In the wake of COVID19, it’s easy for stress to become a constant state of being.
Many of us are worried that we are going to get the virus, or if we will be able to keep our jobs, or how we will pay rent, or even about that dreaded trip to the grocery store with long lines and people.
The unknowns that this season of life has brought have simply been stressful.
Unfortunately, stress affects a lot more than just our mental state.
When some kind of feeling is occuring in the mind, there is also a change in the physical processes happening in your brain and body.
Let’s take a look at our major hormone involved in stress: cortisol.
Cortisol is usually our friend but sometimes can become the enemy.
Cortisol is like a built-in alarm system; it triggers our “fight or flight” response to keep us free from danger. It affects our heart, blood pressure, and breath to get us prepared to take on a threat.
But what happens when you're under constant stress and your alarm system stays activated? This overactive cortisol production can lead to a number of bad cognitive and body effects, including:
- Memory loss
- Lack of focus
- Sleeping problems
- Lack of appetite
- Digestive issues
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Panic attacks
Prolonged cortisol production may even cause the brain to shrink and could be a precursor for many inflammatory diseases!
Even though we can’t always control outside circumstances, like COVID19, we CAN often help control the ways in which we personally navigate stress.
Let’s talk about 5 ways to help us reduce our stress levels, no matter what is going on around us!
#1: Get outside!
Start simple. Did you know that sunlight is thought to increase endorphin production - your feel-good neurotransmitter (1)? Or that seeing nature can help statistically reduce stress and cortisol levels (2)?
What’s more, your body needs sunlight to produce Vitamin D, an important vitamin for mood regulation. Vitamin D works to help promote the synthesis of serotonin, another neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being and happiness (3).
Do yourself a service and go outside - it could be the easiest way to feel better!
#2: Take a deep breathe
While you're outside, why not take some full, deep breaths?
Stopping to take a few big inhales throughout the day is another quick way to help work on lowering stress levels.
When you take a big breath, scientists suggest it could help send a signal to your brain to calm down.
Breathing deeply can lower your cortisol levels, your blood pressure, and your heart rate (4)!
Meditation is a great way to practice breathing, but if it feels unnatural to you, simply try breathing exercises! Here is an article by the University of Michigan that features some great breathing practices.
#3: Get your body moving
According to Harvard Health, any type of aerobic exercise that gets your muscles working and your heart rate up - like yoga, running, weight-lifting, even dancing - can boost your brain’s production of endorphins (7).
Exercise also allows your mind to focus on your body in the present and can give you a break from the stressors of the day.
#4: Eat for your brain
Before heading straight for a prescription, you may want to look for natural ways that you can combat stress with your diet.
Here are some of the foods and nutrients that studies suggest can help you reduce your cortisol levels and even improve your serotonin levels!
In addition to giving our immune system a boost, vitamin C has shown to decrease our cortisol levels (8)!
Sipping on a hot beverage can help improve our mental state. What’s more, black tea has been shown to decrease cortisol levels (11). If caffeine isn’t in the cards, an herbal tea like chamomile can have many calming effects and can help improve your sleep.
As simple as it seems, drinking enough water each day can actually help lower your cortisol levels (12). Dehydration can lead to higher cortisol levels, so keep a water bottle with you or set reminders on your phone to remind you to drink.