When I meet with clients for the first time, one of the questions I ask is ‘how much stress do you have in your life?’ Often, a client will respond by saying she doesn’t suffer from stress at all. And I usually respond by saying, ‘Oh really?’
We usually don’t realize how stress affects us, because our body does a good job of adapting to pressures put on it. And I think in our society (certainly here in the Washington DC metro area), we are often encouraged to wear stress like a badge of honor. We carry our Blackberry’s with us at all times, we don’t take vacation or time off, we work long hours, we don’t get enough sleep, and in these difficult economic times, many people are putting off seeing their doctors or otherwise caring for themselves. These factors, and many more contribute to the rise of the “stress hormone,” cortisol.
No don’t get me wrong, a little stress can be a good thing. Cortisol is produced by your adrenal system and it helps to regulate your blood pressure and immune system. It can help you increase your level of energy as well as improve your ability to fight off infection. According to an article oublished in the February edition of Prevention Magazine, just a little bit of cortisol can:
- Boost your sex drive by improving your mood and sexual arousal
- Ease pain by helping to release other pain reducing hormone systems
- Improve memory,when moderate levels of cortisol exist
But, chronically high levels of this otherwise helpful hormone can cause all sorts of problems ranging from insomnia, a depressed immune system, and even weight gain. According to Shawn Talbot, PhD, author of The Cortisol Connection, “When cortisol spikes, it tells the body to eat something with a lot of calories – a great survival tactic if you need energy to flee a predator but not if you’re fretting over how to pay bills.”
The article goes on to site several ways that you can invoke “the relaxation response,” a natural antitode to the flight-or-fight mode that cortisol stimulates.
Meditation – Reduces Cortisol by 20%
- People who meditate regularly reduce cortisol levels by an average of 20 percent, in addition to reducing their blood pressure levels
Getting plenty of sleep – Reduces Cortisol by as Much as 50%
Getting a full 8-hours of sleep every night helps your body recover from the stress of your day. If you can’t get the full 8-hours, try to find time for a nap the day after you fall short of the mark.
Drink Black Tea – Reduces Cortisol by 47%
Scientists aren’t sure how this works exactly, but they think that naturally occuring flavinoids and polyphenols may be responsible for the calming effect of tea.
Find a Funny Pal and Hang out with Her (or Him)! – Reduces Cortisol by 39%
What’s the old adage? Laughter is the best medicine. Well, it turns out that is actually true!
Get a Massage – Reduces Cortisol by 31%
This one is my favorite of course! Research shows that there is a lasting, cumulative affect by receiving regular bodywork. Massage therapy helps release other hormones such as dopamine and seratonin, which help reduce the effects of stress.
Do Something Spiritual – Reduces Cortisol by 25%
Similar to meditating, studies have shown that people who attend regular religious services reported lower cortisol production.
Read the complete article here.