Stress is, unfortunately, now a common fixture in our hectic, busy lives. Small amounts of stress that are easily resolved can be beneficial in motivating and helping us achieve our goals, but chronic or long-term stress ultimately affects the whole body in a negative way and may contribute to many health complaints.
Thousands of years ago, we may have been faced with the threat of a sabre tooth tiger and our immediate response to this was one of two reactions: to attack or run away. It’s the fight or flight response. Once this stress response is triggered, chemical messengers called adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline are produced by the adrenal glands and brain. These messengers increase blood flow to the essential organs such as the heart, lungs, brain and muscles to help us fight or quickly flee. Digestive function slows down as this is less important in survival mode. Cortisol also increases the amount of sugar released into the blood to provide energy for our muscles to move fast and be strong. In the past, stress was short lived and once the stress was over (i.e you successfully ran away from the sabre tooth), these chemical messengers shortly returned to normal.
This primal response to stress has remained in our modern biology. The sabre tooth tigers are long gone, but the physical threat to our lives and limbs has been replaced with the modern day stress of long work hours, financial worries, traffic jams and family/relationship issues. The downfall to this modern stress is that we never “get away” from it so the stress response does not turn off.
Ongoing stress that does not resolve may result in chronic stress, which can be the underlying cause of many health conditions. Chronic stress can impact all bodily systems such as the cardiovascular system, by contributing to high blood pressure, or your nervous system, leading to exhaustion, headaches and insomnia. Your digestive and immune systems can also be weakened by stress, making you more susceptible to irritable bowel syndrome, frequent colds and the flu.
Stress causes the hormonal imbalances that will also lead to weight gain through high cortisol and blood sugar imbalance.
To combat high cortisol production and ongoing stress, try these tips:
- Get an extra hour of sleep everyday – rest in bed for that extra hour if possible, 8 hours is ideal, every night!
- 1 coffee a day before 10am, avoid caffeine after this time.
- Stop extreme intensive exercises for 2-4 weeks and practice yoga and walking – you will find you immediately feel calmer and sleep better. Exercise is a form of stress so removing intense exercise for a time allows the body to switch off out of the stress response and heal. Gentler exercise is great for releasing endorphins and maintaining healthy movement in the body.
- Magnesium and adrenal herbs work magic – a nutritionist and/or naturopath can advise what will work best for your body and specific needs.
- No technology after 7-8pm. TV/news/emails/social media and even the sight of a smart phone can rev-up cortisol production so make sure to set tech boundaries. If you need to be on tech later at night, try adding a red-light filter to your devices to block blue light. Blue light signals to the body that it is time to wake up and will interfere with good quality sleep.
- Put your legs up! Lay with your legs up against a wall for 10 minutes 2x/day and breathe deeply into your stomach – this completely calms the whole nervous system and I’ve found that this helps people sleep better and deeper.
- Meditate and breathe. Try alternate nostril breathing – I personally do this twice a day feel so much calmer after doing his. You can do this during a meditation or on it’s own. It’s good to be consistent with meditation, 5 mins every day is better than an hour every few days. There are so many huge benefits to meditation, lowered cortisol is merely one.
- Say No to social arrangements when you need to – saying no helps to reduce stress in my opinion! Staying at home in pj’s is my fav cortisol balancing exercise! Bonus, saying No to things you don’t want to do, makes more room for everything you do really want to do!
- Eat nourishing wholefoods. Eat a variety of fresh, colourful fruits and vegetables with good fats and protein. Avoid sugar and processed foods. All the recipes you find here are stress-busting and body nourishing!