Completing the stress cycle with movement

Feeling stressed: Don’t try to deal with it sitting at your desk!

In their book Burnout: The secret to solving the stress cycle, identical twins Dr Emily Nagoski and Dr Amelia Nagoski – (who both have PhD in Health Behaviour) – acknowledge that most of us these days are surrounded by things that cause us stress but we don’t often complete the ‘stress cycle.’

They say that if we successfully manage to do this then we can better manage all these modern stressors and find greater mental clarity as a result.

What is a stress cycle?

Our stress cycle was designed to help us deal with physical threats (like a lion attack) so should look like this:

1. Beginning – detect a threat (see lion)
2. Middle – do something about it (escape from lion)
3. End – recover (rest and celebrate being alive)

At the moment our bodies learn that, after facing danger, we are now safe: we complete the full circle of stress.

However in the modern world our stress cycle remains incomplete. Instead of facing physical threats we face psychological ones:

1. Beginning – detect a threat (traffic, noise, deadlines etc.)
2. Middle – do something about it (sit at a desk / behind steering wheel worrying)
3. Move on to next threat without time for recovery

How can movement help you complete your stress cycle?

Doing some kind of physical activity can make you feel as though you’ve escaped from the (metaphorical) lion, allowing you to complete your stress cycle and switch from ‘deal with threat’ to ‘recover’ mode.

The Nagoski sisters suggest picking a movement-based activity that works for you personally, for example:

A walk / jog
Dancing to your favourite playlist
Tensing and releasing your muscles
Giving someone who you care about a hug for 20 seconds

As well as movement they talk about the importance of sleep as a stress recovery tool.

You can hear the Nagoski sisters talking about this in this short video.