Completing The Stress Cycle
How is your stress management? There's a good chance that even if you think you're managing stress, you're not actually allowing your body to completely recover. Do you tend to get sick at the start of a vacation or have you noticed your fuse is shorter than normal lately? Feeling exhausted? Having trouble sleeping? Let's make sure you're giving your body a chance to complete the stress response frequently.
Stress Used To Be My Default Setting
Lately, I’ve been feeling more stress. Lots of exciting changes in my life are happening. It’s exciting! But it also means lots of new experiences and stepping outside of my comfort zone. Stress is a normal part of that.
Being a health coach doesn’t make me immune to stress or its impact. I’m human (it’s also one of the things that led me here)! But as a health coach, I have become so much more aware when I’m stressed and how it affects me. And now, I know what to do about it.
My reaction to stress used to be to both fear it and to try to toughen up and push through all in one. An interesting and not very effective combination. Kind of like closing your eyes while going through a haunted house...not that I’ve done that...
Any time I felt stressed, I worried. Why was I feeling stressed? Was the scenario something I should be stressed about? Why were all of these stressful things piling up?!
Other times, I didn't even realize I was stressed. I was used to taking a lot on and being stressed became my default setting. My name means “industrious”. Straight out of the womb, I was programmed to work hard for an “A” and approval. For “balance”, I worked out at a super high intensity. It was the only time I ever felt an outlet for my stress. I felt good after! Working out hard forced me to breathe. My response to stress was to push myself more.
Physical activity is an amazing outlet for stress, but not when it turns into another form of stress for your constantly stressed out body. There needs to be a yin to the yang. There needs to be balance and time to recover and recharge.
Stress Is Physical And Mental: You Need To Address Both
One really important thing I talk about with my clients (and myself!), is that it’s really important to allow your body to carry out the stress response. Stress is a physical and mental response. Even when a stressor has been dealt with or passed, your body still needs to complete the stress cycle.
I never used to give my body a chance to complete the stress cycle, so I would crash and burn after stressful periods. Without fail, I would get sick as soon as finals were over or at the start of a vacation. I lived with random crippling stomach aches, because my body didn’t have a pop-off valve for the stress.
That was when I didn’t know the value of listening to my body. I was aware that I tended to get sick after finals, but I thought it was normal. I thought I was managing my stress! My body was trying to tell me otherwise.
Once I crashed and burned physically and mentally, I realized it was time to change. I don’t recommend reaching that point.
Now, I know what signs to watch for when I’m experiencing more stress, and I listen.
- I notice when I start turning to more “treats” or mindlessly snacking even though I’m not hungry.
- I notice when I’m having trouble falling asleep or waking up throughout the night.
- I notice when I’m becoming more irritable or when I start to feel overwhelmed when there’s one more small thing that falls on my plate.
Completing The Stress Cycle
Now, when I'm stressed, I respond in a gentler way. The book, “Burnout” by Amelia and Emily Nagoski has a list of great ways to allow your body to complete the stress cycle. Spending 20-60 minutes each day is ideal, because we experience stress every day!
Here are some techniques to complete the stress cycle:
- Physical activity - Sometimes this can be high-intensity, but other times a walk or yoga may be a more nourishing and balancing option.
- Breathwork - This is really helpful when your stress level isn’t too high or when you need a pop-off valve during really stressful events until you can do another one of these to fully complete the cycle.
- Positive social interaction - This can be as simple as chatting with a cashier as you check out at the grocery store or complimenting someone. Having these positive interactions sends your body the message that you are in a safe space.
- Laughter - We’re talking full body, genuine laughing!
- Affection - This is great if you’re too stressed for simple positive social interaction. In this case, you’re with someone you really trust and can feel comfortable and vulnerable around. Affection can be in the form of a deep conversation or physical.
- A big cry - Think about the huge release your entire body gets after a good cry when you allow your body to release bottled up emotions!
- Creative expression - This can be writing, painting, cooking, playing an instrument, etc. It’s important to note that this is often the first thing that gets ditched during stressful times. See how that doesn’t serve you in the long term?
Learn from my mistakes! I know you are busy. But you are NOT too busy to prioritize these. You can either do these now, or you can be sidelined when you’re sick for your entire vacation or completely burnt out in a career you used to love.
Still think you’re too busy? Check your phone right now and see how much time you’re spending on social media. Which of these techniques are you going to use to complete your stress cycle today?