Do you find yourself feeling constantly stressed? Do you go to sleep stressed and wake up stressed?
Stress vs. Stressors
Stress is a full-system response in our brain and body that gets activated automatically, so we can cope with our daily stressors. Stressors can be external situations like an upcoming deadline at work/school, worries about money, and pressures from our families/society. Stressors can also be internal including our own self-expectations, our self-talk, and worries about the future. Some of us can have heightened stress responses if we have experienced trauma and/or have a family history of trauma. You can read more about intergenerational trauma stress responses here.
Often, we make efforts to deal with our stressors by problem-solving and completing the task at hand. However, when the stressor has been taken care of, our body can still feel stressed, especially if we are used to constantly feeling stressed. It’s as if feeling stressed is our default response even when there isn’t anything requiring our immediate attention. If you have trouble relaxing, this may be the reason. You’ve become stuck in the stress cycle.
The Importance of Completing the Stress Cycle
Interestingly, taking care of your stress response is actually a different process than dealing with our stressors. To truly deal with stress, we have to complete the stress cycle (Nagoski & Nagoski, 2019). Many of us are stuck in repeated and incomplete stress cycles built over many years. Imagine how many different emotions and physical sensations of stress are trapped inside our bodies!
While our stress responses are needed to help us survive a threat, practicing stress management techniques by completing our stress cycle is also an important part of our survival. We know chronic and unchecked stress can lead to physical and emotional problems, so a mechanism built to protect us can actually harm us. Completing our stress cycle by engaging in the strategies below is essential.
Ways to Complete the Stress Cycle
These exercises suggested by Nagoski & Nagoski (2019) are intended to help our bodies know we are safe and no longer need to deal with an impending threat. In doing so, we are telling our body, ‘hey thank you for working hard today to help me survive all the stressful events and it is ok to rest now; we are safe.’
Get moving and release the physical tension and stress hormones stored in our body. You can take a walk, run, dance, and any activity your body enjoys.
Take some deep breaths to take care of and slow down the stress response in your body. This is most helpful when your stress is not too elevated. Try to breathe out longer than you are breathing in.
Tap into your inner creativity to express pent up emotions. This allows us to tap into our inner child by drawing/coloring and also our inner wisdom by writing poems/ making music.
Make sure to get your daily cuddles if physical touch is your love language. Hugging a loved one (family, friend, partner, or pet) for 20 seconds helps your body know that you are safe. This allows your brain to release feel good hormones and helps your body to feel less stressed.
Find your safe people who can help your brain remember and your body to recognize that you are safe.
Feel your feelings by crying, laughing, or crying while laughing. Crying helps our body release stress hormones, and laughing releases feel good hormones. If you need help tapping into feelings associated with crying or laughing, it may be time to rewatch a favorite movie or series.
Since we experience stress daily, it is important to move through our stress cycle everyday. While we may or may not have resolved our stressors of the day, we can take care of our stress responses. Feel free to try some of the examples above. You may notice you gravitate towards certain exercises or some exercises work better on certain days. The completed stress cycle is a shift that we feel physically and emotionally. This shift may also be subtle. You may notice a slight release and loosening of tension, a slowing down, and a sense of relaxation. It can take time to become attuned to your body to recognize when you have experienced this shift.
If you are interested in learning how to complete your stress cycle, you can contact us by clicking here.
“Because you experience stress every day, you have to build completing the cycle into every day. Make it a priority, like your life depends on it. Because it does.” - Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA
“To be well is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.” - Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA
Nagoski, E. & Nagoski, A. (2019). Burnout. The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.
Stay tuned. The next topic is "Importance of Sadness and Other “Negative” Emotions."
Written by Susanna La, Ph.D.
Edited by Elena Duong, Psy.D.