Completing the Stress Cycle

February 1, 2021

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.

  1. Physical Activity (i.e. walking, dancing, etc)
  2. Breathing (bringing your focus back onto your breath – a big deep breath in and a long, slow breath out)
  3. 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.)
  4. Laughter (not the fake type, the real belly laughing kind)
  5. 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)
  6. A Big ‘Ol Cry (letting it all out but not feeding the emotion with your thoughts though)
  7. 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.’”

THE PODCAST

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:

  1. Emotional exhaustion
  2. Decreased sense of accomplishment; and
  3. 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,

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20 Comments

  • Reply Deborah Cook February 1, 2021 at 10:33 am

    I’ve listened to a few episodes of the BB podcast but not that one. I must though as I can certainly relate to the idea of the stress cycle. I like the suggested responses and though some are obvious we so rarely follow through.

    Oh and I like the term ‘compassion fatigue’. I hadn’t heard that before but the concept of depersonalisation feels really relevant.

    • Reply Min February 2, 2021 at 9:10 am

      I found the podcast so interesting to listen to and as Oprah says … lots of “ah ha” moments.I’d heard of compassion fatigue before but never heard the term depersonalisation before! I love learning new things.

  • Reply Joanne Tracey February 1, 2021 at 11:34 am

    Wow. So much of this really resonated with me Min. I haven’t listened to any of the BB podcast, but absolutely. Thanks, I mean really, thanks, for sharing.

    • Reply Min February 2, 2021 at 9:11 am

      Hi Jo – I’m so glad this resonated with you. It did with me too … so much so that I really felt the need to share it. I hope you enjoy the podcast!

  • Reply Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au February 1, 2021 at 11:49 am

    Hi Min – I think I finally completed the stress cycle (caused by that awful job) sometime last year – when I realized I wasn’t thinking about it anymore and the weight wasn’t constantly sitting on my back. I’m sure there are multiple stress cycles we go through during life (much like grief cycles) and it feels soooo good when we realize we’ve come out the end of one and have lived, learnt, and moved on with our heads high – ready to tackle life on our own terms again. I intend to never live my life on fire again!

    • Reply Min February 2, 2021 at 9:14 am

      Hi Leanne – yes I think you’ve well and truly completed the stress cycle related to your previous workplace. There certainly is lots of stress that life throws at us so to understand ourselves as humans biologically and emotionally etc is fabulous tool in helping us to live our best lives. Knowledge is power as the saying goes!

  • Reply Lydia C. Lee February 1, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    Interesting. My first go to when I feel my mood shifting is to dance or exercise. Quickest way to turn it round…for me, anyway. #Lifethisweek

    • Reply Min February 2, 2021 at 9:15 am

      Your first go to of dance or exercise is right on point Lydia! Sounds like you’re pretty in tune with your body. Good for you!

  • Reply Natalie February 1, 2021 at 12:53 pm

    Hi Min, I like the quote at the end of your post. re: Quit living like you’re on fire. Being proactive in managing our stress is much better than trying to undo stress after the damage (burnout) is done. Thanks for the podcast info. I’ll check it out. #lifethisweek

    P.S. My Weekend Coffee Share link is open until midnight Sunday night Toronto time. Feel free to link up your post in the next two hours if you like.

    • Reply Min February 2, 2021 at 9:18 am

      Hi Natalie – I agree about being proactive! I prefer that way across all my wellbeing nowadays. I see a Naturopath to treat causes rather than relying on drugs to treat symptoms without ever making changes or investigating the cause. I want that approach for my mental and emotional wellbeing as well. Thanks for the invite to link up to your share link. I did exactly that!

  • Reply Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid February 1, 2021 at 8:35 pm

    This all makes perfect sense and has really resonated with me. I too am seeing a fabulous psychologist (I think everyone should have one!) and I will definitely be checking out that podcast! Thanks for the heads up!

    • Reply Min February 2, 2021 at 9:19 am

      I’m so glad Sammie. Cheers to fabulous Psychologists and I agree that everyone should have one! I hope you enjoy the Podcast. It’s most definitely worth a listen.

