Did you know? April is Stress Awareness Month! Not that you need a specified month to make you aware of something you probably feel daily: from family life, gendered expectations, the mental load, body image, money, relationships, societal injustices, existential concerns…there is no limit to the stressors we can react to.
And that’s what stress is: a mind-body reaction. It harkens back to our evolutionary instincts where we needed to respond to threats immediately for our survival; i.e., our fight-or-flight response. You know the symptoms: racing heart, sweaty palms, tense muscles, narrowed vision, shallow breathing; a very effective combination for quick problem-solving and getting us out of harm's way.
Is Stress a Good Thing?
It might sound strange to frame it this way, but some stress can actually be a good thing! This was true for humans millions of years ago, when there were saber-toothed tigers to contend with and it still is useful today when our threat may come in the form of a crowded inbox. Under many circumstances, feelings of stress can help motivate us, challenge us, and help us build resilience.
What’s not a good thing is when we get perpetually stuck in our stress cycle—which is easy to do when many of our stressors come in almost imperceptible doses of modern life struggles. The stress cycle is a continuous loop of physiological and psychological responses that can negatively impact our overall health and well-being during stretches of time when we are stuck in the cycle by a continuous flow of stressors.
Being stuck in chronic stress is harmful to us physically, mentally, and emotionally, and that’s where intentional stress awareness can be helpful.
Process Your Stress
In their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski describe the importance of “giv[ing] your body the resources it needs to complete the stress response cycles” as “absolutely essential to your well-being.”
So here are a few resources to unstick your body and mind from stress right now:
1. Move your body. According to the Nagoski sisters, this is the number one way to complete your stress cycle. We’re not talking about getting in a perfect workout here (although if that feels good to you, go for it!) And you don’t even need to break a sweat. By moving your body in any way—a game of tag with your kids, a pleasant walk, a dance party in the kitchen—physical activity tells your mind-body that you are safe to stop stressing.
2. Use panoramic vision. In his research of the vision system, Stanford neurobiologist Andrew Huberman has explored how we can help calm our stress response by looking at the horizon and activating our peripheral vision. By taking our visual focus off a small area (our phone screen, for example), “we can actually turn off the stress response by changing the way that we are viewing our environment, regardless of what’s in that environment.”
3. Practice deep breathing. You’ve probably heard this advice before and for good reason: taking deep breaths has been scientifically proven to calm our nervous system and help our fight-or-flight response dissipate. One easy method to remember is called square breathing: breathe in through your nose while counting to four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale through your mouth for a count of four, and hold your breathe for another count of four. Repeat for several rounds until you feel your body respond.
4. Laugh. Real, deep, from-the-soul laughter does many things for us: it increases connection, decreases stress-producing hormones (like cortisol) in our blood, and even provides a form of physical release in the body, all of which are important for managing stress. So put on your favorite comedy show, watch some stand-up on YouTube, or get together with the people in your life who are always good for a chuckle, and let the belly laughs roll.
5. Try somatic therapies. Much like psychotherapy, physical treatments like massage and acupuncture can be catered to your needs and work to relieve stress symptoms. Stressful experiences can become stored in the body and cause physical symptoms like muscle tension, headaches, upset stomach, achy joints, and fatigue. Somatic or integrative therapies directly regulate the nervous system, promote relaxation, and improve well-being. Massage therapy in particular relaxes tense muscles and improves circulation, while acupuncture balances the body's energy.
Bessel van der Kolk, a prominent trauma expert and author of The Body Keeps Score, discusses in the book how massage therapy can help trauma survivors reconnect with their bodies and release stored tension from traumatic stress. If you have difficulty with touch, we recommend seeking a trauma-informed provider who can provide a safe, healing treatment that complements other stress management techniques like exercise and mindfulness.
Stress is always going to be part of our lives—and that’s OK! How we deal with stress determines if it has a positive or negative effect on us. You might need help identifying stressors, ways to reduce stressors in your life, and help to learn to say "no" to taking on additional responsibilities.
Reach out to Her Time Therapy to schedule a free consultation at (720) 255-1667, email email@example.com, or visit our website at www.hertimetherapy.com.
About the Author
Lauren Veazey, MA, is a graduate student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and the Intake Coordinator for Her Time Therapy, LLC, a group therapy practice specializing in teletherapy for women. As a therapist in training under the supervision of Her Time Therapy founder Meagan Clark, she believes in the healing power of therapy for women to love themselves, trust themselves, and know themselves.
*Disclosure: This post may contain ads and affiliate links that Her Time Therapy, LLC earns a small commission from when you make a purchase by clicking links on our site at no additional cost to you. We only recommend products we've used ourselves and would feel comfortable recommending to clients to improve their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.