GEM OF ZEN #35
Hello and welcome to the 35th GOZ in our treasure chest and the very first for 2021. I’ve decided to write this one myself, but as I mentioned last week, it is open for guest posts! ⇐ All details on how to contribute your own Gem of Zen can be found at that link!
As a reminder, Gems of Zen is about sharing ways and means (knowledge, expertise, lifestyle choices, daily habits, things that work for you etc) that help us on the way to achieving a sense of Zen (peace & balance of mind, body & spirit). You don’t need to be a perfectly zen person to contribute a guest post at all. It’s not about perfection. There’s no such thing! It’s about all those little things that might calm us, soothe us, comfort us, and help us on the way to feeling a sense of zen.
So let’s get started with #35 which is all about the need to complete the stress cycle and how that will help us along the way to feeling a little more zen.
HIGHLIGHT REELS + LOWERLIGHTS + LOWLIGHTS
I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘highlight reel’ when it comes to social media? It means that most of us generally only show the best parts of our lives, ‘the highlights’, and much less of the ‘lowerlights’ and rarely ever the ‘lowlights’. Lowerlights are those parts of our lives that are not highlights and not necessarily ‘low lights’ – just lower (or less exciting or entertaining) than our highlights! Lowerlights would include the day to day realities of life like ironing, washing, cleaning, cooking, running errands etc. The lowlights might include our problems, worries, stresses, grief and grievances. We might share these with a close relative or friend but don’t usually share these publicly as we don’t want to be a drag and generally prefer to show our more positive and fun sides to all and sundry on the internet! Besides, the aim of the game in social media is generally to gain followers or at least hold on to those we already have! There’s a whole other blog post on this topic that maybe I’ll write about another day.
COMPLETING THE STRESS CYCLE
Regardless of what we may present of ourselves to others, we all have the ‘lowerlights’ and ‘lowlights’ in our lives and some of us more than others. This stage of life has presented me with some lovely highlights, lots of lowerlights, and some lowlights as well. To help me process and work through some of those lowlights, I’ve been periodically seeing a fabulous Psychologist. It was by seeing this Psychologist that I became aware of the notion and necessity of completing the stress cycle in order to avoid emotional exhaustion and burnout or even getting physically sick!
Exhaustion happens when we get stuck in an emotion
Did you know that we hold our emotions in our bodies and that emotions have a beginning, a middle and an end? Think of the beginning, middle and end as a tunnel we need to get through. Emotional exhaustion and burnout can occur if we get stuck in that tunnel and don’t complete the whole cycle. I obviously never completed stress cycles or got through my tunnels back in 2012 when I crashed with burnout after living with chronic stress in the workplace for an extended period of time.
My psychologist sent me the link to a podcast by Brené Brown where she interviews Emily and Amelia Nagoski (twins) on Burnout and How to Complete the Stress Cycle and I found it such an interesting listen that all makes complete sense to me. I’ve included this podcast at the end of this post and I highly recommend you have a listen when you have the time. It goes for around an hour so maybe have a listen while you’re eating lunch or doing the washing up or maybe even when you’re out walking!
I felt this topic was also a great one to share here on my blog because the majority of my readers are midlife women like myself and as we all know, when we reach the peri-menopausal, menopausal and post menopausal ages, our hormone levels change dramatically and leave us more prone to anxiety, overwhelm and stress.
BURNOUT: THE SECRET TO UNLOCKING THE STRESS CYCLE
The Nagoski twins have written a book called Burnout : The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle which has now been added to my ‘must read’ list! This book explains why women experience burnout differently than men – and provides a simple, science-based plan to help women minimise stress, manage emotions and live a more joyful life.
This books also talks about how it’s not so much about self-care but more so about caring for each other. We weren’t designed to do the big stuff alone!
All of us caring for each other, and right now more than any other time. We don’t do lean in, we don’t do lean down, we do lean on. Lean with. Pick each other up.
MORE ON THE STRESS CYCLE
A lot of us are taught to believe that if we fix the problem that caused the stress or the emotion or if the stressor has now gone away, then we will have dealt with the emotion itself. This is not the case. Removing the stressors does not mean the stress cycle is complete. The emotion/stress caused by the stressor is still in the body and we need to deal with it separately by getting through to the end of the tunnel in order to complete the stress cycle and feel better.
In the podcast they outline the seven ways in which to complete the stress response cycle and I’ll list those below.
HOW TO COMPLETE THE STRESS RESPONSE CYCLE
Note that any text in italics is a quote from the podcast.
- Physical Activity (i.e. walking, dancing, etc)
- Breathing (bringing your focus back onto your breath – a big deep breath in and a long, slow breath out)
- Positive Social Interaction (The part of the story where the hippo is chasing you and somebody lets you into their place and the hippo gets held back because somebody welcomed you in and the first thing you do when you feel safe is you jump up and down and hug each other and high five and fist bump, that natural inclination to connect with other people tells your body that it is somewhere safe.)
- Laughter (not the fake type, the real belly laughing kind)
- Affection (a warm hug in a safe and trusting context can do as much to help your body feel like it has escaped a threat as jogging a couple of miles and it’s less sweaty)
- A Big ‘Ol Cry (letting it all out but not feeding the emotion with your thoughts though)
- Creative Self Expression (intuit your way to feeling how good it feels to take whatever is inside you and put it outside you in paint, or in yarn, or in sketching, or in designing and engineering a process to make something work)
Here’s a quick clip (2mins3secs) of the twins briefly outlining a few of those points above (with the addition of ‘a good night’s sleep’) and explaining the impact they can have on making us feel better.
HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN WE’VE COMPLETED THE STRESS CYCLE?
Quote from the podcast:
“You feel it in your body, your body will tell you. You just have to learn how to listen for it.”
An excerpt from the book:
“Don’t worry if you’re not sure you can recognise when you’ve completed the cycle, especially if you’ve spent a lot of years, like your whole life maybe, holding on to worry or anger. You’ve probably got a whole lot of accumulated stress response cycles spinning their engines, waiting for their turn. So it’s going to take a while before you get through the backlog. All you need to do is recognise that you feel incrementally better than you felt before you started. You can notice that something in your body has changed, shifted in the direction of peace. If I was an eight, at an eight on the stress scale when I started and I’m a four now, you can look at yourself and say, ‘That’s pretty good.’”
Listen to the podcast below and/or read Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book (mentioned above) to learn more about the science behind the need to complete the stress cycle and the techniques used to complete the stress cycle.
I also love that in this Podcast they recognise and touch on the additional stressors that humans have nowadays in this new Covid world. They talk about compassion fatigue and touch on the three components of burnout which are:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Decreased sense of accomplishment; and
- Depersonalisation (the depletion of empathy, caring and compassion, and then decreased sense of accomplishment: the unconquerable sense of futility, feeling that nothing you do makes any difference)
I’ll end on this quote that Brené Brown shares towards the end of the podcast. She says she heard it in an AA meeting one time and it really resonated with her. I’m not sure who the original author of the quote is so please do let me know if you know.
If you don’t want to burnout, quit living like you’re on fire.
Have you’ve been completing the stress cycle? I hope you find this information and tips helpful, and please do have a listen to the podcast. It’s so worthwhile!
Ciao for now,