When was the last time you did something for the first time?
What do you do in your ‘me-time’?
Do you even have any ‘me-time’? Cortisol is one of our principle stress-response hormones, Serena and I describe it and work with reducing it in Fearless Speaking workshops. Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing - we need a cortisol and adrenaline surge when we are about to tackle a tricky situation head-on.
However, we are designed to deal with stress in short sharp bursts – when we endure stress for long periods it becomes a problem. Cortisol activates our sympathetic nervous system as part of our fight-or-flight response. The problem with our busy, modern lifestyle is that many people are in this heightened state much of the time.
This means that the heart rate quickens, lungs widen, muscles contract, pupils dilate – just as they would (and should) if you stepped on a snake! Your body prepares you to RUN from danger. Energy is diverted away from important body processes such as digestion as this is not necessary when you are in imminent danger. This is one of the reasons why chronic stress can make you fat.
It doesn’t end there...
When you step on a snake your immune system is also put into an emergency state, in case the snake actually bites you. This immune response is inflammation, and again, we are not supposed to be in this state for extended periods. Chronic inflammation underpins almost all major diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even depression.
I could go on to discuss stress and the gut, stress, and menopause - it’s hugely detrimental to our health.
Before you resign...
We can manage this response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system or our ‘rest-and-digest’ response. This can be achieved with breathing practices alone, but it’s better and more sustained with lifestyle adjustments.
Relaxing the body and mind, and working with the breath releases digestive enzymes, slows our heart rate, and softens our muscles. Then, we have half a chance to digest our food appropriately and sleep soundly. This is why Yoga is such a fantastic practice, and there are many other ways we can build in time to relax day to day.
STOP - Give yourself permission to relax, every single day, for at least 15 minutes. Be selfish.
Buy a coffee and drink it in the cafe
Read a book or a magazine
Listen to your favourite music
Have a bath
Play an instrument
Sit on a park bench
Go for a walk
Do some gardening
15 minutes of Yoga or Tai Chi
15-minute breathing practice or meditation – the Calm app is very good
Do not use your smartphone tablet or computer while you are doing this.
Don’t feel guilty about it. This is very important if you are over-worked and
Do Something New
Neuroscientists at the University of Southern California conducted a study that showed the brain gets a fix from learning something new. “The ‘click’ of comprehension triggers a biochemical cascade that rewards the brain with a shot of natural opium-like substances,” said Professor Irving Biederman who headed the study.
This is why gardening is so good, you can keep learning how to grow new things. Learn to crochet, play an instrument, cook a new recipe – anything that will leave you with a hit from doing something new.
The most important thing is that you literally give yourself a break. Whatever you decide to do, do it as an act of deep warm friendship towards yourself. Commit to it and stop the endless battle of trying to improve yourself – love yourself as you would another.