Paying attention to your mental health is always crucial, but it becomes even more significant during times of heightened stress, such as the uncertainty caused by COVID-19. Persistent stress and anxiety can significantly harm both your psychological and physiological well-being. Here's the science behind it: Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is produced in our adrenal glands. Its levels spike when we're under intense stress and drop when we're relaxed. The issue arises when elevated cortisol directs all our body's resources towards stress management, neglecting the regulation of essential systems like digestion and immunity. Consider this analogy: If a lion were chasing you, you wouldn't be worried about catching a cold or managing your digestion. Typically, cortisol aids in regulating weight, appetite, body metabolism, blood pressure, and glucose. However, chronic stress can lead to heightened anxiety or depression, headaches, memory problems, digestive issues, a weakened immune system, weight gain, insomnia, pre-diabetes, and more. Acknowledging that managing stress isn't an easy feat, here are several strategies to help reduce your cortisol levels and maintain a tranquil state of mind, irrespective of life's uncertainties. Remember, these aren't just pandemic-related tips; they are lifestyle changes meant for the long haul:
Embrace a whole-food, plant-based diet: Unhealthy eating habits, full of processed foods and sugars, can escalate cortisol levels and increase the risk of conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. Prioritize high-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables to help regulate gut bacteria and consequently manage hormones. Nutrition is paramount, accounting for 80% of the battle.
Consider adding supplements: While supplements can't substitute a balanced diet and should be taken under a doctor's supervision, some, like magnesium (which helps regulate cortisol levels), Vitamin B12, folic acid, and Vitamin C, can assist in the metabolism of cortisol.
Practice deep breathing: Research indicates that deep-breathing exercises, performed for at least five minutes, three to five times a day, can lower cortisol levels, alleviate anxiety and depression, and boost memory. Apps like Insight Timer or Calm can guide you in starting this practice.
Cut back on caffeine: Adrenal fatigue, an issue faced by those under chronic stress, can lead to a heavy reliance on caffeine, resulting in a problematic cycle as caffeine can further raise cortisol levels.
Prioritise sleep: A minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep is essential to allow your body to recover and heal.
Incorporate regular exercise: The American College of Lifestyle Medicine recommends daily exercise for thirty to fifty minutes. Aim for an intensity level where you can converse but not sing.
Journal your thoughts: Writing can help process emotions, whether it's cherishing happy moments or letting go of stressful ones.
Engage in hobbies: Activities that bring you joy serve as positive distractions from stress-inducing thoughts and situations.
Spend time in nature: The calming effect of nature, whether it's the sight of trees and flowers or the sound of birds, can help relax your mind.
Lead with positivity, not fear: Fear can result in impulsive decisions. Using the strategies above, maintain mindfulness, and choose positivity.
Remember, you don't need to implement all these changes at once. Start small, gradually introducing one or two of these strategies into your routine until they become second nature, and then consider adding more. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.
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