5 Ways to Complete the Stress Cycle

Stress is at an all-time high for many of my clients right now. Some talk about how the coronavirus has taken away social supports, financial stability, and has resulted in health anxiety. Others yet, cite politics. Some talk about the strain on their current relationships due to changes in the way they work and the amount of time they are spending together. Whatever it maybe, I have heard this a lot lately, “Shaheen, I am so stressed out!” 

So, what exactly is stress? Stress has two components, the psychological perception of pressure due to an external factor and our body’s response to it. Our mind reacts to stress as an external threat. This means that we will generally have one or a combination of the following reactions to stress: fight, flight, and freeze.

How Does Completing the Stress Cycle Work?

In fight, we become angry. Sometimes this anger maybe aimed at our stressor directly but other times we might notice that our fuse is shorter and that we are snapping at our loved ones more often. In flight, we might notice an urge to run away, maybe we avoid our stressor by scrolling on our phone or watching Netflix and we tend to want to be alone. In freeze, we enter a state of hypoarousal, where we feel numb and shut down. We might find ourselves sleeping longer, having trouble getting off the couch and losing motivation to do things which we previously loved.

Sometimes stress is solved by problem-solving the stressor itself. A busy mom might outsource some of their household chores so that she has less on her plate. An over-worked employee might advocate for more help on their team. But what should we do if the external stressor is something that we cannot solve? And what if the stressor is ongoing?

This is a conversation I have been having with many of my clients as they understandably have been struggling with stress in their life and their lack of control on their stressors. Exploring what we CAN do can be helpful. Trying to let go of what we CANNOT change is another commonly suggested tactic. Remember that stress leaves a physiological mark on your body and the level of stress that many are experiencing needs more than just a cognitive approach. 

One thing that I have been finding great success in is something called, “completing the stress cycle.” Dr. Emily Nagoski and Dr. Amelia Nagoski outline this process in their book, “Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle” Learn More About This Book Here

To understand how it works, we need to understand why our reaction to stress, a choice of fight, flight, or freeze has evolved to be. Imagine in the past, an individual encounters a tiger. Their brain, recognizes the threat and gives them three options: fight, flight, freeze. All of our bodies energy gets exclusively channelled to these three options in order to give us the best chance of survival.

Then, our brain selects which option will most likely result in us overcoming the threat. We then take the remainder of our energy to attempt to live. In the case of a tiger, freeze and fight are foes. We choose flight and our body takes ALL its energy, mental and physical, to follow through. We run! As fast as possible. And if we are successful, we likely collapse and then celebrate our eminent safety. 

5 Ways You can Complete the Stress Cycle

In our modern world though, it's extremely rare that our stressors, the threats our brain is perceiving, are rooted in a physical threat. And if we cannot solve the stressor, how then do we complete the stress cycle? Fret not, there are ways we can still complete the stress cycle! It might not be necessary to run as fast as we can, like we would have for a tiger, but doing so can help our body to expend the energy it was expecting to use towards our flight response. Exercise isn’t the only option, though it is a reliably good one. Here are five options to help you complete the stress cycle:

  1. Exercise: About 20 minutes of vigorous exercise should be enough but up to 60 minutes can be helpful.
  2. Breathe: Deep breathing, particularly with a focus on long, slow exhalation helps to let your body know its safe and ok to relax. Some useful techniques include box breathing or mindfulness meditation.
  3. Laugh: It seems so obvious but laughter can release hormones that help to combat stress hormones and help prove to your body that you are safe. Laughter yoga, a funny movie, or some YouTube clips are all great choices.
  4. Connect with those you love: Just like laughter, hormones released when we connect with our loved ones can help to combat stress hormones. When we feel reciprocal love our mind lets our body know it is safe. 
  5. Cry: Children do this beautifully. They get stressed, cry, and release all their stress energy and are ready to move on. Many of us have received the message  that crying is weak or not good but studies have actually shown that tears have stress hormones in them. They also have mood regulating manganese. So, have a good cry! It’s cathartic!

The Bottom Line ...

Absolute best practice would be to complete the stress cycle every time you get over stressed. But in the midst of a pandemic, I know this could mean hopping on a treadmill multiple times a day and that isn’t probable for many people. At minimum, engaging in one activity per day for at least 20 minutes should be helpful. If you are finding that your stress levels are becoming unmanageable, book a free counselling consultation and see if Holistic Healing Counselling is a good fit for you. 

Welcome to Holistic Healing

Welcome to Holistic Healing

Meet our certified therapists, Adam, Selena, Danielle, and Shaheen. No matter what you want to work on, we have a therapist to help. Our Counsellors focus on helping you feel at ease by allowing you to feel heard and understood. By using a holistic, or whole picture approach, our trained Counsellors can help their patients live a happier, more authentic life. Our therapists offer adult counselling, couples counselling, and adolescent/teen counselling. Interested in learning more? Need to book a session? Contact Us here.


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