The Importance of Completing the Stress Cycle
We all know what it’s like to feel stressed.
Unfortunately, most of us also know what it is like to feel chronically stressed, weighed down by a cycle of worry that robs us of sleep and upsets our peace of mind.
We are rolling into yet another busy season of farming and ranching: long days, short nights, endless to-do lists, and the inevitable crisis that pops up when we least want it. The growing season is stressful, and managing that stress is key to farmer and rancher wellness. To do so, it’s worth understanding that stress comes in two types: acute and chronic.
Acute stress occurs as a result of a specific incident but resolves itself quickly once the stressful situation is resolved. Acute stress is when you’re driving down the highway and a tire blows out, making your heart race until you can pull over. Once the spare tire is on and you’re safely back on the road, however, your heart rate slows and your body returns to normal, having successfully managed the situation.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is ongoing, often due to situations that don’t have a quick resolution: financial trouble, health problems, or tense family relations that cause a constant undercurrent of anxiety. Chronic stress feels harder to manage as there is no easy fix like throwing on a spare tire and cruising back down the highway.
An important aspect of dealing with both types of stress is a technique called “completing the stress cycle.”
According to Drs. Amelia and Emily Nagoski, who wrote the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, stress has a cycle, and completing that cycle is the key to managing it. If we don’t move all the way through the stress cycle, we get caught up in anxiety, which leads to burnout and even chronic health conditions.
How do we complete that cycle? The authors have identified six evidence-based strategies:
- Physical activity: run, walk, chop wood, ride your favorite horse, just get your body in motion!
- Create something: write, draw, build a doghouse, color with the grandkids, invent a new bbq sauce recipe for your award-winning beef.
- Laugh: it’s true that laughter is the best medicine. It’s also great stress relief. Get together with friends, watch ridiculous animal videos online, re-hash your best “Do you remember when…” stories. Have a good belly laugh.
- Cry. Admittedly not the top of the list for most of us, crying is often perceived as embarrassing, but it’s actually a biological mechanism to release stress.
- Physical affection: Hug your spouse, your child, your grandchild. Hold hands. Love on your favorite horse.
- Breathe deeply: slowly and repeatedly. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms the body and brain.
But how can deep breathing or laughing can help if you’re chronically stressed, all the time?
The key is consciously recognizing the stressful moments that build up to chronic stress and actively completing the stress cycle for each of these moments.