  • Reply Vanessa February 2, 2021 at 9:38 am

    I must be ‘bad’ on social media cos I’ll share the good and the bad. That’s life so certainly don’t follow me for only a highlights reel 🙂 Interestingly that’s the most positive feedback people give me on my SM – that it’s not like everyone elses.

    Having just had a range of stress/harassment stuff going on followed by getting fairly sick… I think I’ll go listen to that podcast episode!!

    I wish I could find a small, helpful creative outlet but I don’t really feel like I get much out of some ‘easy’ to do things like colouring or painting.

    • Reply Min February 2, 2021 at 10:36 am

      I wouldn’t say you’re ‘bad’ on social media at all. It’s good & admirable to share some unfiltered realities of life on there! I share some of those too (mostly in my stories) but I certainly can’t say I share all aspects of my life and I wouldn’t want to. I hope you do have a listen to the Podcast. I think everyone would find it helpful.

  • Reply Debbie Harris February 2, 2021 at 9:39 am

    Hi Min, this was a really helpful and powerful post, so thank you. I think I have been in this stress cycle for some time and am slowly coming out of it with help from a psychologist/counsellor, and trying to be more aware of my thoughts. I haven’t been able to exercise like I used to due to a leg issue and I really missed that release, even walking hurts a bit, but riding my ebike doesn’t hurt, so I’m often seen hurtling down trails and then back uphill, using up some of that stress feeling, and it’s good! I’m keen to listen to the podcast as I enjoyed the snippet you included. That last quote is brilliant too. Thanks so much for this, I really enjoyed it. #lifethisweek

    • Reply Min February 2, 2021 at 10:39 am

      Hi Deb, I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the post and found it helpful. Sorry though to hear you’ve been in a stress cycle for some time. Great to know you’re seeing a psychologist as I know myself how very helpful that is. What a bummer about your leg issue but very pleased you’ve found an alternative in your ebike! Hope you’re through the tunnel soon and better armed with new tools for the next stress cycle that life throws at you after listing to the Podcast.

  • Reply Leslie Susan Clingan February 2, 2021 at 2:15 pm

    Will listen to the podcast tomorrow while I iron. Thank you for including it. I like the analogy to passing through a tunnel. There is a very pretty tunnel in New Mexico that we pass through on our way to the mountains. On the end that we enter on our trip up the mountains, the view is very desert-like and arid looking. Rocks, craggy mountainsides. Then you pass through the tunnel into a forest, and in the winter, often times snow, and brilliant sun reflecting off the drifts. It is lovely. I will remember that I need to pass through the stress cycle tunnel in order to get to the forest, the snow and the sunlight on the other side.
    I think I usually complete the cycle with tears. A kind of release. Not that I sit over here and cry everyday. But I seem to need a good cry every couple of months.
    Great post!

    • Reply Min February 3, 2021 at 11:58 am

      Thanks Leslie! I’m so glad you’re going to listen to the Podcast and I do love the sound of tunnel you describe in New Mexico! Tears are a great form of release. I know I often feel much better after a good cry!

  • Reply Denyse Whelan February 3, 2021 at 3:57 pm

    Whilst I have not heard of the term stress cycle I am happy to learn more. Thanks for the info. I haven’t been listening to Brene as much and will look at that book.

    I definitely know I have stressors which return from time to time and in my work and learning via mindfulness and meditation how to be aware, and try to sit with them I am much much better at seeing the impermanence of it all.

    Great news for you in terms of your seeing a psychologist and helping you to help yourself. Being stuck is no fun, ever!
    Thank you for joining us this week for #lifethisweek. Next time, the optional prompt is 6/51 Decision. 8 Feb. and I hope to see your next blog post there too. Cheers, Denyse.

    • Reply Min February 4, 2021 at 4:03 pm

      Hi Denyse, it’s all so interesting to learn about and that Podcast is such a great listen! I will be getting that book too! xo

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