November 10, 2023

5 Ways to Complete the Stress Cycle.


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“I’ll explain it to you again,” the man in the expensive black designer sweater sitting across from me said.

After mansplaining the document positioned on the wooden conference table between us, he started reading it to me.

Annunciating. Every. Word. Like you would to a preschooler who is learning to read. As if he assumed I was illiterate because I didn’t agree with his rendition of what was written on the page.

Continuing to force his interpretation of the text on me, he folded his hands using his index fingers to form a steeple. The psychology behind his body language, called steepling, meant to convey confidence in the nonsense he was spewing. His thinly veiled and poorly executed attempt at this conversational technique left me feeling as if someone had cranked up the thermostat in the room.

For the grand finale, his power move was the double-hander handshake as he said goodbye. He placed his free hand on top of the handshake we were already engaged in to assert dominance. Did you just throw up in your mouth a little thinking about that? I know I did.

Despite trying my best to shake off the slimy ick feeling that settled over my body like the wool sweater he wore, I was on edge. Little things, like someone not using a turn signal on my drive home, caused me to lash out, pounding my car horn.

In years past, I would have felt like a failure for letting someone “get it me.” Now I understand no matter how hard we try to consciously not attach to low energies, sometimes the way a person treats us will still incite feelings of anger. This doesn’t mean that we’re a failure at our practices or an unforgiving person. It means we are human.

What we do with annoyance bubbling just below the surface is most important. Carrying it around could lead to unintentionally taking out our frustrations on anyone who crosses our path.

Understanding the stress cycle can help us regain control over our emotions.

The stress response is broken down into three stages: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.

During the alarm stage, a chain reaction begins in our brains. Our fight-or-flight response is activated and our heart races to give oxygen to muscles. All of our other body systems shut down so we’re prepared to strike, if necessary, or run away as fast as we can.

In the resistance stage, our bodies try to recover. Cortisol levels start to lower and our heart rate begins to return to normal, though our bodies stay on high alert for a while. Signs we’re in this phase are irritability, inability to focus, and frustration.

I was stuck somewhere in the resistance stage in my story while driving home. My body was still on guard ready to respond to any perceived threats. It’s an easy place to get stuck. Many situations we’re faced with are not life or death but still trigger the fight-or-flight response in our bodies, without completing the entire sequence.

Surrounding ourselves with wooden signs with phrases like “shake it off” written in cursive script doesn’t help. Essentially, this type of thinking promotes ignoring our emotional and physical frustration, which can be damaging in the long run.

Brushing off our feelings and not completing the cycle leaves us at risk of getting caught in a prolonged stress response. In this extended reaction, our emotional, physical, and psychological resources are drained leading to burnout. Think of how mentally and emotionally exhausting it would be to constantly have to remind ourselves not to bite someone’s head off because we feel pushed to our limit—living each day on the defensive.

Any of the five methods below can help us close the loop. Achieving exhaustion is the final stage of the cycle. Successful completion allows our bodies to physically and emotionally come down from the adrenaline rush, settling back into our baseline.

Five ways to complete the cycle

>> Physical Activity. If you’re short on time, even a 10-minute walk can help you feel more grounded.
>> Box Breathing. This breathing technique can lower stress levels. Breathe in for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, then breathe out for four counts.
>> Crying. Can be cathartic by releasing feelings of frustration.
>> Laughing. Laughter is another form of emotional release, so if you are able to laugh with friends it can help get rid of negative feelings.
>> Clean. Scrubbing can be therapeutic; it’s also symbolic of washing away frustrations.


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