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Stress Management & Cortisol

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Do you practice good stress management skills? Life is full of ups and downs, good times and times of stress. We can’t change life. But if we develop healthy habits to handle stress effectively, our bodies will be grateful. How so, you ask? First let’s take a look at what stress does to our body.

Stress and the body

Stress can take a toll on the body in a number of ways. It can create muscle tension, shortness of breath, put extra pressure on the heart and the blood vessels (literally), and also attribute to gastrointestinal distress. And don’t forget that it can put a fog on brain function. All of these acute stress responses trigger the release of one special hormone known as cortisol.

What is Cortisol?

Known as the “stress hormone,” cortisol gets a bad reputation, but it actually does a lot of good things within the body. In appropriate levels, cortisol can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation, and assist with memory formulation. But when cortisol levels are elevated as a result from chronic stress, a plethora of problems can arise, including weight gain, high blood pressure, sleep disruption, mood swings, and reduced energy levels.

Stress Management 101

In order to control cortisol levels, you have to learn how to manage your stress. There are three areas of focus that, I feel, are crucial to improving your stress management: physical activity, physical recovery, and mental recovery.

Physical Activity

“Do you mean exercise?”  YES, that’s exactly what I mean (amongst other things). Getting a great workout in, going for a hike, attending your favorite yoga class, taking a stroll at the park, or even running around after your kids are all considered solid bouts of physical activity. Just make sure it’s something you enjoy – HAVE FUN WITH IT!

Physical activity benefits:

  • Improves mood by promoting the release of endorphins, or “happy hormones”
  • Enhances desired body composition followed by an increase in confidence
  • Increases sleep quality
  • Lowers the risk of stress-related health problems, such as hypertension, heart disease, and stroke
Physical Recovery

Physical recovery is just another term for taking care of your body after engaging in physical activity. Our bodies hold onto stress just as much as our minds do, so allowing the body to relax is going to be essential when it comes to stress management. Examples of physical recovery include getting enough sleep, spending time with family and friends, treating yourself to a massage, and/or enjoying some down time with a nice book or movie. If you’d like to learn more about recovery strategies, check out my blog on the necessity of recovery.

Physical Recovery Benefits:

  • Releases tension in muscles
  • Helps in balancing out elevated cortisol levels following exercise
  • Aids in muscle recovery and promotes the growth of lean muscle
  • Encourages a healthy immune system to prevent acute illness
Mental Recovery

Just as your body needs time to rest, so does your mind! When was the last time you were physically exhausted because of how busy your mind seemed to be? Our mind controls our breath, and our breath controls our body, so if we know how to control our breathing in the most stressful of situations, we can control our body’s response to it. Examples of mental recovery include the implementation of breathing practices, meditation, listening to music, or doing an activity that “gets you out of your own head.” Check this blog out to explore the magnificent benefits of intentional breathing and meditation.

Mental Recovery Benefits:

  • Lowers arousal levels in high pressure situations
  • Aids in achieving a better capacity for overall relaxation
  • Promotes an increase in mental clarity and brain function
  • Reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety

Like most everything in life, cortisol is all about balance, and putting stress management techniques in place will help to keep cortisol levels right where they need to be. Life is too short to live with crazy stress, and we all are just searching for happiness, right? Thinking to yourself, “Don’t worry, be happy!” is easier said than done (believe me, I know). By putting the practices of physical activity, physical recovery, and mental recovery to use, you can gain control of your reactions to stress. It’s the recipe to a healthier, happier, more fulfilling life!