The Stress Cycle: How To Manage Stress The Right Way
We have all been through stressful periods in our lives. For example, moving to a new country, changing jobs, or breaking up with a partner. We are all acquainted with the feeling of stress and know a couple of things about how to manage it. The problem is that we have come to believe that once we are done with a stressful experience, that’s it; we are done and do not need to do anything else. This can't be farther from the truth so today we will explore what psychologists know about managing stress the right way. We will discuss what the stress cycle is and why is it so important to complete it.
Understanding The Stress Cycle
Dr. Emily Nagoski’s book ‘Burnout’ explores the science behind stress and shares some tidbits on how we have been managing our stress the wrong way all along. According to the book, there is something called the 'stress cycle' that we must complete in order to successfully cope with stress. The first step towards understanding the cycle is to learn the difference between the stressor and the stress.
What is the stressor? 11 Examples
Stressors are the events that cause stress. They encompass all the experiences we perceive as threatening, or that are actually threatening to our wellbeing. Some common stressors include:
What is stress according to psychology?
On the other hand, stress is the psychological and neurological shift that happens inside us because of the stressor. It is our response to the transitions and changes in our lives. This shift can manifest as physical symptoms. They include, for example, rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure, back problems, stomach issues, and fatigue.
Stress can also manifest through psychological symptoms. They include behavioral changes such as sleep problems, cognitive symptoms like diminished concentration, and mood changes such as irritability, anxiety and a sense of dread,
So, stress is any shift or change that happens inside of us because of the stressors in our lives.
The link between stress and burnout
According to the stress cycle theory, stress is deeply intertwined with the syndrome of burnout. Burnout is the result of the accumulation of stress that we have not successfully managed in our life. Sometimes we might think that we are managing stress correctly, but, in fact, we are not. What happens next is that the stress accumulates inside you; it does not go anywhere. And, then you go from stress to stress, to stress, and it simply stays simmering inside your body. The stress accumulates and, ultimately, becomes burnout. This process occurs through several burnout stages and it is never too late to stop it. But, in order to prevent burnout and successfully cope with stress, we must first learn how to complete the stress cycle.
The Stress Cycle
So, what is the stress cycle and why do we need to complete it in order to successfully manage stress and prevent burnout? When a stressor appears in our life, we invariably feel stressed. When we are done with a stressor (e.g., we deal with our financial problems) we think that this is good enough and carry on with our daily lives. However, in order to manage stress the right way, we must deal with the stress that is still simmering inside our bodies. If we do not target the stress, then we are not completing the stress cycle. We might be done with the stressor but we still need to tackle the stress.
How To Manage Stress: 3 Tips To Cope
So, you have successfully managed your stressors. For example, you have dealt with your relationship problems or finished your job interview. Now it is time to deal with the remnants of the stress. What have you done with the stress that is stored inside you? How have you told your brain that the stressful experience is over? In order to deal with our stress we must tell our brains that we are now safe. And, there are a couple of ways we can do this.
1. Physical activity
It might sound cliché, but physical activity can really help us deal with the stress that is still simmering inside our body. Exercise is the most efficient way to convey the message to our brain that our stressful experience is over, that we are safe and the stressor is long gone. It can help us get rid of excess anxious energy and calm our mind. This does not necessarily mean that you have to register in a gym or work-out five hours a day. Any physical activity or exercise that suits your style can help you relieve stress.
For instance, you can try taking a mindful walk in nature, walking around your neighbourhood, climbing up and down the stairs, or dancing in front of your mirror. Whatever you prefer will do the trick as long as you have some daily physical activity programmed into your schedule.
2. Get your hands dirty
You might not expect it, but the second most efficient way to cope with excess stress is to get creative. Anything you do with your hands like pottery, drawing, painting, or playing a musical instrument can help you channel all the tension that you are hiding inside into the outside. Artistic activities and getting your hands dirty (e.g., gardening) can help us mindfully focus in other activities and relieve all the pent up energy we are storing inside.
3. Express your emotions
Finally, our third tip for dealing with stress is expressing your emotions. Allow yourself to have a good laugh or a good cry. If you do not feel comfortable crying or it is not an easy task for you, just put a dramatic or emotional romantic movie on the TV and allow yourself to connect with the protagonist. Allow yourself to connect with the protagonist's feelings and then let your tension leave your body. You could also try talking with a friend that you trust and letting your emotions out, or watching a fun comedy movie that will help you reconnect with your inner child and laugh all night long.
The Bottom Line
As we have discussed, sometimes we have the erroneous notion that when the stressor is over, the stress goes away with it. In order to successfully manage our stress we must learn that after the stressful experience is over, we must tackle the pent up stress within us. We must complete the stress cycle. I hope this article helps you cope with your stress in a more healthy way. If you are struggling with burnout, I suggest you take a look at our burnout recovery article and our blogpost on overcoming burnout, depression, and anxiety. Throughout your self-development journey, please remember, you are not alone. Take care.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE.