It’s the holiday season, and the last thing I’m going to do is give you a list of 20 things you need to do to be less stressed. Realistically, I know that would ultimately cause you more stress because you wouldn’t be able to squeeze them all in! I’m also not going to suggest you do anything that’s going to require that you go to a class, get special food, sit for hours in meditation or anything that needs to be added to your already full plate!
What I’m going to suggest are 3 ways to lower your stress hormones using only your mind. If you have a mind, and if you have thoughts, you can lower your stress.
So why would you want to lower your stress and the main stress hormones in the first place? Cortisol is the primary hormone that is released when you are under stress. It is a good thing to have when you need to fight or run away from a lion, but the problem is that for must of us, we never switch out of the chronically stressed mode. The bottom line about this is that it wreaks havoc on the health of our bodies, brains, and spirits and causes nothing but trouble.
Cortisol is the hormone that governs your hunger cravings, digestion, blood pressure, sleep/wake patterns, physical activity and capacity to cope with stress. This is all described in more depth by Sara Gottfried, MD in her book, “The Hormone Cure”. Recognizing what cortisol regulates it’s not surprising that when it’s out of whack, lot’s of problems are created. We all know that feeling stressed, and everything that goes along with it is no picnic.
You do have a choice to do something about it! The 3 things I’m going to describe are all proven ways to lower your stress hormone, cortisol, and leave you feeling more peaceful and less frazzled. They also happen to be 3 of my go to mind tools to deal with stress throughout the day and don’t require any time.
The 1st power tool is the BREATH to regulate the stress response. The Breath is the trigger that switches you from the stress response back into balance where you feel better, your brain works well and your body is functioning well. When we’re stressed, our breathing gets shallow and rapid. Taking a few breathing breaks throughout the day, to become aware of our breath and focus on long, slow, deep breaths lowers our stress. It’s hard to believe that something so simple could be so powerful, but it is. To do it, focus on breathing in fully, expanding your chest as you inhale for the count of 4, holding it at the top for 1-2 seconds and then exhaling fully through your nose for the count of 4. You can adjust this number to whatever feels comfortable. Repeat this several times and then carry on with your day. You can do this anywhere, anytime!
The second power tool is living in a state of GRATITUDE where you’re consciously reminding yourself to say “thank you“. Did you realize that when you focus on what you’re grateful for, even in the middle of a crisis, you area able to lower your cortisol. Practice reviewing what you’re grateful for first thing in the morning, at least once throughout the day, and then again when you’re going to sleep at night. Imagine the difference between waking up in the morning and thinking about what a lousy day you’re going to have as compared to focusing on the things you’re grateful for, like a warm bed, a comfy pillow, the smell of coffee, the sunrise. The key is to not just think about it, but also feel the gratitude. What you focus on expands and you will draw into your life, even more things to be grateful for, while at the same time lowering your stress hormones.
The 3rd power tool is the practice of FORGIVENESS. Sara Gottfried MD, in her book, “The Hormone Cure”, explains how “harboring resentment ages you and raises your cortisol.” In my previous post, Forgiveness is All About Me I described how you can repeat 4 simple statements whenever you’re feeling irritated, judgmental, angry or resentful. You don’t need to set time aside, you just silently repeat the mantra in the moment, and what follows is amazing. A friend of mine talked about the road rage he experiences towards people in traffic and has found the mantra really powerful at shifting his energy and ultimately lowering his stress levels. At the end of the day, we’re the ones that suffer the consequences when we don’t forgive while the other person goes about their life.
Practice conscious breathing, gratitude, and forgiveness on a daily basis and you have the ingredients for a healthier and happier, body, mind and soul.