Stress. A healthy amount everyday can fuel motivation and boost energy and attention. But most of the time, stress feels like a negative force, where our cortisol and adrenaline levels spike, and our bodies kick into the stress response modes of fight, flight or freeze, all responses that take up or drain most of our energy.
According to the Nagoski sisters in their groundbreaking book, “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle,” stress can be seen the same way as other biological processes in our bodies, as having a beginning, a middle, and an end. They theorize that stress is unavoidable, but how we deal with it makes all the difference. If we can complete the stress cycle, that is what will enable us to move through to the phase of de-stress, so we can avoid burnout and a host of other unwanted effects.
The Nagoski sisters write that completing the stress cycle is the key to unlocking ourselves from the typical harmful stress responses above and into greater mental clarity.
Here are the 7 Ways to De-Stress from the book to complete our body’s stress cycle:
1. Move: Running, dancing, swimming, anything that gets you moving. The Nagoskis note that exercise is 'your first line of attack in the battle against burnout.'
2. Breathe: Deep, slow breaths down-regulate the stress response—especially when the exhalation is long and slow and goes all the way to the end of the breath, so that your belly contracts, write the Nagoskis.
Here’s a simple breathing practice: Breathe in slowly for five seconds, hold that breath for five more seconds, then exhale for a slow count of ten seconds, and pause for another count of five. Do that three times—just one minute and fifteen seconds of breathing— and see how you feel.
Just a few minutes can calm you down and take you out of the flight or fight stress response.
3. Talk to people: Casual but friendly social interaction can be a signal to our brains that the world is a safe place, say the Nagoskis. Casual chit chat in line to get coffee counts, or any brief interaction with others can have a positive impact.
4. Laugh: When we laugh, says neuroscientist Sophie Scott, we use an “ancient evolutionary system that mammals have evolved to make and maintain social bonds and regulate emotions.” Laughing with someone else or reminiscing about a funny experience also works as a stress release and teaches us to express our emotions.
5. Physical affection: Sometimes a deeper connection with a loving presence is called for. Most often, this comes from some loving and beloved person who likes, respects, and trusts you, and whom you like, respect, and trust, say the Nagoskis.
6. Cry: “Anyone who says crying doesn’t solve anything doesn’t know the difference between dealing with the stress and dealing with the situation that causes the stress,” the sisters write.
7. Do something creative: Engaging in creative activities today leads to more energy, excitement, and enthusiasm tomorrow. Sports, the arts—including painting, sculpture, music, theater, and storytelling in all forms—create a context that tolerates and even encourages big emotions.
*If you are having feelings of hopelessness or dread and need extra help and support, seek out a counselor to help you navigate and make a plan to break out of the stress cycle.
Taking any one of these steps forward will help you to commit yourself to completing the stress cycle and getting back on track to being more calm and present throughout your day.
By: Ilise Reznick
Mental Health Counseling Intern