7 Ways to Disrupt the Stress Cycle through Self-Care

Unfortunately, stress is a fact of life and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Here are seven of the top research-backed ways to disrupt the stress cycle and start taking better care of yourself.

By Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, PsyD, LPC


Hi, everyone, I am Dr. Sheryl Ziegler. I am so happy to be a part of HER Health Collective. I’m going to introduce myself, and then my topic for the day. I am the author of Mommy Burnout. I am a doctor of psychology and I like to speak about stress and burnout and parenting. I am also the host of Dr. Sheryl’s Pod Couch. And I have a newsletter that’s called Notes from the Couch, which talks about the things that I’m seeing in my private practice. I’m based out of Denver, Colorado, and I’ve also been doing an online course, just this past year, of a course that I’ve been doing here for a long time, many years, called Start with the Talk. That is a parent child puberty class that prepares tweens and young teens for the transition into puberty, middle school, and the physical, social and emotional changes that occur there. Feel free to check me out, you can find me on social media and on my website, DrSherylZiegler.com.

So what I’m going to do today is talk to you about the importance of self care. When we hear the word self care, we often think, going to a spa or having a bubble bath or something that’s indulgent. In our culture, we’ve somehow gotten the message that self care is maybe even a selfish word. What I’m here to say is that when I was writing Mommy Burnout, and the subtitle to it is “how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process.” The reason why I have that title is because the better that we can take care of ourselves, the better we can take care of our children. I think by now you’ve probably seen posts and things about that. But this is your five minutes today to just breathe. And think about what it is that you need, it could be so simple as I need to stop eating while I’m standing up. I need to just go to the bathroom more often. I need to be able to take a shower every morning.

We have the stressor, we have our reaction to the stress, then we have the wear and tear on our body. That's where we might have an upset stomach, we might have pains in our shoulders, we might be carrying that stress in our body, that's pretty common.

Self care, particularly when you are a mom, is something that changes dramatically from what it used to be defined as. One of the things I want to share is self care in relation to the stress cycle. I have been doing this talk and it’s been well received. I’m going to share a little portion of it with you, which is talking about the stress cycle.


If we look at stressors, and then in the cycle there’s our reaction to the stress, that could be a loss of sleep, it could be reactivity, irritability, whatever that might be. We have the stressor, we have our reaction to the stress, then we have the wear and tear on our body. That’s where we might have an upset stomach, we might have pains in our shoulders, we might be carrying that stress in our body, that’s pretty common. And then you start to, when you’re still in the stress cycle, you disconnect from nature, you disconnect from your basic needs a lot of times, so you’re feeling these stresses, you’re feeling it in your body, and then you’re starting to disconnect, because we think that if we can power through things, that maybe the way to get through it.


What we know is that if you do that you get to this increased sensitivity distress. So that might be where you are hyper reactive, or you know, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Somebody said one more thing, and you just exploded. And if we don’t actually complete the stress cycle, and we remain in it, we just know that goes round and round and round with different stressors.

So I’m really here to share with you seven of the top ways backed by research that we know can disrupt the stress cycle. By doing some very basic self care skills that really makes a difference. 

  1. Number one is physical activity, just 20 minutes a day, five days a week. This isn’t hardcore. I’m about to do it myself right now. As soon as I’m done with this recording, I’m going to go outside and do a 20 minute walk before I start my afternoon with my own patients. So physical activity is a must for disrupting the stress cycle.
  2. The second one is to connect with others. Don’t hide and isolate and stay away from others when you’re stressed out. Reach out in some way. It could be a text, hopefully it’s a call, and eventually it’s back to being in person.
  3. Three is deep breathing, that diaphragmatic breathing meaning deep belly breaths. There are many different rounds. There’s many different ways that you can do it. I like to start with something called 478 breathing which is breathe in for four, hold for seven, and breathe out for eight. It’s a really quick way to calm your central nervous system. Three rounds of that will do.
  4. Touch. Whether it’s your children, your spouse, a partner, a friend, but touch is very soothing and calming to our whole nervous system that may be aroused.
  5. Creative expression, whatever you’ve got inside of you, whatever that creative side of you is engaged with that when you find yourself in stressful times. We tend to go away from those things that we call hobbies, and they seem like they may be a waste of time or something we don’t have time for. Actually lean into that.
  6. Good quality sleep. So, so important. A lot of adults, they’re saying really just need maybe six to seven hours, but we’re a pretty sleep deprived country. So really try to focus on your sleep hygiene and no screens an hour before bedtime, and really just creating a whole sleep hygiene routine around getting good quality sleep.
  7. The last one, of course, is just healthy nutrition. Be mindful of what we’re putting into our bodies. Is it serving us? Is it providing us with the energy, or whatever it is that we need to sustain throughout our stress cycle or our days. 

I wanted to give you a quick dose today with five minutes of thinking about self care and reducing the stress cycle. Thank you so much. I look forward to connecting with you all again.

Dr. Sheryl Ziegler holds a Doctorate in Psychology and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. She is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Colorado Association for Play Therapy. Dr. Ziegler is the best-selling author of Mommy Burnout, the podcast host of Dr. Sheryl’s PodCouch, a regular national and local news contributor and runs a private group practice in Denver, CO. Dr. Ziegler is also a national and international presenter on topics related to stress, parenting, mental health and burnout as well as a Tedx speaker. She has treated thousands of children, tweens, teens, and their families with a broad range of issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, bullying, self-harm, divorce, social skills, and overall life adjustments.

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