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Completing the stress cycle


A while ago I was at a Bristol lake and a guy told me that his job was stressful. He said that he went for a swim after work every day throughout the year. I was impressed and I understood what he was talking about. I enjoyed the freshness of the cold water and felt satisfied and relaxed after the vigorous movement. What I didn’t understand at the time was the importance of this experience – the importance of completing the stress cycle.

Recently a friend recommended Burnout: solve your stress cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. Reading it was an eye-opener. Emily is a health educator who has researched this area. She describes how to deal with stress so that we can really feel different. From feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, low, tired and frustrated to feeling energised and relaxed with a sense of inner safety and empowerment.

The impact of stress on the body

Stressful situations can impact the body and brain. When the body faces a threat it goes into survival mode, usually fight, flight or freeze. Emily uses the example of a lion and gazelle. After a chase (flight) and a struggle (fight) the gazelle ends up in the lion’s jaws. Its last chance is to go motionless (freeze). For a moment the lion releases its jaws and the crafty gazelle takes the opportunity to escape. Later the gazelle shakes its body to release the stress. With this movement of shaking the body the stress cycle is complete. The body can relax and a sense of safety can return.

Emily emphasises how important it is to complete the stress cycle in order to live a healthy life. We can work to reduce stressors (causes of stress). At the same time we need to complete the stress cycle, otherwise we are likely to get stuck – in fight, flight or freeze. If this continues, it can cause chronic stress and serious illness.

Ways to complete the stress cycle

There are six strategies to complete the stress cycle and release the tension in the body:

  1. Movement: exercises like swimming, dancing, and running.
  2. Deep breathing, like mindful breathing.
  3. Crying.
  4. Affection like long kisses (6 secs), long hugs (20 secs), and cuddles.
  5. Meditation.
  6. Self-empathy/empathy to integrate all feelings.

Mindfulness and Nonviolent Communication

I’m delighted how Mindfulness and Nonviolent Communication (NVC) can support us to complete the stress cycle. The key is to integrate all feelings. In NVC all feelings are welcome. Becoming aware of our feelings is the first step in the direction of a healthy way of living. Self-empathy (NVC Life Hack 25) and empathy are things we can learn to bring into our daily life routine.

Maybe it takes time to practice self-awareness and we need to ask for support (not always easy). However with awareness comes an increased sense of choice. This means a choice and creativity about how we meet our needs. For myself I feel motivated and self-empowered. I can accept that stress is sometimes unpredictable and unexpected. Before that I was always looking for how I could change my life to find balance. Nowadays I have a sense of going with the flow of life.

When I notice I feel stressed I choose to engage with some movement or one of the other strategies. Then I’m looking for a shift in my energy that tells me that the stress cycle is complete.

Taking things further

Could you imagine trying it out to see if it works for you? Join our Six-week online Mindful Communication course, led by Shantigarbha, on Monday evenings (UK time) starting 13 May.

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