# Completing the Cycle: How to Process Stress & Emotions
>[!example] 28 May 2023 #articles
It's a beautiful Thursday in August when the anxiety hits. The sense of impending doom lurking over me. Normal for this time in my menstrual cycle. I know this. And yet, it swipes the rug from under my feet. Knocks me to the ground. The air leaves my body. I can't breathe.
Each month it comes, I try to figure out how to deal with it. How to lessen the blow. Most of the time, I can’t.
I am the victim in my own film. Hiding, petrified, in a cupboard, holding my breath. There is a killer in my house. My skin is crawling. Adrenalin is pumping through my veins. I want to cry. I want to run. I want to scream. But I can't.
That’s what it’s like. A feeling that will last for days. Usually. But not this time. This time I'm ready. This time I’m doing things differently.
I get in the car and drive. With the music blasting, I start to sing at the top of my lungs. Screaming almost. A few minutes later, the knot in my solar plexus begins to release. I pull the car over into a layby. The tears come. And I cry. I cry. I cry.
Finally, a wave ‘releases’ down the back of my neck and through my spine. My shoulders drop. My body calms. I can breathe again.
Arriving home, I am not the same person who left. I’m lighter. Calmer. The anxiety has gone. There is no sense of impending doom. Only peace. I have completed the stress cycle.
>- [[#To deal with your stress, you have to complete the cycle|To deal with your stress, you have to complete the cycle]]
> - [[#There is a difference between a stressor and stress|There is a difference between a stressor and stress]]
> - [[#Stress is not necessarily bad|Stress is not necessarily bad]]
> - [[#Emotions are like tunnels|Emotions are like tunnels]]
> - [[#Getting stuck]]
> - [[#How to complete the cycle|How to complete the cycle]]
> - [[#Knowing when you have completed the cycle|Knowing when you have completed the cycle]]
> - [[#The feels|The feels]]
> - [[#Final thoughts|Final thoughts]]
## To deal with your stress, you have to complete the cycle
%%[[Burnout by Emily Nagoski]]%%
Completing the cycle is a term [Emily Nagoski uses in her book Burnout](https://www.amazon.co.uk/Burnout-secret-solving-stress-cycle-ebook/dp/B07CLYYRX2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1686913939&sr=1-1). She says,
%%[[to deal with your stress, you have to complete the cycle]]%%
> “Dealing with your stress is a separate process from dealing with the things that cause your stress. To deal with your stress, you have to complete the cycle. ”%%[[Burnout by Emily Nagoski#^8yh1c]]%%
## There is a difference between a stressor and stress
%%[[there is a difference between a stressor and stress]]%%
There is a difference between a stressor and stress.
%%[[stressors are what activate the stress response in your body]]%%
Stressors are what *activate* the stress response in our body. They are constant notifications. The stuff that causes us to lose our shit in the first place. Our need to keep up with the busyness of the world.
Stress, on the other hand, is the body's *response* to the stressors. Think fight or flight.
So when the brain feels threatened, it will make a split-second decision. Will you battle or run? Either way, the body prepares itself for both scenarios. Adrenalin courses through our veins, blood pumps, and the heart races. That's stress. The physiological response.
Again, a stressor is what *causes* that physiological response. Stress *is* the physiological response.
When we talk about stress management, we usually focus on the stressor. It's about dealing with the things that *cause* the stress in the first place. Turning off notifications on our phone. Reporting a colleague who's always on our case. Taking a different route after sitting in a traffic jam for the last half hour.
%%[[just because you’ve dealt with the stressor doesn’t mean you’ve dealt with the stress itself]]%%
But just because we've dealt with the stressor doesn't mean we've dealt with the stress itself.
%%[[dealing with the stressor only postpones your body’s need to complete the cycle - it doesn't replace it]]%%
%%[[to deal with your stress, you have to complete the cycle]]%%
We haven't done anything to help stress move through the body. And dealing with a stressor only postpones our body's need to complete the cycle. It doesn't replace it.
## Stress is not necessarily bad
%% #update → Add info re [[eustress]]%%
Don't get me wrong; stress is not necessarily bad. As Dr Hans Selye, 'The Father of Stress' states,
%%[[Dr. Hans Selye#^ro7q-]]%%
> "No one can live without experiencing some degree of stress all the time. You may think that only serious disease or intensive physical or mental injury can cause stress. This is false. Crossing a busy intersection, exposure to a draught or even sheer joy are enough to activate the body’s stress mechanisms to some extent. Stress is not even necessarily bad for you; it is also the spice of life, for any emotion, any activity causes stress. But of course your system must be prepared to take it. The same stress that makes one person sick may be an invigorating experience for another" %%[[Dr. Hans Selye#^ro7q-]]%%
%%[[stressors are only bad when we don't have the capacity to process the stress]]%%
We need stress – it's how we grow, mature and evolve. Stress (and stressors) are only a problem when we don't have the capacity to process the stress. When our body is always switched on to the fight or flight response.
%%[[exhaustion happens when we get stuck in an emotion]]%%
But the stress response is (or should be) short-term. That's how it's designed. To get us out of trouble fast. It is not intended to be switched on every moment of every day. So when it is, when we don't complete the cycle or process the stress, that's when burnout happens.
## Emotions are like tunnels
%% #update stress is the body's response → link to [[fight flight freeze blog]]%%
Now it's worth remembering that stress - that fight or flight - comes down to one thing – emotions.
%%[[when your brain chooses fight it's related to anger]]%%
%%[[when your brain choses flight it's related to fear]]%%
When our brain chooses 'fight', it's related to anger. When our brain chooses 'flight', it's connected to fear. Hence emotions are responsible for stress in the first place.
%%[[emotions involve the release of neurochemicals in the brain in response to a stimulus]]%%
%%[[emotions are automatic and instantaneous]]%%
%%[[emotions will end on their own]]%%
Emotions involve the release of neurochemicals in the brain. This happens in response to a stimulus. Emotions are automatic and instantaneous. And if left to their own devices, emotions will end on their own.
%%[[emotions are tunnels]]%%
As Nagoski points out, emotions are tunnels. If you go all the way through them, you will get to the light at the end.
## Getting stuck
So, what is the issue if stress is not a problem and emotions end on their own?
The fact is, so many of us become *stuck* in the stress response.
%%[[we get stuck in the stress response, because we’re stuck in a stress-activating situation]]%%
This is because many of the situations we find ourselves in are stress-activating. Take social media. How many of us continue to scroll even when it makes us anxious?
%%[[sometimes the brain activates a stress response and you can’t do the thing it’s trying to tell you to do]]%%
Some situations, we can change, like the one above. But other cases are not so simple. Such as a presentation we have to give at work. Or an exam we have to sit.
%%[[sometimes the world tells you it’s wrong to feel that stress]]%%
%%[[telling yourself (or others) to calm down doesn't help]]%%
Then we have situations where people tell us it's wrong to feel stressed. You know, when you feel really fucking angry, and someone tells you to calm down. Yep, it never works.
And yet we smile. We are polite. We are nice girls. We do not get angry, right? Instead, we push the emotion down. And we get stuck in the tunnel, caught in the stress response.
%%[[we all have incomplete stress response cycles]]%%
%%[[sometimes we get stuck in an emotion because we can’t find our way through]]%%
And the truth is, we all get stuck. We all struggle to find our way through the tunnel. This is when things become an issue. Hence we need to deal with the stress. We need to complete the cycle.
## How to complete the cycle
How do we actually do this? As always, it depends. There is no right way. Everyone is different. So what works for one person may not work for another. Plus what works for us at one point may not work for another. Hence it’s wise to have a toolbox of different techniques. Personally, I have 5 'tools' that I use on a regular basis (6 if you include writing).
