Updated: Mar 30
Let’s face it, most of us are carrying too much stress right now and whether we’re coping well with it right now or not, it does present a significant health risk. I think of stress as something that turns up the volume on other health issues, meaning it will show up wherever your weak spot is. That could be digestion, migraines, period issues, fertility, mood, body pain, inflammation or more.
In this article, we’ll get back to basics on your body’s stress response to what’s known as the “Stress Cycle”, because understanding this can help tremendously with your stress resiliency over time.
PART 1: UNDERSTANDING THE STRESS CYCLE
The stress cycle was first described by Hans Selye, many years ago. It is broken down into three phases:
The ALARM phase: where you are mobilizing resources
The RESISTANCE phase: where you are coping with the stress
The EXHAUSTION phase: where your reserves are depleted
In very simple terms, what this means is that the body’s resistance to stress can only last so long before exhaustion sets in.
Given that we are faced with a never-ending supply of stresses, and can’t simply stop our lives in the midst of it all, there is another perspective we can learn from the stress cycle: For every peak in stress, we need a period of downtime and relaxation time to recover. And the longer the stress window, the longer the recovery time required. The bottom line here, is that we need breaks – real stress-relieving, body-preparing recovery time.
Proactive steps to ride the stress cycle:
1. Build in breaks:
The most simple thing you can do to keep yourself successfully handling your stressors is to build in breaks: in your work-day, in your week and in your year. Most of us have to plan and schedule them, otherwise the endless to-do list will take over.
2. Allow for real downtime after a period of prolonged stress:
If you have been through a period of prolonged high stress, whether it’s from work, life changes, hormone shifts or crisis, the best thing you can do is plan for some real downtime. If you can’t take a relaxing vacation, then slow down your commitments for a few weeks, and build in restorative activities to your week.
3. Treat yourself with kindness during the recovery phases:
The exhaustion phase of the stress cycle can look and feel a lot like depression. If you understand that this is a normal recovery phase after an intense stressor, it can help you to reframe how you are feeling.
PART 2: REMOVING STRESS ENERGY DRAINS
We all have too many stresses in our lives, and some of them are unavoidable. What you must understand however, is that all of the stresses you are exposed to stack up. It’s not only the work stress or the family stress that is impacting you, it is also eating irregularly, body pain, and lack of sleep. I refer to the stresses that we can change or modify as “stress energy drains.” Where is your stress energy leaking?
Take a look at the following chart, which shows a few examples of stacking stresses. Do you have these ones in your life, or are there others. Your body reads the act of eating a food that is inflammatory to you the same way it does an argument with your spouse. Or what about lack of sleep, or over-exercising?
Proactive steps to lower your stress levels:
1. First identify your stacking stresses.
Are there others not on the list too? Other examples include constantly rushing, commuting stress, family responsibilities, issues with children, lack of downtime, or too much alcohol intake.
2. Now pick two that are simple to change, and make a strategy and commitment to change them.
For example, getting to bed before 11pm to guarantee 7 hours of sleep, and eating lunch on time no matter how busy the day. Another example could be, going for a 30 minute walk every day, and focusing on not rushing all day so the stress response isn’t constantly turned on.
The bottom line is that you are in control of your stresses, and your body’s response. With an understanding of the stress cycle, and knowing that your stresses stack up you can make a tremendous impact on your stress resilience.
If however you have waited too long to make changes, and are stuck in the resistance / burnout phase of the cycle, there are many things we can do to rebalance your stress hormones, neurotransmitters and physiological symptoms. You can learn more here: https://darouwellness.com/what-are-early-signs-of-burnout/ and here: https://darouwellness.com/is-it-burnout-or-depression/.
If you would like to learn more about your stress response, and steps to balance your HPA-axis and adrenal response, I’m happy to help!
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