Living In Gratitude: Completing the Stress Cycle

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes- including you.

– Anne Lamott

Stress is a common experience. We encounter stress at work, at home, in our social lives, and relationships.

As defined by, stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances, whereas stressors are the factors that cause stress.

In the book, Burnout, The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, authors Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, reveal that removing the stressor doesn’t negate the stress. To alleviate or mitigate the stress we feel in our mind and body, we have to move through the emotional stress cycle.

This insight is valuable because there are often stressors in our lives over which we have no control.

We have jobs or work in environments that are highly stressful. We caretake others, and our compassion fatigue results in intense emotional, mental, and physical burdens. We struggle financially to make ends meet. Our family is unsettled and tumultuous.

Whatever the situation, stressors are, more often than not, immovable. This means, feeling and dealing with stress is constant.

Some stress is healthy, but chronic stress is not good for our overall well-being. We can dial down its negative impact by employing ways to move our body through the stress cycle.

Emily Nagoski Ph.D. likens our emotional and physical reactions to stress like a tunnel. She states that we often enter the tunnel and get stuck in the middle. Being stuck perpetuates and amplifies our stress rather than reducing it. But, when we complete the cycle by exiting the tunnel, our mind and body can relax and release. This cycle completion has the same effect as unplugging our tech devices when they go haywire-it resets them just as exiting the tunnel resets our emotions.

The book offers six secrets to unlocking the stress cycle.

  1. Moving your body
  2. Breathing
  3. Crying
  4. Laughing
  5. Affection
  6. Creativity

Moving your body can be deliberate exertion such as going to the gym, taking a walk, or running. Or it can be achieved through a simple exercise: 

While standing or sitting, tighten every muscle in your body from your head to your toes. Hold this clenched position for five seconds, release and shake your body. Repeat if needed.

Our breath is a powerfully simple way to inform our body and mind that it’s okay to relax. When we are in a state of stress, we often hold our breath or take shallow breaths. By taking deliberate, deep breaths, we deactivate our stress response.

Inhale slowly for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, then breathe out slowly, exhaling until you feel your abdominal muscles clench. Again repeat this as needed.

Crying and laughing are both incredible stress relievers. If you need a good cry, the trick is to focus on how your body feels instead of ruminating on the stressful situation. Give yourself five or ten minutes; crying to relieve stress shouldn’t be a long, drawn-out process. With laughter, seek out anything that makes you belly laugh uncontrollably.

Affection, specifically a 20-second hug with someone you trust, offers amazing destressing properties. Both people should stand close together and embrace firmly. This physical and emotional support tells the body to down-regulate, that it is safe to relax and move out of the fight, flight, or flee space we enter during stressful situations.

Outward creative expressions are a healthy and productive way to eliminate stress. This creativity doesn’t have to visually manifest as the emotion you feel but the act of creating literally “off-gases” the emotional steam that’s built up within. This creativity can be anything – painting, photography, knitting, cooking, writing, building, coloring, sculpting…. Even self-proclaimed non-creatives can find creative outlets for moving themselves through their stress tunnels.

Emily and Amelia Nogoski remind us that stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you. 

The next time your stress feels overwhelming and overpowering, use one of the six strategies to get unstuck and move through the tunnel.

May your day be filled with gratitude and good things.