Puzzle Piece #2 - Stress Management

Avery Thatcher highly sensitive high achiever

by Avery Thatcher

This article takes 10 minutes to read, or you can listen to the podcast episode below:

When we’re stressed we turned on our higher-level thinking problem-solving brain. Think about it, when you’re running away from a bear, you are in high-stress response mode, not thinking about contemplating the meaning of life, it is not your priority at the moment. 

So we’re going to be building on this every entry that comes after this one, but really, I just want to give you a solid foundation right now about stress, the stress switch, and how you can really up-level your ability to achieve more and help more people in your corner.

Let’s talk about stress, high achiever 

There are four pieces of productivity, I have talked about clarity and alignment in my last blog (read here), stress management, energy management, and time management.  Did you know there are two kinds of stress? There’s stress that we more commonly know that’s the distress which is feeling the heavy and awfulness that causes different kinds of problems. The second kind of stress is EUSTRESS. Eustress is positive, productive, and motivating stress. When we’re in the zone, we’re getting stuff done and we’re really just killing it, rocking out on life and our goals. 

There is a stress curve study based on the Yerkes Dodson law, which was created by psychologists, Robert M. Yerkes and John Denham Dobson in 1908. (Read about the research here) 

It clearly illustrates the relationship between productivity and pressure. On one side of the curve down at the bottom, we don’t have enough pressure in this state of boredom. We’re really wired as humans to kind of sit around and do nothing. We don’t have motivation. We don’t have the drive. We don’t feel connected to a higher purpose or mission. We don’t have clarity and therefore we don’t have momentum or alignment.

Towards the top, the peak of the curve, we have momentum. We have drive. We have goals and the energy that we need to support our ability to achieve those goals.

However as high achievers, especially highly sensitive high achievers, it’s really easy for us to shoot way the heck over the top of that curve and move down closer and closer to burnout. We can move past this peak optimal balance where our productivity and pressure are optimum. 

Three Stages of Stress: 

  • Stage of alarm- it is the ‘holy smokes a bear is coming’ kind of stress 
  • Stage of resistance- the body is managing 
  • Stage of exhaustion- leads to burnout and unable to function


The great news though, is we can really do some simple things to bring us back up into that peak performance space with a couple of techniques. 

Understanding the nervous system equals managing stress 

Our nervous system has two main sides, the autonomic and somatic nervous systems. The autonomic nervous system is where your brain keeps telling your heart to keep feeding your body’s doing what it needs to do, your breathing, kidneys, and liver are doing their things. You don’t have to tell your body to breathe and digest food, it automatically does it for you.  

The somatic nervous system has two sides: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. You may have heard of fight or flight response as the sympathetic nervous system and the rest and digest, which is the parasympathetic nervous.

Think of your somatic nervous system as a switch. We’re either operating in rest and digest, which can be turned off, or can be turned on which is the fight or flight response.  So when you look at what each of these nervous systems is responsible for, it’s all in opposition, because your heart can either be beating fast or it can be beating slowly. You can either have your pupils in your eyes wide open, or they’re down in tiny, or you can either have nutrients and oxygen going to your digestive system or it can be prioritized to be going to other places.

Another response is the fawn response where you are stuck in the limbo of sympathetic or parasympathetic. Often you feel like, in that space, it’s such a fear-based space because it’s so out of balance for yours. If you are interested in learning more about the nervous system, I suggest researching the polyvagal theory or continuing to read this entry because we will continue to dive into the somatic experience of stress.

Mastering the art of turning off our stress switch 

When we do not know how to turn off our stress we’re in a fight or flight or freezer mode, in which we would lose access to our prefrontal cortex, our higher-level thinking brain, to solve complex problems that can navigate difficult situations and access stored memories that are going to help us with whatever it is that we’re working on.

If you are struggling to focus, it means you are far out of the stress peak performance-optimized range. You’re going to struggle to problem-solve and understand that new piece of technology you’re trying to work on. So the simplest thing you can do to keep access to this higher-level thinking brain of yours is to practice breathing techniques.

The 5, 5, 5 breathing has been scientifically proven to deactivate the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system and bring us back to rest and digest, the parasympathetic nervous system. You can then take control of that switch with this breathing technique and regain access to that higher-level thinking. In order to do the 5, 5, 5 breathing, you just need to find a comfortable space for you to learn, however, this can be done anywhere. 

The 5,5,5 Breathing Steps 

  1. Make sure you are breathing from your belly, from the diaphragm, and not from your chest. Place one hand just below your collarbone and the other hand just above your belly. 
  2. Take a deep breath, breathing through your nose, expanding through your lower hand counting to five.
  3. Exhaling counting to five, allowing that hand to come in as your belly contracts. 
  4. Repeat five breaths


The reason you want to do it for fives is that it allows your body to get triggered into the rest and digest side of things. Now, as you’re learning, I do recommend that you do this in a quiet space where you can really focus on counting and breathing and where you’re breathing from. It’s very normal in our stressed-out society for us to be breathing very shallowly. It means we breathe up instead of in, down to the bottom, so I recommend you do this technique by laying down on the ground if your lower hand is not moving. 

You can lay down on your back and put your feet up if accessible to help support or lower your back or bend your knee and try the breathing technique again to see if this is easier for you to focus and breathe. 

Storytime! I remember when the pandemic first hit, I was just going out to the grocery store just to pick up a couple of things. It was wild. People were stressed out. Everybody had toilet paper in their baskets. Very high-stress environment. As I’m walking around the grocery store, I started practicing the 5, 5, 5 breathing because I could see and feel that I was experiencing a ramped-up stress response. Everybody around me was acting weird and it felt very uncomfortable. So I practiced the 5, 5, 5 breathing technique to keep my stress response in control and it felt good. It really helped. 


Relieve stress activity (it will be fun!)

It’s very interesting to me that humans are the only animal who does not process and released a traumatic event. I was very fortunate enough to be able to do a trip to Africa years ago and I remember seeing a lion chasing a gazelle on the Serengeti and this gazelle got away. The lion gave up and walked away. All of a sudden, this gazelle just started violently shaking, and knowing what I know now that gives out with somatically processing their story. 

We as humans don’t do this. When we encounter something stressful, we push through and move on and soldier through like nothing else has happened. If we were to take a moment to just shake, literally does like stand up and down and shake or shake our hands or bounce, our somatic body can release some of that stored up stress. So, if you’re the kind of person who fidgets all the time, can’t sit still, or maybe when you’re sitting still your knees actually still bouncing, it could be your body slowly releasing some of the stress that you haven’t processed yet.

I encourage you to go into a quiet space by yourself, close the door, and shake, jump up and down, shake out your hands, shake out your arms, allow the somatic body to release, and then see how you feel.

Let me know on the latest Instagram post how you felt after you shook your body for a few minutes. 

From my heart to yours, Avery

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