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Stress and Burnout

This is my second blog looking at Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s an excellent book about stress and burnout, Burnout: The Secret To Solving The Stress Cycle.  The Nagoskis offer straightforward solutions based on science but first we have to really understand what is meant by “the stress cycle” and how we can successfully close the cycle once the stress has gone away. My first blog is here:

Completing the stress cycle

It is getting stuck in the stress cycle that causes the long term harm to health. Stress is a cascade of neurological and hormonal activity which floods our bodies. Thousands of years ago, the stressor may have been a predatory lion or bear – today it is a bullying boss, a difficult partner, balancing the demands of work, childcare or looking after elderly parents. Completing the stress cycle (and  not getting stuck in it) means our bodies learn that, after facing danger, we are now safe: the completion of the full circle of stress. The body cannot differentiate between the stress caused by a lion, or the stress caused by overwork, worry, or unhappiness, so in order to close the stress response cycle, we need to signal to the body that everything is OK. The immediate closure of the stress cycle involves the same kind of actions we would do when faced with a hungry lion: running, swimming, dancing, any kind of high energy movement, reassures the stressed body that all is well.

It can also involve a whole collection of other activities including:

Physical activity

So just to repeat – stress is physical and so physical activity is a big part of ending stress cycles.

It’s not just about going to the gym. Dancing or doing jumping jacks around your home count. Running, swimming, team sports – anything that gets you moving, even a quick walk around the block. 


Knitting, baking, DIY, rebuilding an engine, singing, writing or painting  – whatever creative endeavour speaks to you, do it!


Especially when you can laugh together with someone, laughter is a way to release and express all the emotions we’re keeping inside. Emotions are like tunnels. If you go all the way through them, you get to the light at the end. Laughter helps with this, as does recalling a funny story that made you laugh. Watching a favourite comedy or comedian on TV. 


Crying is for everybody. Crying is one of our body’s mechanisms to release stress. It’s important not to be so embarrassed by our tears that we attempt to stop them from coming out.

Physical affection

 You don’t have to have a romantic partner, just someone you feel safe with to give you a long, strong hug (about 20 seconds according to the research) or time with a loving pet. Physical affection helps your body release trust and bonding hormones like oxytocin, and those can chase away the sense of danger your body was previously holding onto. As our hormones shift, our heart rate slows and our body begins to feel safe.

Deep breathing

Find a breathing tool that resonates with you. Here’s a simple one: breathe in slowly for five seconds, hold that breath for five more seconds, and breathe out for five seconds and hold again for five seconds. And repeat a few times. It’s called Box Breathing.  Just a few minutes of this practice can calm down your vagus nerve and complete your fight-or-flight stress response.

“Something Larger” 

Longer term Emily and Amelia advocate connecting to what they call your “Something Larger” or finding a sense of meaning and purpose your life – this means something outside of yourself that involves you engaging with something larger than yourself. Meaning generally comes from three sources — the pursuit and achievement of ambitious goals (environmental activism, for example), finding spiritual meaning, not necessarily in organised religion and having loving, emotionally intimate connections with others (attainable to all humans, irrespective of status or circumstance). Or ideally finding a way that work for you, that combines all three so that you feel that your life as a whole has a positive impact. It’s all about belonging, contributing, connecting.


It’s also about resting, which makes us more productive and resilient — pushing through when we are exhausted is not just a daft waste of time, it’s also bad for our health.

I can highly recommend this podcast where Brene Brown interviews the sisters about their book: 

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!

See also:   What Does Burnout Feel Like?Are YOU at Risk of Burnout? Burnout or Stress?