8 Simple Everyday Ways to Complete the Stress Response Cycle

In today’s fast-paced world, stress has become an inevitable aspect of daily life. From work deadlines to family responsibilities and societal expectations, our bodies are continuously reacting to stress triggers. However, what many overlook is that stress isn’t merely a mental state; it also manifests physically in our bodies. Understanding how our bodies react to stress empowers us to take proactive steps in completing the stress response cycle, ultimately fostering better overall well-being.

In their insightful book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle,” Emily and Amelia Nagoski delve into the science behind stress and provide practical strategies for managing it effectively. Central to their approach is the concept of the stress response cycle, the natural process by which our bodies react to and recover from stressors. Completing this cycle is essential for restoring equilibrium and preventing chronic stress from taking its toll on our health.

So, what exactly is the stress response cycle, and how can we ensure its completion? Let’s break it down:

What is the Stress Response Cycle?

When faced with a stressor, whether it’s a looming deadline or a challenging situation, our bodies initiate the stress response. This triggers a cascade of physiological changes, including the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which prepare us to either fight or flee.

What does stress do to our bodies?

Alongside the mental and emotional aspects of stress, our bodies also experience physical symptoms. These can range from muscle tension and increased heart rate to shallow breathing and digestive issues. These physical manifestations are the body’s way of preparing for action, like we are ready run away from a lion or a bear!

professional woman burnout

How to complete the Stress Response Cycle

The key to effectively managing stress lies in completing the stress response cycle. Because our bodies are bearing the burden of the stress response, It’s important to allow our bodies to go through the natural process of recovery after the stressor has passed. However, in today’s fast-paced world, we often fail to give ourselves the time and space needed for this recovery.

In this section, we’ll explore simple, everyday activities that can help you effectively close the stress response cycle. These are actions you might already be doing, but by understanding their role in stress management, you can harness their power to enhance your mental and physical health. Whether it’s through familiar routines or small adjustments to your daily habits, these strategies offer practical ways to achieve a sense of calm and resilience amidst life’s challenges.

Emily and Amelia Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Engaging in physical activity is a powerful way to complete the stress response cycle. Whether it’s going for a run, practicing yoga, or dancing to your favorite music, exercise helps release pent-up tension and promotes the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. By getting your body moving, you allow it to process and release the physiological effects of stress, leading to a sense of renewal and well-being.


Emily and Amelia Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Conscious breathing techniques are invaluable for completing the stress response cycle. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing triggers the body’s relaxation response, calming the nervous system and reducing the production of stress hormones. By focusing on your breath, you can bring your attention back to the present moment, letting go of worries and tension. Even just a few minutes of mindful breathing can make a significant difference in promoting relaxation and stress relief.


Emily and Amelia Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Laughter is indeed potent medicine for completing the stress response cycle. It triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, which promote relaxation and reduce stress. Sharing moments of laughter with others fosters a sense of connection and joy, helping to counteract the negative effects of stress on both the body and mind. Whether it’s watching a funny movie, sharing jokes with friends, or attending a comedy show, incorporating laughter into your life can be a powerful antidote to stress and tension.


Emily and Amelia Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Engaging in creative expression offers another avenue for completing the stress response cycle. Whether it’s through writing, painting, music, or any other form of artistic expression, creativity allows you to channel your emotions and experiences in a constructive way. Creating something new can be deeply fulfilling and empowering, providing a sense of accomplishment and mastery. By expressing yourself creatively, you release emotional energy and find solace in the act of creation.

Positive Social Interaction

Emily and Amelia Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Positive social interaction, whether it’s sharing a genuine laugh with coworkers, enjoying a heart-to-heart conversation with a friend, or engaging in a supportive group activity, provides invaluable support for managing stress and enhancing overall well-being. These moments of connection not only uplift our spirits but also create a sense of belonging and reinforce our resilience in the face of stressors.

Love your Furry Friends

The simple act of petting an animal can be incredibly soothing and effective in completing the stress response cycle. Studies have shown that interacting with animals, whether it’s stroking a cat, walking a dog, or simply watching fish swim in a tank, can lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol levels, and promote relaxation. The unconditional love and nonjudgmental presence of pets provide a source of comfort and companionship, easing feelings of stress and anxiety. The rhythmic motion of petting an animal can also have a meditative quality, helping to quiet the mind and promote a sense of calm. Whether you have a furry friend of your own or spend time volunteering at an animal shelter, incorporating interactions with animals into your routine can be a valuable tool for managing stress and enhancing well-being.


Allowing yourself to cry is a natural and cathartic way to complete the stress response cycle. Tears contain stress hormones and toxins, so shedding them helps release built-up tension and emotional distress. Crying serves as a powerful release valve for pent-up emotions, allowing you to process and let go of stressors. Far from a sign of weakness, crying is a vital emotional release mechanism that can bring a profound sense of relief and emotional clarity.


Emily and Amelia Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Expressing and receiving affection, whether through hugs, kisses, or other forms of physical touch, is a fundamental human need that plays a crucial role in completing the stress response cycle. Affectionate gestures trigger the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “cuddle hormone,” which promotes feelings of trust, bonding, and well-being. These moments of connection help soothe the nervous system, reduce levels of stress hormones, and enhance emotional resilience. Whether it’s a warm embrace from a loved one or a gentle pat on the back, prioritizing affectionate touch nurtures our sense of connection and belonging, contributing to overall health and happiness.

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

Cultivating mindfulness and self-compassion is another crucial aspect of completing the stress response cycle. By becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, we can better recognize when we’re experiencing stress and take proactive steps to address it. Additionally, practicing self-compassion involves treating ourselves with kindness and understanding, especially during times of heightened stress.

The Importance of Rest and Relaxation

Finally, prioritizing rest and relaxation is essential for completing the stress response cycle. Whether it’s through meditation, deep breathing exercises, or simply taking time to unwind, giving ourselves permission to rest allows the body to recover fully from the physiological effects of stress.

What to do when you’re stuck

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we find ourselves stuck in a cycle of extreme stress. Whether it’s chronic stress, struggles with mental health, grief, or self-destructive patterns, breaking free can feel overwhelming. These challenges can create a sense of being trapped, making it difficult to find a way out. In these instances, seeking therapy for stress management can be the best way forward. Therapy offers a growth-oriented space to explore the root causes of our stress. Through therapeutic interactions, individuals can learn effective strategies for navigating life’s challenges. With the guidance of a trained therapist, we can develop strategies to address our stressors and cultivate resilience. If you find yourself feeling stuck in a cycle of stress, know that reaching out for support is a proactive step towards regaining control and finding peace.

Therapy isn’t just about venting or feeling better—it’s a journey of transformation, healing, and emerging stronger. And the results speak for themselves. Check out our therapy outcomes at Fuller Life to learn more.

when stress is overwhelming

Somatic EMDR for Stress Management

Somatic EMDR offers a unique approach to stress management by focusing on the body’s physical responses. By addressing trauma stored in the nervous system, it helps individuals release tension and develop coping strategies. This gentle method promotes healing without extensive verbal recounting, making it effective for stress relief and resilience building.

clinical director

Amy Fuller PhD, LMFT-S, LPC-S, CST-S

Dr. Fuller is the founder and clinical director at Fuller Life Family Therapy Institute in Houston, Texas.

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