Stressed Out: How to combat stress and keep your cortisol level at bay.

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Stress is not an illness and it happen to anyone. In a nutshell, tress occurs when pressure exceeds our perceived ability to cope. The key word here is ‘perceived’. In my experience, 90% of things we stress about would never happen and it’s all in our heads. We stress ourselves out by what we are telling ourselves about a situation that we are in. Epictetus, Stoic philosopher, said ‘People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them’. Ever heard of expression ‘I stress about stress before there’s even any stress to stress about, then I stress about stressing over stress that doesn’t need to be stressed about. It’s stressful’? This sums it up quite nicely.

Stress management and health coaching encompass techniques intended to equip a person with effective coping mechanisms for dealing with psychological stress.

There are number of key strategies you can undertake to help deal with your physiological response to stress. Some of them are outlined below.

  • Safe exercise – regular physical activity improve physical and mental state and increases brain output of serotonin & dopamine that reduce anxiety, stress and depression.
  • Nutrition – eat more of food that slowly release energy during the day such as oily fish high in omega 3, avocado, asparagus, cashew nuts, dark chocolate, berries, camomile tea, garlic, grass-fed beef, green tea, oatmeal, olive oil, prebiotic foods, etc. Poach, steam or grill your food, avoid frying (Palmer and Cooper, 2015).
  • Weight control – repeated elevation of cortisol can lead to weight gain via a) mobilising triglycerides from storage and relocating them to visceral fat storage; b) via consistently high blood glucose levels along with insulin suppression lead to cells that are starved of glucose and energy, and one way to regulate is to send hunger signals to the brain which can lead to overeating. Unused glucose is eventually stored as body fat. Another connection is cortisol’s effect on appetite and cravings for high-calorie foods (Aronson, 2009).
  • Relaxation methods:
    • Meditation – whichever works best for you be it 5 minutes of Om chanting or 1 minute of peace & quiet.
    • Benson relaxation response – it is one of the best ways to turn off fight or flight response and bring the body back to pre-stress levels. Certainly my favourite one and the one I teach my coachees the most. It is physical state of deep relaxation which engages the parasympathetic nervous system.  Here’s how it works:
  1. Find a noise-free place
  2. Find a comfortable position and sit / lay down quietly.
  3. Close your eye.
  4. Relax your muscles in groups starting at your face and progress down to your toes by tensing them for 5-10 seconds then releasing.
  5. Focus on your breathing. Breathe naturally in through your nose and out through your mouth. Avoid letting your shoulders rise as you breathe.
  6. In your mind, say a number such as ‘one’ every time you breathe out. This is called mantra.
  7. Continue for 5-20 minutes.
  8. Finish in your own time.

Below are some tips for reducing cortisol levels every day and naturally calm yourself down:

  • Mindfulness – research shows that people who meditate daily for four months decreased the hormone by an average of 20%. Mindfulness is not simply about being aware or being in the present moment and enjoying it. It’s about knowing when to deal with difficulties and challenges and when we need to look after ourselves by perhaps deliberately practicing avoidance in the name of enlightened self-interest.
  • Find your stability zone to switch off – have a relaxing bath, massage, read a book,  go for brief walk, etc.
  • Relaxation, meditation or sleep  music – music can have a calming effect on the brain.
  • Social connectivity – simply anticipating laughter is enough to reduce cortisol levels by nearly half. Go on, schedule that meet up with your friends.
  • Go to bed early. Beauty sleep should not be underestimated.
  • Treat yourself for a massage.
  • Try floatation – this is the flavour of the year for me for sure. Floatation is an amazing experience that helps you relax, detox and focus. You’ll come out feeling like a newborn. Floatation experience is an ultra-deep relaxation of your body’s hormonal and metabolic balance in a warm water that has around 500 kg of Epsom salt.. A incredible feeling of weightlessness will allow your mind to drift away for pure inner peace and a total tranquil experience.

    FloatationMagnesium is a major component of Epsom salt. In human biology, magnesium is the eleventh-most abundant element by mass in the human body. Its ions are essential to all known living cells. Hundreds of enzymes require magnesium ions to function. Floatation in Epsom salts is easy way to increase sulfate and magnesium levels in the body. Some amazing benefits of floatation are:

    • Allows brain to release endorphins
    • Replaces stress with a sense of well-being
    • Reduces tension in muscles and blood pressure
    • Full body detox
    • Improves skins condition
    • Increases energy level
    • Improves concentration
    • Regulates sleeping pattens, insomnia
    • Helps to eliminate injuries and strenuous exercise recovery
    • Weightless experience

    Best floatation centre in London is based in canary wharf and called London Floatation Centre – www.londonfloatationcentre.co.uk.

  • Eliminate caffeine – 200mg of caffeine increases blood cortisol levels by 30%.
  • Take anti-stress supplements such as vitamin B complex and minerals like magnesium, antioxidants like vitamin C or co-enzyme Q10.
  • Keep your blood sugar stable – try to avoid sugar in the diets and refined carbs. Eat frequent small meals balanced in protein and complex carbs.
  • Try adult de-stress colouring books.
  • Positive image relaxation –

 

Overall, implementation of targeted dietary and lifestyle approaches is an extremely powerful way to reduce stress, improve health and reduce the risk for illness and chronic disease.

 

 References:

Mitchell, M., (2013), Dr Herbert Benson’s relaxation response, [Online], Available: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/heart-and-soul-healing/201303/dr-herbert-benson-s-relaxation-response.

Palmer, S. and Cooper, C., (2015), How to seal with stress, Hong Kong and Croydon: Kogan Page Limited.

Svoboda, E., (2011), 8 Ways to Beat Your Stress Hormone, [Online], Available: http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/how-lower-cortisol-manage-stress.

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