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Stress Cycles: What They Are and How To End Them

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May 16, 2019

A parenting multiple choice question:

You’ve been home with the kids for exactly 32 seconds when they swear if they don’t eat instantly, they will perish on the spot. You go to set down the five million things you’ve carried in from the car when you trip over the soccer cleats you told your daughter to put away three days ago. You take a moment to recover your breath and the groceries now rolling across the floor, when, in the background, a phone rings. It’s your spouse/parent/nosy neighbor and they are complaining about how long it took you to answer.

Do you..

  1. Let out a caveman kind of bellow?
  2. Pretend the loaf of bread recently retrieved from the floor is someone’s face and punch it?
  3. Run away, temporarily, for a nap or a bath or just five seconds alone in the bathroom?

It turns out that those reactions are all well known to the professionals  A therapist friend of mine applauded my daughter’s new-found love of kickboxing this week because it is not only good exercise, it does something called “close the stress cycle.”

Essentially, irritants are just part of life. Stress naturally occurs and we can’t avoid it. We all face things that are going to upset us in one way or another, particularly as parents! The difficulty comes when we can’t react as our instincts would direct us right away. For example, you might want to punch your boss in the face or yell at the obnoxious cashier at the store, but it’s generally frowned on in our society or frankly, could end with you in jail.

All of that built up stress stays in our bodies, resulting in an unhealthy situation. Therapists and scientist have identified several ways we can release that built-up emotion and return to equilibrium, or in more technical terms, “close the stress cycle.” I’ve since heard several differing versions of this concept, but most of them agree on the basics tools to release this stress.

According to my very own friend therapist, the five best ways to close the cycle are:

  1. Exercise.In her opinion, the more aggressive and instinctive the better. You can’t punch your boss, but you can really wallop a punching bag that you pretend has their face.
  2. A Primal Scream.I have a distinct memory of trying to get my kids to sleep and hearing my daughter call me just as I was lying down in bed. I buried my head into the mattress and screamed for what seemed forever. My husband wondered if I’d lost my mind.
  3. Crying. Any parent knows this one. Sometimes, tears are the release you need. My mattress has seen plenty of those, too!
  4. Creative Expression. Any sort of art, dance, drawing, writing, and so on can decrease stress.
  5. Self-Care. Consider facials, nail polish, eyebrow plucking, and exfoliating, to be therapeutic rage reducers.

It’s easy to see why adults in general, and parents in particular, would need to use these strategies. My friend helped me think about how important it is to build these outlets into my children’s lives as well. If anything, most children are less skilled and equipped for dealing with the irritations of life and reacting in an appropriate way. The older they get, the less acceptable temper tantrums in the toy aisle at Target become!

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