### 1. Exercise
%%[[physical activity is the single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle]]%%
Nagoski recommends physical activity. She says it is the single most efficient strategy for completing the cycle. And for good reason. It works!
### 2. Crying
%%[[crying is one of the ways that I complete the cycle]]%%
In the shower. In the car. Watching a weepy film. There is no better feeling than the release that comes after a good ol' cry.
### 3. Breathing
%%[[breathing can help complete part of the cycle]]%%
%%[[giving a big sigh can indicate completing the cycle]]%%
When we are in fight or fight response, we hold our breath. Have you noticed that? So when we breathe deeply it can help us to complete the cycle, to let the brain know that we are safe. Giving a big sigh can indicate that we have completed the stress response.
### 4. Nature
Often this is a combined approach. We have gotten away from the stressors. We are walking (exercise). Thus we are breathing. Add a little sun and greenery and the world seems a brighter place.
### 5. Music
Singing, playing my piano, or dancing to music. All of these have helped me complete the cycle more times than I can count.
## Knowing when you have completed the cycle
But how do you know when you have completed the cycle?
%%[[completing the cycle is a physiological shift]]%%
%%[[your body will tell you when you complete the cycle]]%%
%%[[completing the cycle is about feeling the shift]]%%
Your body will tell you. Completing the cycle is a physiological shift, so it's about _feeling_ for it.
For me, it's about being able to breathe again. I let out a huge sigh and (more often than not) state aloud, 'That's better'. My shoulders relax, and I am lighter somehow.
## The feels
I mentioned at the beginning that I felt a wave 'release' down the back of my neck and through my spine. Like the hairs have been standing up on the back of my neck, and now they can relax again. This is what happens sometimes. Not every time. But when it does, the feeling is undeniable. I know 100% that I have completed the cycle.[^1] So what is this?
%%[[some people shake and shudder to complete the stress response]]%%
%%[[humans may experience a normal physiological reaction when completing the cycle]]%%
%%[[animals complete the cycle by shaking and shuddering]]%%
Nagoski says that some people shake and shudder to complete the stress response. A normal physiological reaction, it's also found in animals.
Lola is my beautiful five-year-old Rotterman. A mix between a Rottweiler and a Doberman, she is not aggressive in the slightest. And if anything, she's a bit of a scaredy-cat. This is obvious when we take her for a walk. On meeting another dog, her hackles raise. Her body experiencing a stress response (fight or flight).
When we pass whatever it is that has unnerved her, when the stressor has gone, her hackles are still raised. She needs to complete the stress response. She does this by shaking and shivering, allowing her hackles to return to normal.
## Final thoughts
%% #update → [[you have to build completing the cycle into every day]]%%
We all experience stressors, and we all experience stress. Both of which are unique to each of us. And neither of which is bad on its own. The problems come when we don't have the capacity to process the stress.
%%[[it is absolutely essential that you give your body the resources it needs to complete the stress response cycles that have been activated]]%%
Completing the cycle allows our body to move through the tunnel of emotions. To get to the other side. Something which helps our brain and body know that we are safe, and to switch off the fight or flight mode.
But we can only achieve this if we recognise what's going on. If we let the emotions come. If we allow the stress, move through the tunnel and process it.
%% #update → Add link to [[RAIN blog]]%%
Again, we need to complete the cycle.
%%[[different strategies will work at different times]]%%
Sometimes we can process the stress in a single 'session', whatever that may be. We may need only one workout or a good cry in the shower. Other times we may need much more.
%%[[completing the cycle may need a few layers of 'doing']]%%
Like onions and ogres, stress has layers. And sometimes, we need to peel back the layers. Especially if the stress we have been experiencing is 'big'. We may need lots of walks, plenty of tears and music to get us to the other side. But if we keep working on it, if we allow and trust the process, we will get to the light at the end of the tunnel.
[^1]: Like an orgasm, it is absolute.