To be able to manage your stress level let’s look at what stress does to you, your body, and mind:
We’ve been told repeatedly that stress is damaging to our health and well-being. And unfortunately, the vast majority of us have a lot of stress. We live in the most complex society ever created. Having thousands of options, hundreds of possessions, scores of skills we are expected to master and dozens of roles that we move in and out of during our lives creates innumerable demands on our time and attention, and gives us countless things to worry about.
Stress affects the HPA axis of the body, meaning that it activates the hypothalamus, which then triggers the pituitary gland, which then signals the adrenal glands to secrete adrenalin and cortisol Cortisol is the universal “bad boy” stress hormone. It sacrifices the long-term well-being of a variety of body systems in exchange for a short term burst of energy to escape danger. Some of its effects include suppressing the immune system, which makes the body more vulnerable to disease and infection; drawing calcium out of the bones and into the bloodstream, which leads to osteoporosis and makes it difficult for bone and joint injuries to heal. Cortisol pushes for a higher release of sugar into the bloodstream. If this sugar is not taken up by a sudden burst of activity, then the high level of sugar pushes high insulin release, fatiguing the pancreas, producing insulin resistance, and pushing extra sugar calories into fat cells. As a result the individual also feels hungry sooner and has more desire to eat.
High cortisol can lead to decreased insulin sensitivity, which is associated with adult-onset diabetis. High cortisol is also associated with diminished kidney function, elevated blood pressure, reduced muscle mass, increased risk of heart disease, weakened connective tissue, reduced growth hormone levels, and atrophy of neurons in the hippocampus, which can produce cortisol-driven depression. High cortisol also drives the development of abdominal fat; this type of fat is the most problematic because it is correlated with increased risk for heart disease and diabetis.
Cortisol has been called the aging hormone, because elevated levels drive many of the body changes associated with aging.
How do we change our production of cortisol when we live in a stressful environment? The answer is in taking advantage of natural cortisol suppressing mechanisms. Cortisol secretion is suppressed by endorphins, by oxytocin, and by slowing brain waves to alpha and theta wave states.
Below is a list of 20 practices and techniques that an individual can learn and then use at home to reduce stress and cortisol levels. A variety of research suggests that these types of techniques need to be used at least 20 minutes per day to change the physiological effects of stress and lower cortisol levels.
DAILY TOOLS AND PRACTICES
1. Tai Chi—an exercise derived from a Chinese martial art, in which focus on the slow, rhythmic movements was used to create a state of mental clarity and well-being. practiced by millions of Chinese daily, research from a variety of different sources shows that it decreases stress, lowers cortisol, reduces blood pressure, improves balance.
2. Yoga—ancient practice of Indian culture, increases flexibility and energy flow, includes breathing exercises. For stress reduction an individual should choose a yogic practice that is about rhythmic movement and breathing, not one that emphasizes difficult stretches or advanced stretches.
3. Laughter Yoga—(Not really a yoga technique) If you do the motions and make the sounds of laughter, the deep brain produces endorphins just as if you were laughing spontaneously. This quickly creates a sense of well being and suppresses cortisol.
4. Meditation : This ancient technique quites the mind, slows brainwaves to alpha or theta wave states, and lowers blood pressure an average ot 20 points if done 20 minutes per day.
5. Guided imagery: This technique is claimed by practitioners of both meditation and self-hypnosis. A variety of guided imageries can create relaxation including addressing the four senses, revisiting happy memories, imagining each limb becoming heavy and warm, going to a beautiful places, etc.
6. Calming music: Relaxation music directly impacts the subconscious, and can often slow brain waves to relaxed states.
7. Going for a walk—30 minutes a day 3 times a week is as effective for resolving mild or moderate depression as antidepressant medications.
8. Relaxation breathing : Breathing very deeply and gradually slowing down breathing to as low as as 2 or 3 breaths per minute. (Normal breathing while sitting down is about 15 breaths per minute)
9. Sleep breathing: Breathing mimics the breathing patterns we use while asleep, in which there is a firm steady inspiration of breath, and then a much slower exhalation, taking twice as long as the inhalation. For example, breath in to a slow count of 4, breath out to a slow count of
10. Stomach breathing: Individuals in a stress state contract core muscles and tend to hunch the body forward. The result is constricted breathing space, so breathing becomes rapid and shallow, centered high in the chest. A state of relaxation is associated with deep breathing in which the abdomen rises and falls more than the chest.
11. Sudarshan Kriya: A more recently-developed and very sophisticated breathing technique, widely taught throughout the world by the Art of Living Foundation: Clinical evidence suggests it is very effective with reducing depression, anxiety and symptoms of PTSD. Research specifically demonstrates that it reduces cortisol levels.
12. Butterfly hugs: Sit with arms crossed, hands resting on the opposite upper arm area. Alternate between right and left with gentle, rhythmic pats. This is a soothing, self-nurturing activity that can raise oxytocin and lower cortisol
13. Standing Rock Stand with feet shoulder-width apart; rock from one foot to the other, shifting weight back and forth. First focus on sensations in the feet and legs, then focus on upright, relaxed posture. This motion It helps to return blood supply to the extremities and brings the brain and body out of a sympathetic arousal state.
14. Rubbing ears (similar to NADA protocol) This activity stimulates the five acupuncture points in the ears that have proven highly effective in calming anxiety and alleviating trauma symptoms
15. Massaging scalp and temples brings blood supply back up to the brain, reversing sympathetic arousal patterns and making rational thought easier.
16. EFT or TFT tapping: An excellent self-help technique that combines tapping on acupressure points and eye movement to resolve symptoms of anxiety.
17. Hugs and backrubs
18. Light-Touch Massage: use the back of all ten fingertips at once, drawing them lightly over an individuals back, legs or arms. Stimulating so much skin surface at once can often produce a very potent release of endorphins.
19. Foot massage/foot zoning/other foot therapies. Stimulating the feet in any way that feels safe and soothing has great benefits, starting with bringing circulation back into the extremities and reversing sympathetic arousal. There are a great variety of foot-stimulating therapy and healing techniques, most of which are very calming and soothing.
20. Petting an animal. Petting and even talking to a pet raises oxytocin, reduces stress and lowers cortisol levels. Heart patients who adopted a shelter pet lived longer than heart patients who practiced 20 minutes of meditation daily.