Stress, like the rest of life, happens in cycles.
When problems occur in cycles it makes them much easier to ignore, and harder to catch. Be honest, have you ever known you had to make a decision that would let someone down, so you kept busy to avoid it? It feels convenient when the things that irk you, the ones you know you need to change, aren’t staring in your face demanding your attention. Eventually they come back around and you have to do the thing you’ve been dreading, but there’s that time in between where you can shrug off the thing you need to do it feel urgent.
This is how it feels to be in the cycle. It’s easy to put things off and avoid dealing with them, even though you know you’ll need to.
Add this to a busy life, and you might even feel justified in putting off your health, your exercise, important conversations with your partner, or anything really, because it’s not pressing right in front of you.
We’ve all been there before. I carry tension neck and shoulders and I used to think it was just part of my job (as though I had to sit at a desk for 40+ hours a week without a choice). I would use my work as an excuse to stay in this cycle of stress in my body before it would get bad enough to demand my attention.
Let’s see if this sounds familiar…
Phase 1 – Awareness
You know you’re not operating as well as you could be, but it’s not bad enough to divert your attention. You’re aware of the issue, but you keep going anyways.
In the back of my mind I know it’s been a while since I went to a yoga class. When I wake up, I my neck and back are stiff and it takes a few hours to shake it off.
Phase 2 – Pushing Through
This is when the problem starts to rear its head. Now the problem’s in your face, but for whatever reason, you’re pushing past it hoping to hold out a little longer before you address it. This is where the excuses come in… I don’t have time, it’s expensive, I’m waiting until I go on vacation…
For me, this would be back or shoulder pain starting to set into a specific spot. I can feel myself tightening up and my regular stretches aren’t enough to make a difference. My body feels uncomfortable on a daily basis.
Phase 3 – Knockout
Here’s where the issue demands your attention. At this stage, the problem is the loudest thing for you and it suddenly feels like the most important thing on your to do list. It’s got your attention and it’s taken you out of your regular routine so you can give it the focus it deserves.
This is when I’d wake up and be unable to move and it would be physically impossible for me to sit at my desk and focus on my work. I’d book an emergency appointment with my chiro, my massage therapist, and I just might give myself permission to take a bath and a half day off.
When you wait until Phase 3 to get knocked out by your problem (a broken bone, a house fire, a heart attack, getting fired, your spouse leaving) you go through extra unnecessary pain.
Phase 4 – Dormant
Then the problem would be dormant for a while. Ahh, reprieve. It would feel so sweet, but it wouldn’t last long. This is where-- if there wasn’t a real, lasting change made at the root of the problem (did you take the time for that?)-- Phase 4 cycles back into Phase 1 and you repeat the process again.
Addressing the current issue with a chiropractor and massage therapist would be helpful and it would certainly stop the pain for a while. Without addressing the root of the issue—working long hours at an uncomfortable desk and not moving my body enough—I’d cycle back to Phase 3 within a month. Rinse. Repeat.
Sometimes you get lucky and can cycle between Phases 1 and 2 without having to actually confront the problem. While you might not reach Phase 3 and get knocked off track, you’re certainly not operating at a high level across the board in your life. This alone should be your wake-up call.
When you resist a problem in one area, you don’t just resist the pain, you gradually build resistance toward life. Soon the things you love don’t feel as sweet. You stop doing the things you used to, and you create a thick callus of resistance (physically and emotionally) that keeps you playing small in your life.
Getting Off The Cycle
The hardest part of this stress cycle is recognizing that it’s happening to you in the first place. When you live amongst other people who are cycling in the same way as you, it’s hard to pick out your own behaviour because you’d need to up-level to even see what’s going on.
At this stage, all at once, you’re forced to feel everything you’d been pushing down in the months or years before. In your resistance, you’ve shown life that it needs to raise its voice to get your attention. In response, life had to send you something big enough to get you to wake up and realize you’re not taking care of yourself.
This is how you get into trouble with your health.
This cycle is how relationships erode.
It’s how you lose touch with yourself and the things you love.
This is how you wake up one day and realize you barely recognize the life you’re living. (who made all these choices? How did I end up here?)
The thing is, it doesn't have to be like this. It’s up to you to make the choice. Are you going to stay stuck in this stress cycle waiting for life to blow up in your face? Or do you want to be proactive and step off the cycle so you can start thriving and trending in the direction you want your life to go?
Right now, it's summer. Traditionally, this is time for Phase 1. The weather is warm, the sun is shining, you’re soaking up extra vitamin D and you’re feeling good. But the stress you’re carrying is still lingering in the background, going unaddressed, likely waiting until September.
Are you going to wait for it to blow up, or would you like to do something about it now?
The choice is yours.
For those of you who are serious about stepping off this stress cycle and ending it once and for all, I’ve got some space open in my calendar to get you started.
Book your Stress-Less Breakthrough Call with me so we can identify where you’re at in the stress cycle and how to get you off it, for good.