How to Complete the Stress Cycle

In my last post we learned about what the stress cycle is and why it is important to understand what it is, as well as the difference between the stressor and the stress response. If you haven't read this post yet, I recommend reading it here!

So, now you understand that you don't need to merely get away from the threat (aka, in modern terms: leave work, finish that assignment, pull into your driveway, etc.), but you also need to respond to the stress response and complete the stress cycle in order to tell your body that you are, indeed, safe.

How do you do this?

According to Amelia and Emily Nagoski's book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, you need to speak your body's language, as your body doesn't know that pulling into your driveway or pressing 'send' on an email means that the stressor is gone. For all it knows, the lion could still be lurking anywhere, since you haven't told it anything different!

The most efficient way to complete the stress cycle is to run, swim, or do basically anything that will get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes a day. It doesn't even need to be something athletic or impressive! Put on your favourite music and dance out the stress; run up and down your stairs a few times; do jumping jacks while your noodle water boils . . . anything! Even clenching and unclenching your muscles while sitting at your desk can have the same affect.

Although physical exertion is the most efficient, there are other ways to complete the cycle. Below are a few other options that, depending on the type of stressor, are known to help. What works for you will be different from what works for someone, so I recommend experimenting to find your groove.

1) Deep, slow breaths: Follow this pattern: 4 seconds in; 4 seconds hold; 8 seconds release. It's the extended release part that is most important!

2) Positive Social Interactions: Kind of the opposite of endless Netflix, right? Seeing supportive friends motions to your body that you are safe and that it no longer needs to protect itself.

3) Laughter: That deep, uncontrollable kind that you always hope never gets filmed.

4) Deep affection: Cuddling, kissing, etc, until you experience that relaxed feel. John Gottman recommends that couples have a 6-second kiss and 20-second hug every single day. Furthermore, this can be experienced through petting an animal as well.

5) Crying: Yes, crying is good for you and is a way to complete the stress cycle.

6) Do something creative: Creativity allows for big emotions. Paint, sculpt, cook, or whatever!
As you can see, completing the cycle can be done in many ways!

Sometimes you are not immediately in the position to do exactly what you would like to do, so in this case you could do a smaller version of what you need (such as take some long, deep breaths, go for a short walk around the office, etc.) and then do a more involved activity later (such as running, doing something creative, etc.). The point is that you do something intentional that communicates to your body that you are safe.

Next time you find yourself carrying stress, ask yourself this: What can I do right now to complete this cycle to the best of my ability?

Posted November 5, 2020

By Kelsey Hoff


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