Becoming Stress Resilient

Published by Annie Barrett: 
December 1, 2021

Stress can be defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological exertion. Stress is your mind and body's response to anything that requires attention or action. 

Resilience is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.

Stress resilience is the ability to effectively cope with stressors and return to equilibrium or homeostasis after a stress has passed. 

The goal isn’t to eliminate all stress, but rather to learn to manage stress more effectively.

Like all biological processes, the stress cycle has a beginning, middle and end. The goal is to be able to move all the way through the stress cycle and not get stuck in it. This is stress resilience.

Sisters Drs. Amelia and Emily Nagoski discuss stress resilience in their book, "Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle." They write:

“The good news is that stress is not the problem. It’s how we deal with stress—not what causes it—that releases the stress, completes the cycle, and ultimately, keeps us from burning out. You can’t control every external stressor that comes your way. The goal isn’t to live in a state of perpetual balance and peace and calm; the goal is to move through stress to calm, so that you’re ready for the next stressor, and to move from effort to rest and back again.”

Here are several evidence-based ways to complete the stress cycle.

Breathing practices

There are many breathing practices that help the body activate the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby helping the body and mind calm down. One of the easiest breathing techniques I use is 4:8 breathing. Breathe in for four counts, pause for four counts, and then to exhale for eight counts. The longer exhalation is effective in stimulating the vagus nerve, calming the body, and increasing heart rate variability, all of which are associated with lower stress levels, better overall health and improved cognition.

Physical Activity and Exercise 

All kinds of exercise and physical activity are reducing stress. Exercise boosts endorphins which improve your mood and help you return to homeostasis. The key is to build some kind of physical activity and exercise into your daily routine. This could be walking, jogging, dancing, yoga, biking, swimming, tai chi, or something else.

Positive social interactions

Humans are not made to “go it alone.” We are social creatures and we handle stress better when we have regular positive interactions with others. Positive social interactions reduce stress and improve cardiovascular health. Socializing increases hormones that decreases anxiety levels and make us feel more confident in our ability to cope with stressors

Positive physical touch

Physical touch increases levels of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, all of which help regulate the mood and buffer stress hormones. Getting and giving hugs is a great way to get positive physical touch. Snuggling a pet also works. And, don’t forget that you can give yourself affectionate touch. Placing a hand on your heart and hand on your belly, or giving yourself a hug communicates care to yourself and is an effective way to self-soothe and destress.


Laughing enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain. When you laugh, your body first amps up and then cools down which increases and then decreases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result of this is a good relaxed feeling in the body. 


Young children cry easily and yet teens and adults often suppress crying. However, crying can have a self-soothing effect on the body and mind and can activate the parasympathetic nervous system. A good cry reduces stress by and decreases levels of cortisol in the body.


Being creative can increase positive emotions, lessen depressive symptoms, reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and even improve immune system functioning. There is an incredible range of what can be called “creative” today including playing music, doing art, writing code, cooking, sewing, knitting, decorating the house, gardening, doing crossword puzzles, doing coloring books and even doodling. 

How do you know you have completed the stress cycle?

Your body will tell you. What might it feel like? While it can differ from person to person, once you've completed the stress cycle, you'll experience a settling or downshift in the body, a deepening of breathing, a relaxation of the muscles, a feeling of settledness or grounded-ness in the body.

Stress resilience is skill you can cultivate!

If you are interested in receiving wellness coaching to become more stress resilient and improve your wellbeing, check out my wellness coaching offerings here.