Who else is a little stressed out right now? There are moments, these days, when I feel so overwhelmed with anxiety or frustration or anger or disappointment that I can’t do anything else but sit with whatever I’m feeling and let myself feel it.
And then I get up, put in my earbuds, and start dancing.
I got this idea from Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. The book explains that our bodies need to complete what is called a “stress response cycle” in order to truly relax and get the kind of rest we need to prevent burnout.
To quote the Nagoski sisters:
[…] it might be the most important idea in the book: Dealing with your stress is a separate process from dealing with the things that cause your stress. To deal with your stress, you have to complete the cycle.
How do you complete the cycle? I don’t want to get into the biomechanics of the whole thing (you should really read the book), but the short version is that stressful situations flood our bodies with everything from epinephrine to cortisol—and unless we do something to mop up all of these extra chemicals, as it were, they’ll stick around, raising our heart rate and inhibiting our thought processes and ruining our digestion and sleep.
One of the best ways to complete the stress response cycle is with intense physical activity. To quote Nagoski and Nagoski again:
Remember, your body has no idea what “filing your taxes” or “resolving an interpersonal conflict through rational problem-solving” means. It knows, though, what jumping up and down means. Speak its language — and its language is body language.
Physical activity is what tells your brain that your body has successfully survived the threat and is now a safe place to live. Physical activity is the single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle.
There are a lot of ways to get physical activity, some of which no longer apply if you’re trying to practice good social distancing, and some of which are hard to enact when you’re also trying to work remotely and/or care for family members. I can’t go out for a 30-minute run while I still have a deadline to hit, for example—but I can take a five-minute break for a dance party.
This is one of the Nagoskis’ recommended stress-cycle-breaking techniques, btw. They suggest dancing to Beyoncé, but you can pick any music you like; I tend to favour video game remixes. You can dance alone, you can dance with your kids, you can get your roommates involved—dancing is an excellent way to bond with the people around you, after all. You don’t even have to be a good dancer; just get as physically active as you’re capable of, for long enough to get your heart pumping.
The goal is to wear yourself out to the point where your breathing naturally slows and becomes more deep and relaxed, because that’s how you’ll know when the stress response cycle is—at least temporarily—complete.
And then, maybe later in the day, you can do it all again.
We live in dramatic times so it's only natural many of us have turned to our old pal music to get us through. For those working at home away from work colleagues and potentially even friends and family, the internet is providing quarantine playlists to get you through your work week.Read more