5 Stages Of Stress & Why You Are Stuck In A Stress Cycle

If you are searching for ways to combat stress, you have come to the right place. I have found one of the best ways to learn to cope with circumstantial stress, whether that is from your daily life or from a situation that you find yourself in right now, is by understanding the stress cycle and how you found yourself in it.

There are 5 stages of stress that we all go through as we experience stress in our lives. When we know what stage of stress that we are participating in, we can learn to make healthy choices.

This helps us in the middle of high-stress situations, in order to learn to minimize the effects of stress on our bodies, emotions, and mental states.

What Are The 5 Stages Of Stress?

  1. Tunnel Vision / Overwhelm
  2. Blaming
  3. Catastrophizing
  4. Jumping To Conclusions
  5. Self-Blame

What Is Stress?

Before we go into each of the 5 stages of stress, let’s start with understanding just a little bit of the science behind what stress actually is.

Stress is simply your biological or body’s response to a circumstance or situation that you perceive as a threat or challenge.

This response was created to protect us in the wild from predators and dangerous situations. When we feel something may harm us, our fight or flight response activates, and we become stressed out.

This was good for us way back in the day, if we needed to suddenly fight off a wild animal. But now, our stress response is turned on by less dangerous situations that don’t really need a fight or flight response.  

How Do Different Types Of Stress Harm Us?

If we are constantly cycling through states of stress, meaning that we have chronic stress, this can be detrimental to our physical and mental health. The fight or flight response is only supposed to be temporary and used when really necessary.

If you are chronically stressed you are in this heightened state all the time.

Physical Problems With Staying In A Stress Cycle

  • High blood pressure
  • Risk of stroke or heart attack
  • High levels of cortisol
  • Weight gain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Skin irritations

Mental Problems With Staying In A Stress Cycle

  • Lack of focus and concentration
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Memory issues
  • Nervousness
  • Brain fatigue and brain fog
  • Negative thinking
  • Poor self-image
  • Racing thoughts

Defining The 5 Stages Of Stress

1. Tunnel Vision / Overwhelm

Typically, the first stage of stress is an overpowering feeling of threat, doom, gloom, or worry. This can be felt physically in the body by experiencing a racing heart, a flushed face, and feeling tense or tight in the muscles.

This is your fight or flight response turning on, and it can feel like you are suddenly out of control. The overwhelming feeling of fight or flight can give us tunnel vision.

This had a purpose as we were evolving. The response helped us zero in on exactly what was about to attack us, so all our energy and focus could go into protecting ourselves.

In our everyday lives though, that tunnel vision or zeroing in exclusively on the problem steals our energy and pulls us deeper into the crisis at hand. This means that in a moment when we are trying to deal with a problem, we are overwhelmed and tunneled in on the problem.

This means we are not necessarily able to see a possible solution. It almost feels like your body won’t allow you to think of a logical fix because it is responding to the problem.

How To Stop Stage 1 Cycle Of Stress: Overwhelm / Tunnel Vision

  1. Recognize that you are experiencing stress and becoming overwhelmed.
  2. Use a tool to calm the nervous system, and allow the fight or flight response to settle down.
  3. Some tools to use are deep breathing, removing yourself from the situation, taking a walk, practicing yoga to help with anxiety, or doing some other type of physical movement.

If you can stop the stress cycle at stage one, then you can save your body and mind a lot of pain and strain.

2. Blaming 

The next stage of stress is blaming. This means we place the responsibility for something that has gone wrong or the problem that we are facing on someone else or something else.

An easy example of this is when you are running late for work. Even if it is your own fault that you didn’t leave on time, if someone is driving slow in front of you or you catch too many stoplights, you will blame those things for causing you to be late.

The most common feeling when you are stuck in blame is anger. Anger only heightens what you have already experienced with overwhelm.

It also keeps you in a highly emotional state of being. This essentially traps you in the cycle of stress.

How To Stop Stage 2 Cycle Of Stress: Blaming

  1. Take responsibility for your part of the problem, even when it is really hard.
  2. Accept what is happening or what the problem at hand is.

An example of using these two techniques would be as simple as saying to yourself:

“I know I should have not hit the snooze button. This caused me to leave the house late, and it is my fault that I caught all these stoplights.”

A great way to accept the problem at hand is by saying:

“I am late today. No matter how angry I get at the stoplights or at other drivers, it does not change the fact that I am late. I may as well accept this and not let it anger me. I can apologize to my boss when I arrive at work.”

3. Catastrophizing 

Catastrophizing means that you turn your thoughts to the worst-case scenario that can happen. Usually, these thoughts are disturbing or alarming.

The thoughts then send waves of emotions including fear, anxiety, shame, and sadness. A simple example from our car ride scenario would be that as you are late for work, you catastrophize that your boss will fire you.

Then, you travel down the rabbit hole thinking of losing all your money, your home, and all the hardships that will come with losing your job. These thoughts can come in images too, and they can happen all within a few seconds in the brain.

The biggest problem with catastrophizing is that the brain remembers. The more that you participate in this extreme negative-scenario thinking, the more you strengthen the neurological pathways of those thoughts in the brain.

This means that over time, catastrophic-style thinking will become your go-to way of thinking for dealing with problems in your life. This causes massive emotional and mental stress and can turn simple daily tasks into incredibly hard situations.

