We talk about how we’re dealing with intense emotions after a stressful time and strategies for pressing the reset button to renew our energy and hope.
We share some of the responses to our last episode on Thriving with ADHD. Melia said that at first, it was crickets! But then people started reaching out with their own experiences.
A few friends messaged her to say they had also been diagnosed. One received her diagnosis when she was a child but had opted not to take medication – something she’s revisiting now.
Another was diagnosed as an adult and said, “It was probably the greatest AHA moment of my life and led to a place of great pride in my mental wiring vs something that had always frustrated me before. There’s a lot of things I had always worked hard on that I gave myself permission to stop because I simply wasn’t wired for it.” He recommended the book The ADHD Advantage and the International Conference on ADHD, which Melia attended virtually last week and learned so much from.
Two other friends said that even though they hadn’t been diagnosed, they were pretty sure that they have it. And ADHD coach @bouncebacknl said on Instagram: “Good to get the word out like this. So girls get the help they need sooner.”
Melia already did this For the Record before our interview with Dr. Michelle Frank in the last episode, but she wants to emphasize the “trait” vs. the “disorder” point of view on ADHD.
Even though “disorder” is in the current name, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, having ADHD offers both benefits and obstacles. You can learn to work with your brain wiring instead of against it; the goal isn’t to try to be like a neurotypical person or expect strategies that work for neurotypicals to work for you.
Overall, we just want to normalize mental health care. We’re all dealt different hands in life when it comes to our biology and circumstances, and we play those hands the best we can. Whatever blend we use – medication, therapy, and self-care strategies like exercise and meditation – there’s no reason for shame or judgment.
Pressing the Reset Button
We’ve all been through a lot in 2020, and the weeks leading up to the presidential election were especially intense and emotional. We recorded this episode two days after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were announced as the next president and vice president of the United States, and after a stressful election season, we’re really feeling the need for a reboot.
Our Emotional State
Melia said because of underlying anxiety and fear that the election would turn out like it did in 2016, she hadn’t allowed herself to feel hopeful. She had numbed herself as a self-protective measure, more and more over the last four years, because it’s been so painful to see the cruelty of the current administration and not be able to do anything directly to change it.
After waiting for the drawn-out election results, she didn’t feel the pure elation and joy that she did both times President Obama won. But she feels like she’s slowly thawing after a long freeze, recovering from trauma, letting herself hope again that our country can live up to its ideals and our leaders can act in our best interests.
Gill said she has been tied in knots with stress and worry for most of this very long election cycle. After celebrating the results in texts with friends and family and crying through the speeches, she feels like she’s finally able to exhale and feel some relief and hope. But she’s still experiencing restlessness and anxiety for reasons she can’t always identify. She knew a Biden win wouldn’t be the solution to all the world’s problems but was hoping for a little immediate relief (or at least a stop to waking up in the middle of the night, heart racing).
Melia cried watching Van Jones get emotional on CNN after the announcement. He said, “It’s easier to be a parent this morning. It’s easier to tell your kids that character matters. Telling the truth matters. Being a good person matters.”
He said, “I can’t breathe” wasn’t only George Floyd; it was a lot of people who didn’t know if a tweet would embolden bigots to harass them or worse when they went about their normal day. And, “This is a big deal for us just to be able to get some peace, and to have a chance for a reset.” It was like watching the dam of years of pent-up emotion break – we can only imagine the trauma of being a commentator during this administration, especially as a person of color.
Burnout & Completing the Stress Cycle
Both of us felt the need to move our bodies to let go of accumulated stress and adrenaline.
After watching news commentary, texting with friends and family, scrolling social media, and toasting with whiskey, Melia still felt restless. Working in the yard for a couple of hours helped her feel calmer. Gill has been going on long walks as an outlet for her fidgety energy.
We are both reading/listening to the book Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle, written by twin sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski right now (yay sister collabs!), and it’s changed how we think about stress management. We were inspired to read the book after hearing the Nagoski sisters on an episode of Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us last month.
