Sunday, 11 September 2016

Image: little habits to reduce stress

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The Stress Hormone

Our main stress hormone is cortisol. However, we do need cortisol: it makes us "get up and go". It peaks about 8am. When we get up in the morning, cortisol levels can increase by as much as 50% in the 20-30 minutes of waking, and whilst it is also the stress hormone, it is highly beneficial to have it elevated at this time. And, it makes it the perfect time to use that energy to fit in a bit of exercise. So, strangely, if you're tired, getting up before 8am will effortlessly create the rhythm of movement. If this is too hard, we can aim to get to bed earlier, as too many late nights and not enough sleep, are incredibly stress-inducing.

Meditate to reduce stress

However, if you are so stressed in the morning, I can recommend a short meditation 1st thing, to balance your stress responses. Even 5 minutes makes a difference. Or just getting up a bit earlier to move a bit slower and allow yourself to start the day more peacefully. If meditation is too hard, try the following breathing technique for a few minutes.

Consciously doing a bit of deep breathing helps, by getting more oxygen to our cells, which in turn helps our body relax. You can do it anywhere: 

  • gently exhale as you gently pull your navel towards your spine. If it's too stressful, gently blow the air out of your mouth, rather than breathe out through the nose
  • pause very briefly, then release your abdomen as you breathe in
  • again, a tiny pause, then breathe out as described
  • do a couple more
  • for major stress, it helps to count the breath: in for 4 counts. I use a heartbeat type count. Pause for 2 counts. Exhale 4 counts. Hold out: 2 counts. So easy
  • start with a few wee breath breaks during the day, it's very calming, and helps to stabilise blood sugar by reducing inflammation. It also helps reduce tiredness Tiredness, is, of course, stressful.

Breathe and Relax

We can also do the following throughout the day: 

  • tighten and clench all your muscles, then release
  • inhale, clench
  • release as you do a relaxed breath out
  • consciously do that relaxed breath
  • do this up to 5 times. Breathe deeply.

Both the breathing technique and the tense/relax, trigger the relaxation response. When you think that you can't fit these in, and  you wonder if they actually work, I have a story: many years ago, I was determined to lose weight. We had two ten minute breaks & thirty minutes for lunch, at work. In my breaks, and I had to use all breaks for toilet time, I would quickly do an exercise in the ladies room, as there was nowhere to do anything at work. I went for a very brisk walk at lunch, came back and had a small something to eat. And I gave up driving an hour each way in peak, heavy traffic, to and from work, and caught the bus. Instant stress reducer!

Cortisol levels fall gradually during the day. Between two and four pm, cortisol levels are low in our bodies. So this is why we feel a bit tired at that time of day. Because cortisol is tied in with our glucose (blood sugar) levels, it is this time that some of us need a snack. It's best that it does not drop our cortisol and glucose levels. So what can we eat? We can have a wee protein smoothie; cheese and vegetable sticks or a piece of fruit; cottage cheese or peanut butter on rice thins. Something that doesn't send us racing off for more coffee, fizzy drinks, or rubbish foods.

If your blood sugar has been adversely affected by stress, and mine were, it has greatly helped me to eat little, often, to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel. My lifestyle doesn't always support this, but I do work on it.

Lifestyle and stress
  
I have found that no matter what the latest thing is for stress, it truly is a lifestyle and relationship thing. I had working conditions years ago, that were so bad that I would have a panic episode whilst driving to work. I left that job. At times, we need to look at what we do, what we can do, what we are likely to be able to maintain, to reduce stress. Sometimes it's trial and error; sometimes we just know what we need to do.

Stand Tall

But there are other things we can do: did you know that posture helps? When we use our bodies in an expansive way: for example, when sitting, we might lean back, put our hands behind our head, our testosterone levels go up, and our cortisol levels go down. As opposed to when our posture is "closed", withdrawn, such as our shoulders hunched, these body mannerisms did not give the same result. So, lets move our bodies, in a positive way. Testosterone is needed by women for our female hormone production, and for our muscle tone.

When we are happy, we are less stressed.  Conscious gratitude has been found to reduce stress. So, when we are stressed, it helps to quickly find something to be grateful for. Try it, and see.

And finally, looking up makes us feel happier. Watch that posture!






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