How To Stop Stage 3 Cycle Of Stress: Catastrophizing

  1. Recognize your thoughts. Pay attention if you are going to worst-case scenario thinking.
  2. Self-talk your way into some positive thoughts, saying things like: “It will be okay.” and “It is very unlikely that will happen, and if it does I can handle it.”
  3. Choose to turn your focus to good. This can be as simple as noticing it is a beautiful day or petting your dog and being thankful for your furry friend.
  4. And, my personal favorite, turn on the rest and digest response system through yoga, beginning a meditation practice, or deep breathing.

You can do simple yoga stretches, deep breathing, or quick 10-minute meditations at your desk or in your car. This will help you out of an acutely negative thought pattern.

4. Jumping To Conclusions

If you are jumping to conclusions, then you are deciding on something before you have all the facts or information. Usually, this means that we are using past experiences, that seem relevant, to make these conclusions. Though, they may not always be true for the present.

I find in this stage of stress to be difficult because we have shifted away from reality and instead have moved into the alternate universe of our imagination! You may know this stage as the place where you practice future conversations with someone and decide what that person will say in the situation.

Or, you may recognize it as replaying past scenarios again and again, and deciding that the outcome of the experience will influence the outcome of the new experience.

This stage of stress leaves us with no choice to find a solution. If we are making assumptions, decisions, or playing out scenarios before they happen, we leave little room for what real life is handing us. And, many times, what is truly in front of us, is not nearly as terrible as the situation that we make-up in our minds.

In this stage of stress, we aren’t truly present in our lives, and that leads us to live disconnected from our authentic self and unhappy.

How To Stop Stage 4 Cycle Of Stress: Jumping To Conclusions

  1. Bring yourself to the present moment by using techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.
  2. Decide to stop the replays and do not put words into someone else’s mouth.
  3. Logically remember that things aren’t always as bad or just as they appear to be.
  4. Put your focus into something else, like a menial task or chore, to take you out of your head and into the present.

5. Self-Blame

The final stage in the 5 stages of stress is self-blame or punishing yourself. This typically happens with ruminating thoughts of inadequacy, discontentment with one’s personality, body, or mental state, and extreme negative self-talk.

This action of self-blame is found, in studies, to increase stress dramatically and can cause feelings of anxiety and mental anguish to linger longer than normal. It has a profound effect on our bodies and can cause body aches, pain, fatigue, and can affect our eating habits.

When we find ourselves cycling through stress to self-blame over and over again, and staying in the state of negative self-talk, this is when we may find that we truly need to possibly seek out mental health help to begin to counteract these thoughts.

The truth is, there is not a healthy solution that can be found deep in negative thoughts. The solutions to problems that cause stress are found by a positive outlook and finding new ways to improve our circumstances. Self-blame is not healthy, period.

How To Stop Stage 5 Cycle Of Stress: Self-Blame

  1. Find a loved one to talk to about your problem. People who know you, and care for you, can help you see the positive aspects of yourself.
  2. Try taking a Beginner’s Mind approach. This aspect of practicing mindfulness in daily life means that you are trying to look at problems as if you are seeing them for the first time. This way a new solution may arise that you didn’t see before.
  3. Participate in an activity that makes you feel good about yourself. This can be yoga or exercise, playing a sport with friends, or digging into a talent like painting or music.
  4. Get professional help if you feel you cannot step out of the negative thoughts. See a therapist, medical professional or at the very least – share your struggles with a close friend that can help get you the help you need.

Coping With The 5 Stages Of Stress

Finding yourself in the 5 stages of stress over and over again can lead to burnout in the mind and body, not to mention emotional burnout. One of the best ways to avoid burnout or the many side effects of stress, is to be proactive about treating stress in your life.

Depending on the severity, you may want to seek out a doctor to get recommendations on what solution is best for you. This could be in the form of therapy or possibly even medication.

You can start with your general practitioner who will be able to refer you in the right direction. Another option is Wellness Counseling services.

This is a great option for someone that is recognizing that the cycle of stress is having a negative effect on their life. This person also recognizes he or she wants to learn strategies for making changes in life in order to avoid burnout and severe mental or physical health issues.

A Wellness Counselor talks with you about your life in a kind and supportive way. Then, together, you work on creating a plan to help find new ways to cope.

The Wellness Counselor will also help see you through the strategies, so you have support as you work on your goals. A Wellness Counselor focuses on the whole person: mind, body, emotions, and spirit.

It is a holistic approach to stress management, health, and wellness, that many find to be effective. It is also more affordable than other options, and can be done both in-person and through telehealth, to make wellness counseling convenient for you.

How To Work With A Wellness Counselor

As a certified Wellness Counselor, completing my studies at Cornell University, I help people find a state of complete health. This is about becoming the person that you truly want to be – your authentic self.

Together, we will put into place, strategies for maximizing your quality of life by adopting healthy habits that become your lifestyle. This is all while letting go of poor health habits, that are causing you pain in your life.

If you find yourself struggling with any of these problems, Wellness Counseling can help.

  1. Feeling extreme stress in everyday life 
  2. Nutrition and trying to incorporate better eating habits (I specialize in anti-inflammation eating)
  3. Emotional eating (I teach Mindful Eating techniques)
  4. Fitness and exercise
  5. Sleep and rest
  6. Spiritual development
  7. Relationship development

I offer free mini-wellness counseling sessions too!

To learn more about how we can work together, and get a jumpstart on your wellness goals, CONTACT ME to book a consulting session.