The episode gives a great overview on the first chapter of the book, about how we experience and accumulate stress in our bodies, and how we need to complete the stress cycle to avoid burnout and emotional exhaustion.
How We Respond to Stress
Our physiological stress response evolved to help us survive short-term acute stressors, like running from predators. Robert Sapolsky also talks about this in his excellent book on stress, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.
In Burnout, the Nagoskis give the example of being chased by a predator, like a lion. You see the animal and your body floods with hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to help you run away. You manage to outrun it and make it back to your village, where someone lets you into their home. The animal goes away and you’re filled with relief, love, gratitude and joy. The book says that this is what completes the stress response cycle and tells your body, OK, you’re out of danger, your body is a safe place to be again.
Stress vs. Stressors
In modern life, we’re not usually running from predators, but we are dealing with constant stressors that cause the same stress response in our bodies: work, money, health, parenting, relationships, pandemic, and so on. But we often don’t complete the stress cycle – no running away from a lion and celebrating how great it is to be alive with human connection. So these incomplete cycles get us stuck in this place of chronic stress for weeks, months, years – which can have serious negative effects on our physical health, like high blood pressure and digestive issues.
But it’s not the absence of the stressor – the predator – that completes the cycle. Getting rid of the stress is a totally different process: It’s the act of running and the feeling of connection with people who let you know you’re safe.
What we found helpful about this chapter in Burnout is the differentiation between stress and stressors. A stressor is a thing that is causing you stress – so the election, the pandemic, your stressful job, your kids’ virtual learning, your worries about your family’s safety, etc. And a lot of stressors are out of your control. But you don’t have to wait for the stressors to go away before you can feel better. You deal with the stress caused by the stressors by completing the stress response cycle.
Melia said she felt this when the election was called for Biden: the stressor of the election was gone, but the accumulated stress was still in her body. The Nagoskis talk about each stress cycle as a tunnel. Melia was still stuck in the middle, so she needed to move through to the end and back into the light.
They share seven different ways you can complete the stress cycle in your everyday life. These are meant to be ongoing habits to keep you from getting burnt out by chronic stress – with practice, you can figure out what works best for you and do them regularly. Note that you can’t just tell yourself to de-stress – it’s not intellectual; you have to show your body through physical action that it’s safe.
7 Ways to Complete the Stress Cycle
- Physical activity – any movement of the body (walking, running, dancing, yoga, etc.)
- Breathing – deep, slow breaths that down regulate the stress response
- Positive social interaction – casual moments of connection, even pleasant chit chat with a stranger
- Laughter – big belly laughs, not polite chuckles
- Affection – deeper connection with someone you like, respect, trust (and vice versa). They give the examples of John Gottman’s advice to kiss your partner for six seconds (too long to kiss someone you resent or dislike), or hugging someone you love or trust for 20 seconds
- Crying – having a big ol’ cry, which may not change the situation that’s stressing you out, but it relieves you of the stress and completes the cycle
- Creative expression – creative activities like art, music, storytelling, theater that give us somewhere to explore our big feelings
Get It Together / Got It Together
We each share something that we’d like to work on and something that’s going well for us right now.
Gill’s Get It Together: Not being intentional about weekend plans
Gill’s Got It Together: Not totally losing it last week during the election
Melia Get It Together: The ongoing sleep saga at home
Melia’s Got It Together: Diving into the ADHD resources and treatment and seeing improvements
Get In Touch
How are you pressing the reset button after a stressful time? What are your go-to ways to complete the stress cycle? Email us at podcast[at]semitogether.com or send us a voice memo.
If you haven’t already, take a moment to subscribe to Semi-Together or leave us a rating or review. You can also support the podcast through Patreon at patreon.com/semitogether.
- The ADHD Advantage: What You Thought Was a Diagnosis May Be Your Greatest Strength by Dale Archer, MD
- International Conference on ADHD
- Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski
- Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us with Emily and Amelia Nagoski
- Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky
- Paul Rudd dancing montage video