CEUnits Blog

Stress: Coming Home to Homeostasis

March 16th, 2022

Stress is a physiological and psychological process that helps us manage our day-to-day lives. For most of us, the stress response is a defense mechanism that helps us to deal with multiple daily threats. After the threat, or the perceived threat, has passed, our hormones rebalance and we feel relaxed and safe. We return to a state of homeostasis. Our ability to easily return to homeostasis depends on our resilience.

People who are well adapted to deal with stress often display high levels of resilience. Resilience is our capacity to recover from stress, adapt to change, and maintain homeostasis even when facing stressors. There are multiple factors that determine resilience, but our lifetime exposure to stress has a big impact. Overexposure to stress can mean we are less well-equipped to deal with it. 

When people experience prolonged periods of stress, it can become harder for the body to find its way home to homeostasis. Prolonged exposure may be caused by socio-economic factors, trauma, and addiction.  


Stress and Addiction: A Vicious Cycle

Stress itself can actually help build resilience. It only becomes problematic when our bodies aren’t able to pull us out of the stress response to reach homeostasis. When we stay in the stress response for too long, we can develop symptoms of acute and chronic stress. 

Both acute and chronic stress are key contributors to addiction. Substance abuse and misuse can also trigger maladaptive tendencies across our brain, body, behavior, and social functioning. This results in a dysregulated physiological state which limits our capacity for homeostasis. For people struggling with addiction, stress can perpetuate a cycle that is hard to escape from. Stress causes an increased dependency on alcohol and certain drugs, and these substances in turn reduce our capacity to deal with stress. This is why stress can so often trigger a relapse for people who are in recovery. 


Building Resilience with Embodied Self Awareness

People struggling with addiction, and those who are in recovery, can develop their resilience by fostering embodied self-awareness. This means they can practice noticing their physiological responses to stress. They come into a relationship with their stress response, meaning they are better placed to work with, rather than against it.

Nkem Ndefo developed the Resilience Toolkit to help people recognize when they are in a stress response. The toolkit is founded on somatic psychology and helps people to build their capacity for homeostasis and resilience. When people feel triggered, stressed, or upset, there are three questions they can ask themselves to help them better understand what stress feels like.

  • What is my stress level now, and how do I know? 
  • What is happening at this moment and how does it feel in my body?
  • Is my stress level helpful?

These questions seek to help people notice what their unique experience of stress is, so they can recognize it when it appears. This means that they can begin to develop means to deal with stress, as it arises. This helps it dissipate quicker, which means the body relearns how to reach homeostasis. It also helps to value the stress response. If we befriend the stress response, we can work with it. That means finding our way easily back to homeostasis.


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