I have one friend who I always ask, “How are you?” She always has the same one or two responses. “Stressed. Busy.” In our overstimulated, overworked and busy culture, it is easy to fall into a routine of nonstop activity. Rushing the kids to school, making dinner, paying bills and working all seem to blend together into a string of days. You may even hear people say, “Wow it’s already?!”
Do we really want to rush through life, barely catching our breath or picking our head up to enjoy it? If you’re like me, you want a fulfilling, joyful life and stress is one of those sneaky things that creeps up on you and yet has a big impact on your health and well-being.
What’s the big deal about stress? Stress is the reason for 90% of doctor visits1 and is worth looking at to reduce health problems and healthcare costs.
Stress impacts each organ of the body through the action of cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys. The 'fight or flight' response kicks in when we feel threatened, fearful or sense danger. Unfortunately, many of us cannot turn the metaphorical cortisol switch in our bodies off. We are used to having every minute of our schedule packed with very little down time to just 'be.'
So how do we lower cortisol? Here are 5 strategies to reduce stress and cortisol:
- Adapt a mindfulness practice. Yes, we all know that meditation is beneficial and can even have a positive impact on your brain waves. Yet maybe meditation doesn’t resonate with you. Adapt a 5 minute practice of journaling, reciting an anchoring mantra, doing a visualization or performing gentle stretching. You can choose to do this in the morning or evening to start or end your day on the right foot. I also recommend The Five Minute Journal, which has a daily list of small action steps you can do to start your day on a positive note.
- Cuddle with a pet. I have a daschund named Penny and she is a huge source of joy in my life. Connecting with and playing with our pets causes an increase in oxytocin2, endorphins, and other healing hormones that support the body’s self-healing mechanisms. This is why pet therapy, such as equine therapy, can be so effective, both mentally and physically.
- Express yourself. Creative expression releases endorphins and other feel-good neurotransmitters, reduces depression and anxiety, improves your immune function, relieves physical pain, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby lowering your heart rate, decreasing your blood pressure, slowing down your breathing, and lowering cortisol. Grab a paint brush, write in a journal, sing, dance and express yourself!
- Develop a spiritual practice. A study done3 on 75,000 female nurses showed that those who attend religious services live up to 14 years longer than those who don’t. Having social connections in general has been correlated with a longer lifespan. No, you do not have to attend church if it’s not in alignment with your authentic beliefs. You can find or create your own spiritual group, and help support each other in your journey.
- Listen to your body. What do you need more of? Sleep? Water? Sunlight? You know yourself best and you have the ability to heal your body! I recommend twice a day body check-in’s for my clients. I encourage them to check in to see how their body feels. Are they holding tension in their jaw or back? Are they slouched over for hours on end without eating lunch.
The more awareness we have, the easier it is to take care of ourselves and notice the early signs of stress. These strategies are merely suggestions and do not have to be applied all at once. Integrating these habits into your life may take time. For example, maybe one week you adapt one new strategy from the list and see how you feel. Always do what feels good and right for you. Your body will thank you!
- Boone JL. Anthony JP. Evaluating the impact of stress on systemic disease: the MOST protocol in primary care. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2003 May;103(5):239-46. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12776765. Accessed January 26, 2018.
- Baun MM. Physiological effects of human/companion animal bonding.Nurs Res. 1984 May-Jun;33(3):126-9. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6563527. Accessed January 26, 2018.
- Li S, Stampfer M, Williams D, VanderWheele T. Association of Religious Service Attendance With Mortality Among Women. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(6):777-785. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1615. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2521827. Accessed January 26, 2018.