Completing the Stress Cycle (Part 2)

In last week’s post, I discussed what I had been learning from the book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. Since completing the book several weeks ago, I have become more in tune with what my body is trying to tell me in relation to stress. As soon as I recognize the signs and symptoms of my stress response being activated (rapid heart rate, chest feel tight, feeling like I need to run), I put into action one or more of their recommendations to complete the stress cycle. I am finding that getting in some physical activity has been the quickest way to complete the cycle. By the way, a 20-ish minute jump session on the trampoline with my toddler has been perfect if you are looking for ideas! I am also tuning into my need for affection- giving my husband a nice, long hug when he gets home for work, making time for that good-bye kiss before he leaves. These small, simple, tangible actions are helping me reduce the feeling of chronic stress I have been experiencing the last few years.

While completing the stress cycle has been extremely helpful, we also have to address the pink elephant in the room. The ACTUAL STRESSOR. The next eight chapters in this book discuss just that. And while I would love to break down each chapter for you in this week’s post, I am going to highlight a few concepts that have really encouraged me to dig deeper into understanding these stressors and their source. Emily and Amelia Nagoski describe a mechanism in the brain as the Monitor. The Monitor manages the gap between where we are and where we are going, and they say that for women especially, this gap becomes a chasm. The Monitor also helps us figure out when to keep going (such as in pursuit of some sort of goal) and when to give up. When reflecting over the last few years, it seems like I have turned my Monitor allllllllllll the way down, ignoring the feedback system that is there to help me navigate these stressors.

Once you are aware of this Monitor, you can then begin working through the stressors that are in and out of your control. For the stressors that are in your control, they discuss the concept of planful problem-solving. If you are like me, you have a plan for everything. You create lists, know what is needed to get from point A to point B, and always have the diaper bag prepped with the essentials (plus everything you know you probably don’t really need, but are bringing just in case). Where I tend to get stuck with the planful problem-solving is when I am the one who seems to be coming up with all the plans…coordinating meals, activities, errands, nap times, house projects, toddler-duty…managing all of these different plans brings about even more stress trying to execute each one. So, you better be sure to make a plan to complete the stress cycle while you are making all of these other plans!

For the stressors that are out of your control, utilizing positive reappraisal is a strategy that can be helpful. Positive reappraisal is a technique that you can use to frame the challenge or difficulty as an opportunity to grow and learn. For some folks, this can be pretty easy to do, while for others, it can be much more challenging. Those that might find this challenging might have so much stress weighing down on them that it can become difficult to see these challenges in any positive light. For me personally, this has been increasingly difficult over the last few years as I navigate motherhood, building a business, and all of the other hats I seem to be wearing throughout the day. For those that may have more of pessimistic mindset about these challenges, the authors remind us that positive reappraisal is not just about seeing a silver lining to a tough situation. It is also when:

Taking the time to process the challenge to see how this can help you grow or learn as a person starts to change your mindset around the stressors you are experiencing. When the next stressor confronts you, your response your response may change. Instead of jumping right into flight, fight, or freeze mode, you instead may pause and ask yourself what you can learn from the stressor in front of you.

At some point, however, you need to make the decision on if you should keep going or if it is time to give up. This has been something that I continually struggle with because, well, I’m not a quitter. Acknowledging that it might be time to give something up (say, perfectly composed meals every single meal of the day) feels like such a blow to my ego. And confidence. And my self-image. Also, what will other people think if I fail? Ugh.

Emily and Amelia spend some time discussing how to redefine winning and failing. Redefining winning is something I am now consciously working on as a mom to a toddler. An example that readily comes to mind is our frequent trips to our local children’s museum. Every time we are driving to the museum, I always have this vision of what our trip will look like. My son will be excited to see his toddler friends (if it’s a playdate), he’ll play nicely with other kids, he’ll stay in the play room we are in so I can catch up with my mom friends, and we’ll make it through the whole trip without tears or making a big scene. But what often happens is the exact opposite. He wants to do his own thing, wants to play alone, and wants to play in the gift shop. I mean, he’s 2. Of course he wants to do what he wants to do. But every single time we go, I feel frustrated. Embarrassed. Exhausted. And always left wondering, "Why we can’t just have a nice morning at the museum?" Instead, I need to redefine a “win” at the museum, as Emily and Amelia Nagoski explain in the book. My goals for the museum, in hindsight, have always been for my experience. But these goals are leaving me more stressed out than ever. Also, my son is 2. How unrealistic is it for me to have these expectations for him? Poor guy. Instead, I need to redefine what a win looks like. I want my son to be filled with joy as he moves from room-to-room in the museum. I want to see him smiling, happy. Seeing him happy will ultimately be a win for me, leaving me less stressed and anxious while at the museum.

For those moments I cannot seem to redefine a win, I’ll need to redefine what it looks like to fail. With all the moments of failure I have experienced in my last 35 years on this planet, each failure really has brought about some sort of positive outcome or learning experience. The authors explain that:

These strategies, all within the second chapter, are helpful starting points to work through your stressors. But goodness, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many key points that they talk about that I believe EVERYONE should take a moment to read (or listen). Identifying what is in your control and out-of-your control is just the beginning. We have to also take a look at what are the root causes of these stressors. Exploring concepts such as The Human Giver Syndrome, smashing the patriarchy, and identifying your inner madwoman (all topics thoroughly described in the book along with helpful worksheets), has shifted how I am experiencing stress in my life.

If you have read the book, what are some strategies that you have been implementing to complete the stress cycle and decrease the amount of stressors?

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