Soft Skill Spotlight: Completing the Stress Cycle

In this Soft Skill Spotlight series, we’ve been talking about stress and how best to manage it—for work and life. In our previous post on this topic, we explored how to identify stress, even when its symptoms are elusive.

But what if you’ve recognized that you’re stressed and have tried some of the tips, but your body still feels tense? What if your heart is still racing? What if you still feel irritated with everyone, including your pet turtle?

You may need to take a few minutes to “complete the stress cycle.”

Here’s a scene to consider: It’s the olden days, before Netflix, before phones, before cities. You live with your loved ones in a small town on the edge of the mountains. One day, you’re out walking around and you see a mountain lion. He begins to chase you.

Your body floods with stress hormones. Your amygdala (the part of your brain that handles stress) has a choice to make: fight or flight. It chooses flight.

You begin to run. You run and run and run until you reach your home. Your brother opens the door. You run inside, slam the door, and lean against your brother’s shoulder. You both watch as the lion gives up and walks away. You feel relieved and grateful for your brother’s support.

By running, you’ve just processed your stress hormones. You’ve used them to help you survive. By connecting with a loved one, you’ve just brought feelings of connection and love into your heart, which help you feel relaxed.

Today, most of us are not encountering lions in our daily lives. Instead, we have fights with our family members or see an alarming news alert on our phones. These stressors are what fill our bodies with stress hormones. But we don’t typically run from our phones when an anxiety-inducing notification pops up. Or do anything else, for that matter, that helps our bodies process the stress hormones.

But we should. Because stress is not just in our heads—it’s in our bodies, too. And when we take time to handle stress on a biological level, we’re better able to calm down and move on. This is what it means to “complete the stress cycle.”

Here’s what you can do to process your hormones next time you feel stressed out. Try one, try two, or try them all:

  • Tense and release. Tense up all of your muscles as much as you can, hold the tension for 30 seconds, and then release, letting your whole body melt. It might sound silly, but afterward you will feel so light.
  • Hug it out. For 20 seconds. Just long enough to start feeling awkward. (Any shorter, and you won’t get the full stress-relieving benefit of the hug.)
  • Nap it off. Yup. You can nap away your stress hormones.
  • Create. Art, music, food—it doesn’t have to be pretty. Just make something with your hands.
  • Run. Channel the pre-industrial version of yourself and pretend you’re fleeing a lion.
  • Cry. Don’t think, just let it out. Focus on how you feel, not what you think about how you feel.
  • Laugh. Because isn’t life absurd sometimes?
  • Connect. Find a loved one and share your worries.

So, next time you’re feeling wound up like a spring? Try a couple of the above tactics to help you let it all go.

Want to learn more strategies for improving your soft skills? Browse our other Soft Skills for Career Success blog posts and check back next month for a new topic. You can also email to sign up for one of our career-success workshops or check out our workbooks to further develop your skills on your own.