Acknowledging the Stress Cycle
– Noticing and Releasing Stress

In January, my local area suffered an unusual weather event that included 12” of snow followed by rapidly warming temperatures and rain. I live in the broad lowlands of where the Fraser River Valley meets the tributaries of mountain run-off from Mount Baker. Large areas of land, mostly along the Nooksack River, flooded catastrophically in November 2021, and significantly again this year. My home is technically not in a flood plain per se; rather, all these coastal lands indeed are wetlands and are protected as such. They flood occasionally, but not necessarily with regularity.

Feeling Powerless
As I watched water pour over the road from my rancher-neighbor’s farm and down my driveway, the pond that is a habitat for wetland species overflow, and the creek rise, making it visible from my kitchen window, I debated whether my daughter, dog, and I would have to evacuate. I was afraid. The fear of watching water rise and encroach upon my home—a situation I was powerless to stop—was deeply upsetting. Do I stay or do I go? Do I try to stem the tide with sandbags that I would have to create, rocks I would have to uncover, or a neighbor’s hay bales? Do I have the strength to approach the creek and remove debris? For 24 hours I was scared witless.

Waiting for the Storm To Pass
I am lucky to be able to say I have never before been in such a natural disaster that I would contemplate evacuation. Although living close to the Cascadia Fault and multiple volcanos has prompted me to create a “go-bag” and keep certain lifesaving items in stock. As climate change worsens, I think it behooves us all to contemplate this eventuality. Now that I know my property can flood, it is only a matter of time before I might need all these things.

Flooding surrounded the house and blocked an easy escape. Then, the rain finally stopped and the waters started receding back into the earth and dumping out into the ocean. Mother Nature pulled back, leaving me with a shaken core that took me two days to recover from.

Stress Can Linger
While my flooding experience does not equate to a diagnosis of cancer, my body’s reaction to it is an example of how deeply fear and the stress response to a traumatic event can linger. Me and my loved ones were threatened, and the fight-or-flight response was palpable. My adrenaline coursed for days. I was able to complete the stress cycle by getting support from my neighborhood and my loved ones, take a few long walks to exercise the stress chemicals from my body, and have a really good cry. Had I not been able to have those things, my jumpiness and snappishness might have lasted.

Allow Yourself To Return to Baseline
Completing the stress response is essential to living with the ramifications of any traumatic life event, particularly cancer. Yet, allowing ourselves the time and the space to complete the cycle is often denied us. We can even deny ourselves out of duty and responsibility, or worse, minimize our own feelings about what is stressful. Stress is subjective; what is stressful to me may or may not be stressful to you. But our response to the stress is what we have in common—elevated cortisol and adrenaline, heart rate, sweaty palms, hypervigilance, etc. Sometimes our nervous system takes a very long time to come back to baseline.

Let it Flow
The rains are not done for 2024, not by a long shot. You may be at the beginning of your cancer diagnosis, a powerful surge, or the waters of your experience have ebbed away. Regardless, whether you are harboring new stress or not, giving yourself the time and the space to complete the stress cycle is paramount. Run like a river, push your boundaries, cry until the flood of tears is dried salt on your face. You will be surprised how much can get absorbed and dissipated.


Yours in Health,
Dr. Laura James, ND, FABNO

P.S. For a great read: Burnout by Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski.


Debby Weidner
March 8, 2024

This is so beautiful and helpful. Thank you for sharing your experience and then inviting us into our own experiences and offering suggestions for a way through!

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