Are you stressed?

I feel I may have promised a lot with that headline. Eliminate stress, you say?

Sign me up!

Well…yes, actually. I am going to share a tidbit on how to rid yourself of stress. 

Here’s the catch: I’m not saying you never feel stress again, I’m suggesting that there are ways to ensure the stress doesn’t linger, build up, and break you down. 

Stress, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily bad. It can have many adaptive purposes. It’s unresolved stress that hangs around in our bodies like an unwanted houseguest that really cause issues. 

So in today’s letter, I’m going to share with you some insight on stress that goes above and beyond self-care.

What is stress, exactly? 

Stress is a physiological response to an event. It is not the event itself or our feelings about the event. It is purely a bodily reaction meaning stress is something that happens in your body, not your mind. Heart racing, blood pumping, adrenaline shooting through you, cortisol rising, fast breathing, sweating etc. 

Stress is not an emotion. When we say we are feeling stress, it means we are feeling things happen in our body that are very unpleasant. And to accompany those physical sensations, we have thoughts. The thoughts are how we try to make sense of what is happening in our body. ​​​​​​

For example, an email pops up in our inbox from our boss or client, it doesn’t look good. Our heart starts pumping and our breath shallows. Our body is having a stress response. But our brain, in order to justify or explain that stress response, makes up a fun little story to go along with it: “Oh no, they hated the project I just completed. They are going to pull me in their office and tell me how disappointed they are with me. I knew they were trying to replace me. This is it, I’m fired”. 

Then, because those thoughts are so upsetting, our body goes “Wait, what? We’re getting fired???” and then more adrenaline and cortisol starts rushing through us making our heart pump even faster and our breath come in gasps. 

The body doesn’t know that the mind is a story teller. It takes everything as fact!

This is due to survival needs: Our body’s stress response was originally designed to alert us to danger. ​We feel the hair on our arms raise up? Better look around to see what our unconscious already knows: tigers lurking. Run!!!!

In situations like this we don’t have time to ask “is this a real stress, or a stress related to some fun story my brain just weaved?”​​ Stress means GO!

And off we go!

But in modern times, the hairs on our arms stand up at so many little triggers all day long. And we can’t exactly run every time we are faced with something difficult. 

Leading is like having a million tigers lurking at all times. And you never know when one is gonna pounce. You tred carefully. And it is exhausting. 

Why? Because our bodies don’t know what “modern times” means!

The Authors Emily and Amelia Nagoski, of the bestselling book, “Burnout: Secrets to Unlocking the Stress Cycle”​​​​ suggest that because our bodies are triggered into “fight or flight” response all day long, we are all walking around with insane pent up stress that is slowing burning us out, breaking us down, and literally making us sick. 

But wait, why are we carrying around stress now, when there are literally no tigers chasing us…but when there were actual tigers, they didn’t carry around pent up stress? Huh?

Amelia explains it like this: 

The tiger is the trigger (or the stressor). The physical response is the stress. When the tiger charges, you run. And by running, you are physically burning off the stress. You are ​​​​​​literally, physiologically, fixing the situation inside your body. 

But when our boss yells at us? We may “work it out” though a long and exhausting conversation and thus come to a lovely consensus. Which means we have handled the trigger (stressor) really well…but we haven’t actually done anything about the actual physical stress in our body. 

And that is why we get so burnt out overtime. 

So what is her solution? 

What will eliminate the stress form your body? ​​​​

Research shows that, literally, you need to burn it off. Run it out. Expel it through a physical means. Whether it’s dance or jogging or soccer, you need to physically decrease the cortisol in your body. It is the elevated levels of cortisol that overtime lead to inflammation which can lead to illness. ​​

Can’t jog? That’s OK. We all have physical preferences, advantages, and limitations when it comes to our bodies, and the ways they move. Find the physical activity that works best for you. 

Why are you so burnt out? Because taking a bubble bath helps you cope with the emotional feeling that lingers after a triggering event or situation. But it doesn’t burn off the stress. ​​​​If you want to rid yourself of stress, you need to deal with the actual stress – not just what triggered it. 

If you want a few more techniques on how to rid yourself of stress – no exercise required – I highly recommend their book “Burnout”. It takes you through the science of stress and how we can use that science to help us in the modern world. Perhaps set a team challenge to do a “recover from burnout 30 day challenge”. They will appreciate how much you have committed to their wellbeing.