In our last blog post, The Damaging Effects of Stress, we discussed how our body and mind respond to stress. Stress is a part of life that we, unfortunately, can’t always avoid. During the pandemic that we have been facing, stress levels have been even higher than normal. Chronic stress can lead to elevated or lowered levels of cortisol. Because of that, I want to talk to you about some therapies that you can begin implementing today to help manage your cortisol levels.
There are many therapies that you can apply to your life to help ease the burden stress has on your mind and body. Below, I have listed three of the techniques that I like to incorporate into my own life.
Studies have shown that breathing exercises can help regulate cortisol levels and mitigate the damage that stress can have on the body. I really like the 4-7-8 breathing technique because it helps slow down your breathing. Slowing down your breathing actually disengages the sympathetic nervous system, which brings us down so we can be calmer.
So how do you do it? It’s very simple and the best part is that you can do it no matter where you are! Count to 4 as you are taking in a breath, hold that breath for a count of 7, then exhale for a count of 8. Doing that for 4 cycles puts you in the parasympathetic, slowed down mode.
2. Vagus Nerve Stimulation
The vagus nerve goes from the brain down into our abdomen and it innervates the heart. So when you’re anxious, your heart rate gets high, your respiratory rate gets high, and you start breathing fast. We want to decrease the stimulation that is going down that nerve to help calm us down.
There are many ways you can do that. Here are a few examples:
- Cold water – end your shower with cold water, wash your hands in cold water, hold onto an ice cube, or put your face in cold water
- Sing, laugh, chant, or hum
- Meditation, prayer, yoga, or breathwork
- Lay on your right side (the vagus nerve comes down on the right side of your body and goes alongside your liver)
3. Increase Oxytocin
Oxytocin is a hormone that helps to diminish the effects of stress. High levels of oxytocin are correlated with lowered blood pressure and heart rate. Just like with vagus nerve stimulation, there are many ways to increase your oxytocin levels. Below is a list of a few things you can begin doing immediately to help manage your cortisol levels.
- Physical touch – this includes snuggling your pets!
- Speaking or receiving words of encouragement or appreciation
- Genuine laughter and fun
- Social interaction
Laughter is so important for increasing your oxytocin and as a bonus, it decreases wrinkles! You have to have people in your life who you can laugh and have fun with. We are so serious about things, we need to learn to be more like children. They laugh at every silly little thing! I challenge you to be more like children and just laugh more.
Improve Your Resiliency
My goal is to help people improve their immunity so they aren’t catching everything that’s going around. Improved immunity can also help to prevent cancers and decrease the risk of autoimmunity. Having a very low cortisol level puts you at a very high risk of developing autoimmune diseases so it’s important to begin managing your cortisol levels immediately.
This article has shared just a few things you can do to begin seeing improvements in how your body responds to stress. To learn about more things you can begin implementing, sign up for our free 3-part video series here. You will learn more about how your body and mind respond to stress, testing options, and even more techniques to manage your cortisol levels.
I want to improve your resiliency, I want you to be able to bend and shake in the storms and bounce back even better than before. This is a time that we need to be thriving so that we can finish the race well. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon!
Susan Julian, NP, IFMCP