle:

  • Physical activity. It's not just about going to the gym. Dancing counts. Jumping jacks in your studio apartment are fine. Running; swimming; even stomping your feet and screaming or punching your pillow into oblivion. All of these work. The point is you have to use your body. Since stress is physical, physical activity is a big part of ending stress cycles.
  • Creativity. Make something. Do you like to knit, paint, sing, write, or play with modeling clay? Whatever creative endeavor speaks to you, do it.
  • Laughing. Especially when you can laugh together with someone, laughter is a way to release and express all the emotions we’re keeping inside. Emotions are like tunnels. If you go all the way through them, you get to the light at the end. Laughter helps with this, as does recalling a funny story that made you laugh.
  • Crying. Crying is for everybody. Babies cry because it’s good for them, but it’s good for adults. Crying is one of our body’s mechanisms to release stress. It’s important not to be so embarrassed by our tears that we attempt to stop them from coming out.
  • Physical affection. You don’t have to have a romantic partner, just someone you feel safe with to give you a long, strong hug (about 20 seconds according to the research) or time with a loving pet. Physical affection helps your body release trust and bonding hormones like oxytocin, and those can chase away the sense of danger your body was previously holding onto. As our hormones shift, our heart rate slows and our body begins to feel safe.
  • Deep breathing. Find a breathing tool that resonates with you. Here's a simple one: breathe in slowly for five seconds, hold that breath for five more seconds, and exhale for ten seconds. Just a few minutes of this practice can calm down your vagus nerve and complete your fight-or-flight stress response.

Explore these different strategies to discover what you enjoy and what works for you. You can return to the previous page to see more examples of ways you can complete the stress response cycle. Still feeling stuck? Try a free consult with one of the certified health and wellness coaches with UK HR Health and Wellness.
"Wellness is not a state of being—it’s a state of action. It is the freedom to oscillate through the cycles of being human. Real-world wellness is messy, complicated, and not always accessible. If you sometimes feel overwhelmed and exhausted, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong; it just means you’re moving through the process. Grant your body permission to be imperfect and listen to your own experience." - Drs. Amelia and Emily Nagoski from their book, "Burnout."