“How to De-stress” on Women’s Health Magazine goes more in-depth with some of the methods you can use to complete the stress cycle. God only knows I’m trying my best when I summarize big concepts into simplified comics and my Cliff Notes version is bound to come up short to the original theory, so I really truly encourage everyone to read my source material for yourself by picking up a copy of Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book:
Or you can listen to them talk about their book and the stress response cycle, too! Watch them at XOXO Fest, listen to their podcast: Feminist Survival Project 2020, or listen to them talk about it with Brené Brown on her podcast Unlocking Us.
If you are thinking to yourself, hmm, this Emily person sounds familiar…? that is because she and her brilliant work have popped up more than once in some previous OJST comics!
► The Science of Desire (Guest comic illustrated by Rich Stevens)
► Come as You Are Book review (spoilers, we love it)
► A Version of the Sexual Response Cycle (based on Dr. Nagoski’s book on the same subject)
A muddy cavewoman-era version of Erika enters the scene, looking wary and striking a defensive pose as she wields a spear. She wears a dress made of animal skins, a rock necklace, and her hair is tied up in pigtails with little bones in them. Cavewoman Erika makes an inquisitive “Gronk?” sound as she examines a squiggly cave drawing warning about an angry saber-toothed tiger.
Our modern day Erika, sporting similar pigtails and wearing a t-shirt and black skirt, zooms past on a pair of rollerskates. The word “RADICAL!” is seen as she soars through the air, making a “dab” gesture with one arm while recording everything on a selfie stick.
Erika continues. “With our modern-day cars, computers, and YEET-dabbing, we like to believe that we’ve evolved so far beyond the worries of our prehistoric predecessors.”
“Times have changed! Humans don’t need to work nearly as hard to ensure our immediate survival!”
Cavewoman Erika is seen screaming, “GRAHH!” as a ferocious saber-toothed tiger leaps out at her, fangs bared and claws out.
“And yet… the way we deal with stress is still painfully trapped in the past.”
Erika looks stressed as she holds up a phone that seems to be constantly going off with notifications. Her own thoughts scream, “GRAHH!” as the phone continues to buzz with notifications.
“My fellow sweet, stressed out, Homo sapiens, let’s talk about the Stress Response Cycle and how to complete it.”
“This is just a very tiny synopsis of the things I learned in the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA.” Erika holds up a copy of the book to the reader. “It’s a helpful and enlightening read at any time, but especially so during…”
“ALL THIS.” Erika gestures, sweeping her arm.
The Stress Response Cycle starts with a
This is anything you can hear, see, touch, taste, or imagine that could harm you. That is, it’s anything that gets you stressed the fuck out!
Cavewoman Erika is shown again, reacting to another surprise attack by a saber-toothed tiger jumping right at her.
The Stressor activates your subconscious reactionary brain which fills your body up with adrenaline and hormones, so that your body can react quickly (Fight, Flight, or Freeze) to survive the possible threat.
A can of STRESS JUICE is poured onto a human brain. Arrows point from the brain to the three possible responses. The Fight response shows a drawing of a stick person, posed with a spear as if readying themselves to fight. The Flight response shows the stick person running away from the danger. The freeze response shows the stressed stick figure curled up in a fetal position on the ground.
After physically exerting itself to survive the potential danger, your body can then relax again and your hormones and whatnot can revert to their normal baseline, thus completing the Stress Response Cycle.
A line chart indicating stress levels starts off with spiked levels going up and down before gradually tapering back down into a flat line. Cavewoman Erika, having escaped the danger, sighs in relief and rests at the end of the flat baseline.
You’d think that removing the source of stress would be enough to end the stress cycle… but it’s NOT.
In one panel, a cartoony drawing of the saber-toothed tiger labelled “Stressor” growls at Cavewoman Erika. The label “Stress Response” is given as she yells in fear, with a jagged stress line coming off her. In the second panel, the tiger gets poofed away and disappears, but Cavewoman Erika, who is still “Stuck in the Stress Response”, continues to scream.
You GOTTA have physical cues to communicate inside your body that the danger is over.
Erika holds up her phone, which has various symbols pinging off its screen towards her.
She says, “Back when our stressors could be resolved by running like hell (or some other intense physical activity), this worked great! But today, in our Future World, our stressors are wildly different from our ancestors’. Our ‘potential threats’ are less immediately-life-or-death situations and more mundane challenges that are frequent, prolonged, and without clear resolutions. Like having a shitty interaction at work, remembering a deadline is coming up, reading a nasty tweet, or watching an insurrection at your country’s capital while you’re on the opposite coast working from home during a pandemic.”
“Your simple-primal-lizard brain? It doesn’t know one stressor from another, so it reacts to them all like it needs to save you from a wild animal attack.”
An angry tiger and a phone with notifications both snarl at a human brain, with the same amount of nervous sweat drops coming off of it in reaction to each source of stress.
“We’ve got 21st Century problems and caveman coping skills.”
A startled Cavewoman Erika screams, “GRAH!” at a phone in her hand that hurls notifications straight at her face.
“And when you don’t complete your Stress Response Cycle, even though your life’s not actually in danger? Your brain just sits in its stress juice, which physically affects your body and can even make you sick!”
A poor human brain floats around in a large bucket of stress juice, with dark bubbles coming off of it.
Erika puts her hands up reassuringly. “But don’t worry!” She says. “You can still complete your Stress Response Cycle without having to survive a saber-toothed cat attack! Here are just four ways to chill your poor, stressed-out brain down.” She adds in parenthesis, “(There’s many more! Search for ‘complete stress response’ and/or check out the book Burnout!)”.
Complete the Cycle
Walk, ride your bike, do yoga, jump up and down, anything that gets your body moving! If moving’s not an option, do some Progressive Muscle Relaxation!
This method is accompanied by a drawing of a person doing some stretches.
Calm, rhythmic breathing tells your body that it’s safe. Breathe in for a count of five, exhale for ten, pause for five, then do it again.
A drawing of air coming out of a breath is included with this tip.
A good cry releases stress hormones and will help your body to slow down and chill the fuck out.
This tip has a teardrop drawn next to it.
Positive Social Interaction
A calming, casually friendly interaction (Just saying “Good morning” to the barista!) can reassure your body that you’re not in danger.
This tip has a drawing of two smiling speech bubbles facing each other.
Erika jogs inside of a circle with symbols representing the stress response cycle (A lightning bolt for the Stressor, sweat drops for the Reaction, and a flat horizontal line for the Baseline). She says, “I wish I could say there’s a magical way to just not get stressed in the first place, but, well, stress is a part of life! Be as kind to yourself as you can while you learn how to complete your cycle and just remember this ancient proverb from our ancestors:”
Cavewoman Erika raises a finger and offers her wisdom in the form of grunts, which translates to, “Don’t sweat the petty stuff and don’t pet the sweaty stuff.”
Brought to you by our awesome patrons at patreon.com/erikamoen.
To repost or license this comic, visit ohjoysextoy.com/license.
This comic was posted on June 6, 2021 and transcribed May 12, 2022, by Dennie Park, who can be found at linktr.ee/DeepBeeps