We are absorbing stress into our bodies all the time. So I always say, “Stress in, stress out”. It’s a simple reminder to ask yourself: “I am taking stress into me. How am I getting it out of me?” If you’re unsure of the answer, chances are you’re not being intentional about relieving your stress. Unfortunately, that stress isn’t going to leave your body unless you do something about it.
Dr. Emily Nagoski explains why this is true in her bestselling book, Come As You Are. Nagoski (2015) states that stress is a system of changes activated in your brain and body in response to perceived threats. Long ago the threat may have been being chased by a lion; today it may be being chased by a deadline. Our bodies are meant to complete a cycle when it comes to stress:
Step 1: I’m at risk! (Ah! Lion!)
Step 2: I’m taking action. (Fight, flight, or freeze.)
Step 3: I’m safe. (Hey let’s celebrate and eat this lion I killed.)
Nagoski explains that in our times, we often don’t allow our bodies to complete the stress cycle. We expect that once the deadline has passed and we have completed the project on time, the stress will go away. But even though we have dealt with the stressor (the deadline), we haven’t dealt with the stress. As Nagoski says, “Your bodies still think you’re being chased by the lion...If our stress is chronic and we don’t take deliberate steps to complete the cycle, all that activated stress just hangs out inside us, making us sick, tired, and unable to experience pleasure...We must build time, space, and strategies for discharging our stress response cycles.”
So what can you do to complete the cycle? Nagoski gives some ideas:
Exercise (“Physical activity is the single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle and recalibrating your central nervous system into a calm state”.)
Relaxation/Meditation (including mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, body scans, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.)
Allowing yourself to fully experience your emotions (“Emotions are like tunnels: You have to walk all the way through the darkness to get to the light at the end.” Feel them and consider trying to express them through journaling or art that is for your eyes only.)
Body self-care (grooming, massage, acupuncture, etc.)
So if you’re feeling stressed, remember: Stress In, Stress Out. You can’t always control the stress coming into your body, but you can take active steps to get it out.
If you want some help exploring these stress relieving strategies, consider speaking with a therapist.
Nagoski, E. (2015). Come as you are. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks.