As a workaholic, the word relax isn’t in my vocabulary. Like most people, I don’t usually take the time to slow-down until forced to by health consequences. It is interesting when you finally view your stress in a different light. I knew I was stressed, but somehow viewing my high-cortisol levels on a lab report was different. Confirming that I probably wasn’t managing my stress as well I as could be. Ironically, I frequently talk with my clients a lot about stress management and the impact stress can have on one’s health. But taking my own advice is DIFFICULT. Managing stress has been one of my biggest hurdles, even more so than losing 130 pounds...
After reading my lab report I can to one conclusion… I needed a break. Knowing that nature, meditation and exercise all help to reduce stress levels, I set out to a cozy mountain lodge of a weekend of relaxing (I managed to figure it out), meditation, and snowshoeing alone admiring the majestic views. I made sure to leave my laptop at home so I wouldn’t be tempted to work while I was trying to de-stress.
Let’s talk more about Stress!
There are many different types of stresses in our lives. Some good and some not so good. Stressors can be physical, environmental or emotional. Our body’s biological reaction to any type of stress is the same.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is actually an essential glucocorticoid steroid hormone. The adrenal gland is responsible for the secretion of cortisol. Normally cortisol levels are highest in the morning and lowest in the evening (allowing us to sleep at night). Cortisol isn’t all bad. We require normal cortisol levels to serve various functions in the body including keeping us awake & alert, decreasing inflammation, fighting fatigue, metabolism, balancing blood glucose and fleeing danger.
In a state of stress, adrenaline and cortisol flood the body, increasing blood pressure, breathing and heart rate. Other bodily functions such as digestion, reproduction, growth, and immunity are put on hold in a state of stress.
There are two types of stress: acute and chronic.
Acute stress is an amount of stress that we can adapt to and typically doesn’t impose a health concern. It is considered “good” stress that has allowed us to survive. Typically thought of as our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. Allowing us to react to a threat by fighting or fleeing, literally. This stress comes in handy when an imminent danger is looming. Acute stress is short-term, not having enough time to do the extensive damage associated with long term stress.
Chronic stress is prolonged, long-term stress. Living in a state of chronic stress can be psychologically and physically debilitating. Chronic stress may occur as a response to poorly managed (or ignored) everyday stressors. Traumatic events may also be a contributing factor to chronic stress. Research has found strong links between chronic stress and insomnia. Additionally, being in a continued state of elevated cortisol has been related to weight gain, anxiety, decreased immunity, fertility issues, increased blood pressure, and muscle tension.
What can you do to manage Stress?
Dietary Changes. Consuming a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet can greatly impact how your body handles stress. High cortisol levels have been related to blood sugar imbalances and high levels of inflammation in the body. Consuming a variety of vegetables and fruit can help to lower cortisol levels. I’m a huge fan of the Paleo diet because it removes the highly processed, refined foods that are creating further inflammation in your body.
Exercise. Exercise is a form of physical stress has been shown to reduce mental stress. Reducing levels of our stress hormones; adrenaline and cortisol. Even a simple 20-minute walk can help to reduce stress levels. Almost any type of exercise can be effective in reducing stress; from weight-lifting to running to yoga.
Meditation. Guided or not, meditation has been shown to make a significant improvement in your stress levels. Though one doesn’t need a structured meditation plan to see decreased stress levels, deep breathing exercises have also been shown to be effective. Slow, deep breathing is a sign of relaxation compared to the rapid, shallow, erratic breathing in response to stress.
Nature. Research has shown that natural environments elicit greater calming responses than their urban counterparts. In Calgary, we a fortunate enough to have many city parks that don’t feel like you’re in the city or a short drive to the Rocky Mountains.
Adrenal Support. Adaptogen Herbs such as ashwagandha, holy basil, reishi mushrooms, and Rhodiola are known to help reduce cortisol levels.
Seek Professional Help. High levels of stress are often accompanied by anxiety, depression, anger, apathy, and alienation. Talk therapy can be extremely beneficial to help you deal with the emotional issues surrounding your stress.
Take my mini-course Stop Stress Eating that focuses on reducing your stress levels so that you don't turn to food!