The good news, then, is that it is unlikely we will have to tackle bears while walking around CambridgeEllie Wilson for Varsity

A few weeks ago, my sister sent me a link to a book, accompanied by the message: ‘I really think you should read this.’ The book in question was BURNOUT; The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, written by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. Upon receiving this text, I deduced that my sister was trying to tell me she thought I was pretty stressed. I may as well be Sherlock Holmes. My sister is older and wiser – and was also (coincidentally) completely right. The intensity of Michaelmas term had not been lost on me (or anyone for that matter). The less we say about the fast-approaching Lent term, the better…

In their book, the Nagoskis outline the importance of ‘completing the stress cycle’. This essentially entails allowing your body to realise that a given stressful situation is over in ways that it will easily recognise. This should save us from getting stuck with chronic stress. The Nagoskis explain that stress is a neurological and physiological response that originated as a way for humans to effectively counter pressing physical threats such as wandering bears. Once a human had defeated a bear, there would be a physical signifier telling the body that the stress could come to an end. The human would stop running and take a deep breath.

“The good news, then, is that it is unlikely we will have to tackle bears while walking around Cambridge”

The good news, then, is that it is unlikely we will have to tackle bears while walking around Cambridge. The bad news, however, is that today’s stressors (or at least in the context of Cambridge uni) such as pressing deadlines or scary supervisions, do not require us to physically react. This makes it difficult to well and truly ‘complete’ the stress cycle. But –never fear – because the Nagoskis say there is a solution! We need to physically exercise. If you’re reading this with a look of severe alarm and disgust right now, don’t worry. In short, you need to do anything that is even mildly physical, as long as it raises your heart rate for a minimum of 20 minutes a day. This all sounded too good to be true. So, I decided to investigate.

As my Christmas period had been far from active (i.e I walked less than 1000 steps a day), I decided to ease myself in. At a bare minimum, the Nagoskis inform us that even lying in bed and clenching and releasing all your muscles can help. Obviously, this was appealing to me (in a way that a 20k cycle isn’t) – and I was actually quite pleasantly surprised by the results. Every time I released my muscles, I felt a wave of relief. Through creating tension, I allowed my body to release its stress. When I woke up the next day, I felt like I had slept more deeply than usual. But I also had a headache, so all in all I’m unsure how to tally up the scores on that one.

In the company of this unrelenting headache, the idea of going on a run was probably (definitely) the least attractive thing in the world. However, I had made a promise to this article and to you, the readers, to pull through with this mission. Stoically, then; I laced up my running trainers, chose a podcast, and contemplated prayer for a short moment. Now, in case you haven’t guessed already, I am not a runner. So I won’t lie to you and say that the run was particularly enjoyable (no – you’d see right through me). In fact, I felt much as I had all day: uncomfortable, tired, and flustered – and now with a flushed face to top it all off.

“I also managed to fall over twice, and my hair kept getting stuck in my lip balm – so overall it was less zen than initially intended”

However, there was something about making myself go through what can only be described as *agony* whilst possessing the power to make it stop that was strangely pleasant. So after the run, not only did I no longer have a headache (what a win!); but I also felt more energised, in higher spirits, and overall less stressed. However, was it worth the amount of pain and difficulty that I am still experiencing walking (a day later)? Maybe not. I’ll leave that one for you to decide.


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Following this running expedition, I turned to yoga. As a disclaimer: I found the pressure to relax whilst doing yoga quite intimidating. I also managed to fall over twice, and my hair kept getting stuck in my lip balm – so overall it was less zen than initially intended. It was definitely refreshing to move, although surprisingly it didn’t make me feel as good as the running. Maybe the yoga didn’t raise my heart rate enough, or perhaps the fact that my legs were still extremely sore from the run hindered the experience somewhat. Despite this, I felt tired afterwards which can only be a good thing? Granted, I may have completed the ‘stress cycle’, but it wasn’t particularly enjoyable or cathartic. Then again, nor is fighting a bear.

So, now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for – did I do it? Have I managed to outrun the bear? If I’m completely honest, no I haven’t – at all. I’m not great at relaxing and I think that even if I escaped the bear temporarily, he is lurking just around the corner. Maybe, however – the point is not to escape the bear completely, but to give yourself some time when he’s not right behind you, and I do think I managed to do that.