By Sarah Balke
Sometimes life throws us a curveball when we are least expecting it and each of us handles stress differently. Some outwardly spew about the “new” stress in their life on social media. Others shut down and pull inward, doing everything in their power to block out the reality that just hit them.
Regardless of how you choose to handle stress, your body perceives it as a threat, which can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. Unfortunately, your body doesn’t always know the difference between an immediate threat and a non-life threatening stressor. The result… your body gets stuck in “fight” mode in reaction to chronic stress and continued elevation of cortisol levels, the “stress hormone.” This puts you at increased risk of many health problems including: headaches, stomachaches, anxiety, weight gain, sleep problems, and memory troubles.
Here are some tips to help you reduce cortisol levels and symptoms associated with stress:
- Try relaxation techniques: According to a Harvard Medical School article, meditation, body scanning, breathing techniques, yoga, repetitive prayer, and guided imagery are all great ways to help invoke the “relaxation response.” Try sampling several different techniques to find out which one works best for you. To start, set aside 20 minutes each day to work on relaxation. Consider adding moist heat during some of these techniques to help relax your muscles.
- Eat Healthy: If you find yourself constantly reaching for a snack when you are feeling stressed, you can blame it on cortisol. This “stress hormone” is responsible for increasing your appetite so you have extra energy. Unfortunately, it also increases storage of unused nutrients as fat. Remember that container of ice cream you ate and the extra 5 pounds you gained after your significant other ended things? Well, now you know why!
Plan meals ahead of time that include healthy fats and fiber. Also, try to dress up your plate by adding a variety of colors using fruits, veggies, and herbs. Make sure to watch your sugar intake. If you like to eat something for dessert, try dark chocolate. Research has shown that eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate every day for 2 weeks reduces levels of cortisol.
- Try to reduce the symptoms: If you experience headaches in response to stress, try helping reduce the pain by lying down, relaxing, and adding an ice pack at the base of the skull or over your eyes. Using a Headache Ice Pillow will provide neck and head support to help relax muscles in your neck while providing cold therapy.
- Get a massage: There are several massage techniques that can help you relax, but what happens when your massage therapist is booked or closed? Self-massage and partner massage are a great substitute. However, you may quickly discover your hands and fingers don’t quite have the same strength and stamina as a professional. Using an orbital massager will give an invigorating massage without putting the stress on your hands and fingers. For a little extra luxury, add a soft cover to the massager!
- Take time to connect with friends and family: Technology has brought many changes to our lives, both good and bad. One of the most positive changes is the ability to connect with friends and family all over the world. Check in with one another by using apps such as Zoom, FaceTime, or Google Duo. If you like to play games, try House Party! Book clubs, dinner parties, yoga, movie watch parties… the list is endless.
Know when to ask for help - If you are feeling hopelessness, overwhelming sadness, depression, or anxiety, ask for help when you need it, and be upfront about how you’re doing. Get an appointment to see your regular doctor, reach out to a friend or minister, contact organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHS) for help or guidance. If you are thinking about hurting yourself or feeling suicidal, please get help immediately by calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).