Our previous post introduced 5 simple self-care techniques to improve your overall wellbeing. In this post we will explore stress and cortisol, the stress hormone and discuss the practical application of these 5 stress reduction techniques. Normal levels of cortisol are essential to regulate many body functions but in times of crisis or extreme stress cortisol levels rise. Living in a state of perpetual stress or high alert causes a sustained overproduction of cortisol which can make you sick. These 5 techniques should be used by anyone who finds himself living in a continuous state of stress as a method to help regulate both your stress and your stress hormone, cortisol.
Cortisol is best known for helping fuel your body’s stress response in a crisis. It is necessary for survival. It gives you a quick burst of energy to allow you to “fight or flee”. In this capacity cortisol acts to temporarily heighten your brain function, increases your immune response, lowers pain sensitivity and when then the crisis passes, returns your body to a state of homeostasis or balance.
Cortisol also controls blood sugar levels, regulates metabolism, acts to decrease inflammation, influences memory function, controls the sleep/wake cycle, controls salt and water balance and influences blood pressure.
Normal levels are essential for your body to function and increased levels can save your life in a crisis, but what happens when you are living in a perceived state of perpetual crisis? What happens when the stress does not stop? When your body is on continuous high alert, increased cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way of the stress response. Digestion, reproduction, your immune response and your body’s ability to heal can be seriously compromised.
Living in a perceived state of perpetual crisis causes your body to overproduce cortisol harming your physical and mental health and destroying your overall wellbeing. As shown by Mayo Clinic and other researchers, increased levels of cortisol can lead to an array of conditions including anxiety and depression, memory and concentration problems, headaches, trouble sleeping, weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and digestive problems.
Our 5 simple self-care techniques can be used as a tool to decrease your perceived state of perpetual crisis taking your body off high alert. By decreasing your sustained stress response you will lower your cortisol level and decrease its impact on your health. Below is a synopsis of how each of our 5 techniques can put you on a path to developing sustainable healthy habits, for life.
Technique 1. Breathe, deeply and intentionally
The act of conscious breathing, deep and intentional breathing has been studied extensively and shown to help you relax and to combat the effects of cortisol as well lower your levels of cortisol.
Technique 2. Learn to say no
Understanding your personal triggers and exerting some level of control into your life has been shown to decrease the overwhelm we experience in times of stress. Decreasing the overwhelm decreases the stress response.
Technique 3. Focus on what you can do
Do what you can and do it well. Even small successes build self-confidence. Confidence lowers how our body perceives and reacts to stress.
Technique 4. Be kind to yourself
Kindness has been shown to have a calming effect on those who offer it and those who receive it thereby lessening the stress response. Be kind. You deserve it.
Technique 5. Live in the present
Mindfulness, or living in the present allows you to focus on the task at hand. Worry and rumination puts your body on high alert. You cannot change the past, and the future you fear may never happen. Be in the moment.
Watch for our future posts:
- The connection between your brain and how to change habits that no longer serve you
- The role cortisol plays in pregnancy and infertility
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