Total Therapy Blog

8 Effective Stress Busters

“Stress is the trash of modern life – we all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” – Danzae Pace

When you think of the word “stress,” what comes to mind? If it’s feelings of anxiety, tightness in the chest, or worrying about a problem, you’re certainly not alone. For many people, stress is closely associated with negative experiences and unpleasant feelings. But what is stress exactly? Is it all bad, and can it accumulate in the body like Danzae Pace suggests above? 

Understanding Stress: Is It Always Negative?

Simply put, stress is your body’s reaction to threats or stressors. Stressors vary widely and can include facing difficulties at work to facing challenges with interpersonal relationships. It also includes short-term stressors, such as exercising or planning a wedding. Short-term stress can sometimes be good, and help people become productive or achieve something. Some people refer to this type of stress as good stress or eustress. Long-term stress that negatively affects us is sometimes referred to as bad stress or distress.

How Does it Work? The Stress Cycle

According to Emily and Amelia Nagoski, every time we face stress, our bodies go through a cycle. When we don’t get a chance to complete/recover from that cycle, and we face another stressor, this can negatively impact our well-being and can lead to burnout. Completing the cycle is a lot like taking out the trash before it accumulates. The more stress we have, the more difficult it will be to live the life we want. So how do we complete the stress cycle? Before we get to that, let’s look at a visual of the stress cycle and example below.

Imagine with me that you’re doing well and feeling good – let’s call this place your baseline. Out of nowhere, a lion shows up. You have never seen a lion in person before, but you have developed a perception of what it is from television, movies, etc. Your perception that things won’t end well happens quickly in your head. Your body then turns on an internal alarm, adrenaline and cortisol are released,  and you run. The lion, being unbothered, walks away. Eventually, with the threat or stressor now gone, your body should go back to a baseline. However, things get complicated when our bodies do not come back to a baseline, and we face multiple stressors on top of that. In order words, the trash did not get taken out the first time, and now there’s 2 months’ worth of it piling up.

According to the Nagoski SistersThere Are 8 Effective Ways to Complete the Stress Cycle.

1. Movement: Movement is the shining star in this list because it not only helps us complete the cycle, but it helps undo the damage of past stress. This can be movement of any kind. You don’t need a gym membership for this one. You can plan movement into your day by walking the dog, dancing, walking the long way to work, or simply walking in place.

2. Creativity: Creativity in all its forms can help us complete the stress cycle. This can include writing, painting, gardening, etc. There is truly a creator in all of us.

3. Laughing: Some people find laughter happens naturally during a positive social interaction, for some, it may be something you watch on YouTube. Either way, laughter is a great way to let the body know all is well and it’s okay to turn off that alarm now.

4. Crying: Crying can be very cathartic for some people. The opposite of that can be “holding it all in” or “keeping it together” which can be part of repressive coping. Permitting yourself to release everything by crying can be quite helpful.

5. Physical Affection: This can include a nice long hug from someone you trust or a 6-second kiss. This helps release oxytocin which some call the love hormone. This can help with bringing you back to a baseline.

6. Social Interaction: A positive social interaction with someone you find validating can also help us come back to our baseline. Some people tend to isolate themselves when they’re stressed, which may be counterproductive. Maybe it’s time to schedule some time with a loved one or friend.

7. Deep Breathing: Deep breathing can help with stress by regulating your body’s nervous system and activating your body’s relaxation response. Try box breathing where you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, then repeat.

Is Your Perception of Stress Making Things Worse?

We see in the example above that our perceptions of lions would likely cause our body’s internal alarm to be turned on. With good reason, it is a real threat. However, there are times when our minds can overestimate the size of a stressor causing us to have a large and unhelpful reaction to a stressor. One way of working on the cognitive/perception part of stress is by practicing Cognitive Reappraisal.

8. Cognitive Reappraisal: This is the process where we change the way we think or appraise a stressful situation.  We are not creating a false narrative or lying to ourselves. Many people are surprised that they believe the new perspective more than the previous, unhelpful one. Here’s how to do it:

• Determine What the Stressor Is: What is causing your stress? Sometimes we can get it mixed up. Write this down and be as specific as possible. For example: if it’s work, what exactly at work is causing you stress?

• Eliminate the Catastrophe: Our brains can sometimes group things as all bad or all good, whereas most times it’s in the middle. Ask yourself, have I dealt with this (or something similar) before? How did I cope? Also, how would I advise a friend who is going through something like this?

• Reassign Emotions: Now that you have gathered information, create a more helpful yet accurate narrative/perspective. Reinforce it by writing it down and reminding yourself through positive self-talk.

Talking It Out

Suncha Clinical CounsellorStress can impact our quality of life when it becomes unmanageable and chronic. Working on completing the stress cycle daily can be a big part of coping. However, some people may need some extra help with taking the trash out. Collaborating with an empathetic mental health professional can also help you navigate life’s stressors and move you toward a life you find worth living. 

I am available for Telehealth (virtual) appointments on Mondays and Tuesdays, and in-person sessions on Thursdays and Fridays.

Book your complimentary consult with Suncha today!


Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle: Emily Nagoski PhD & Amela Nagoski DMA

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