In our journey to overcome chronic stress and trauma, many of us have a strong desire to “break the cycle.” But here’s the vital piece of information that often gets overlooked: to break the cycle, we need to begin completing the many incomplete stress cycles trapped within our sensitized nervous system that keep us vigilant and easily triggered and stuck in patterns of anxiety, fear, and emotional turmoil.

The Importance of Completing Stress Cycles

Our bodies are equipped with a natural mechanism called the stress response cycle. When we encounter a stressor, our body prepares to fight, flee, freeze, and fawn. Ideally, once the stressor is gone, our body should complete the cycle by recovering and returning to a state of calm and balance. However, due to trauma stress a full recovery is interrupted and add in our fast-paced lives, stressors are constant and pervasive, often leaving our bodies in a state of incomplete stress cycles. CPTSD, with its roots in prolonged trauma and stress, often leaves us feeling trapped in a relentless loop of emotional and physical distress.

Why Completing the Cycle Matters

When stress cycles remain incomplete, the stress-energy gets stored in our bodies, keeping us in a heightened state of arousal. This can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and even physical health issues. Dr. Emily Nagoski and Dr. Amelia Nagoski, in their book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle,” explain that activities like physical exercise, deep breathing, and social connection help us complete these cycles, promoting healing and well-being. This is also when nervous system awareness becomes very helpful.

Nervous System Restoration: A Vital Part of Healing

Nervous system restoration is essential for healing from chronic stress and trauma. When we experience prolonged stress, our autonomic nervous system (ANS) can become dysregulated. Restoring balance to the ANS involves practices that promote relaxation and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response.

The Role of the Vagus Nerve

Central to this process is the vagus nerve, a crucial part of our autonomic nervous system. The vagus nerve is the largest calming nerve of the body and it becomes inhibited due to prolonged and unrelenting stressors. It plays a significant role in regulating our “rest and digest” response, which counteracts the “fight or flight” reaction. Activating the vagus nerve through practices like deep breathing, meditation, compassion-based practices, mindful movements, self-touch techniques, grounding, and feeling tethered to an embodied sense of inner safety can all help us complete stress cycles and restore balance and safety to this distressed system.

Effective Techniques for Completing Stress Cycles Include

  1. Breathwork: Deep, diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, promoting relaxation and helping complete stress cycles.
  2. Physical Activity: Movement, whether it’s yoga, walking, or dancing, helps discharge the stored stress energy, allowing the body to return to a state of calm.
  3. Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices enhance our awareness of the present moment, reduce the impact of stressors, and aid in nervous system regulation.
  4. Social Connection: Engaging with supportive relationships provides a sense of safety and connection, which is essential for completing stress cycles.
  5. Therapeutic Touch: Techniques such as craniosacral therapy can help regulate the nervous system and support the completion of stress cycles.
  6. Creative Expression: Activities like drawing, writing, or playing music can help process emotions and complete stress cycles.

The Path to True Healing

Understanding that we cannot simply break the cycle until we learn to complete the stored, incomplete stress cycles is transformative. It shifts our focus from pushing through stress to creating space for our bodies and minds to process and restore. By embracing techniques that activate the vagus nerve and complete stress cycles, we can move towards true healing and resilience and begin to stack our brains in our favor and integrate emotions associated with our trauma and experiences.

A Call to Action

Honor our body’s natural healing process, be attentive to changing nervous system states and pave the way to restore balance to help with stress recovery and sustainable growth.

Understanding and addressing the importance of completing stress cycles shifts our focus from surviving to truly thriving. It’s about creating a supportive environment for our bodies and minds to process and heal.

As we navigate the journey of healing from CPTSD, remember: it’s not just about breaking the cycle of trauma and stress; it’s about allowing our bodies to complete these cycles, working with our body’s wisdom to integrate the energy of activation and restore a true felt sense of inner peace and equilibrium. We can reduce the overwhelming intensity and find our way back home one completed stress cycle at a time.

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash


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