De-Stress in Minutes
You face daily stressors, with no end in sight.
You need to stay well – in body and mind – to best make it through these uncertain times, care for others and contribute to the collective well-being.
Keep reading for the simple step you’ve been missing that will transform your response to and results from stress, keeping you healthier and more resilient to face another day.
The most succinct explanation of how stress works that I’ve found is from Emily and Amelia Negoski’s book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Much of what I have to share here is from their research on how stress works, the crucial step to de-stressing that we usually miss and ideas of how to take that step in as little as 20 seconds!
How Stress Works
You know you’re under tremendous stress, but have you ever stopped to think about what’s really going on with stress?
Ideally it’s a 4-step sequence or cycle:
Stressor Experience -> Stress Experience -> Stressor Response -> Stress Response
1) Stressor Experience
A stressor is anything in your environment that you sense with your 5 senses or imagine, and that you interpret as a potential threat. Stressors can be external (work, finances, relationships, time, societal norms, global events) or internal (unhelpful emotions, self-criticism, regrets of the past, worries of the future).
Ex. You may find that your new routine of staying at home has introduced all kinds of new internal and external stressors that are impacting your sense of safety and security.
2) Stress Experience
Stress is the neurological and physiological shift that happens in your body when you encounter a stressor. Your entire body and mind instinctively change your neurochemical, hormonal, digestive, immune, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and reproductive systems, in response to your perceived threat. This helps you get ready to navigate the ‘danger’.
Ex. Your body is flooded with stress throughout the day (which you may notice as quicker breathing, increased blood pressure, tense muscles, vigilant focus, heightened senses, etc.) in response to the challenges you experience.
3) Stressor Response
The stressor response is the way you manage the threats that arise. You are likely quite good at addressing the stressors of your day, whether or not the way you address them is helpful. Your long-term goal is to minimize and find more helpful responses to the stressors in your life – but that’s not our focus today.
Ex. It may have been a wild day, but you managed to make it through – got some work done, missed a deadline, entertained the kids, yelled at the kids, made a healthy meal, ate chips, called your mom, hid, whatever – and now you hope to get some sleep and then start again tomorrow . . .
This is where we typically stop, but by doing so we’re not completing the stress cycle and becoming unhealthier and less resilient by the day.
This is the crucial missing step . . .
4) Stress Response
The stress response is what you do about all those activated neurochemicals and body systems. The only way to signal to your body that you are safe – and the only way to effectively complete the stress cycle – is to physically DO something. It doesn’t work to just mentally think to yourself “I’m safe now, all’s well.” Your body speaks ‘body language’ so you must communicate safety through your body.
You must take a physical action to give your body the space and time it needs to heal from the process.
Ex. At the time of the stressful event, or at least within the same day, move your body enough to breath deeply for at least 20 minutes – but even 20 seconds helps. And if you can’t, simply DOING something is the next best plan.
How to De-Stress in Minutes
To effectively de-stress, all you have to do is physically DO something:
- Best – Move your body however you can to get yourself breathing deeply for 20-60 minutes daily.
- Better – Stand up, take a deep breath, tense all your muscles for 20 seconds, then shake it out with a big exhale.
- Good – Practice other less physical activities that will also help:
- Deep breaths with long, slow exhalation
- Positive social interactions
- Deep belly laughs
- Tear inducing cries
- Affection with a person or pet with whom you feel mutual respect and trust
- Creative activities that encourage emotional expression
- Spiritual practice to feel supported by something greater than you
- Nature connection for multi-layered health benefits
In the moment – you will know that your action has worked when you feel a subtle shift in your body toward peace and you feel slightly better.
Over time, with consistent practice – like prioritizing 30 minutes in your day to physically de-stress – you will keep up with the daily stress and begin to heal the potentially decades of unprocessed stress within your body that has built up over time.
I like to think of all of this in terms of a stress spiral. By effectively practicing and completing the 4 steps, you will keep yourself moving in a healthy and forward direction, like an upward spiral. When there’s a glitch in the 4 steps, or when you’re missing one, you’ll get stuck or find yourself spiraling downward.
What one simple action will you commit to doing every day to physically relieve your stress?
Stress well, be well.
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