The Stress Response
So what actually happens when the stress response is triggered and cortisol and adrenaline are released? Understanding this will enlighten as to why we might want to diminish the stress response. This response is very important especially in times when we are in immediate danger and need to react quickly. However, in modern society, first world problems tend to me the most stressful experiences we encounter and our threshold for stress has been lowered and everyday occurrences such as a deadline at work tend to trigger our stress response more often that life threatening situations. It is in these non-threatening situations that we want to decrease our stress response.
Normal cortisol levels help to regulate blood sugar, metabolism, inflammation, immunity and memory formation. Clearly it has very important functions! Cortisol levels peak in the morning to rev our body up for the day and decrease in time to be able to relax for bed. With the stress response, there is a surge in cortisol, and this increase heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, respiration, and muscle tension, while decreasing reproductive and digestive functioning. Entering into this cycle frequently will cause a cortisol imbalance which can lead to weight gain, reproductive dysfunction, insulin resistance, and poor digestion.
The results of increased cortisol are slow to occur, but adrenaline on the other hand is fast acting. It increases muscle contractions (heart rate, muscle strength), blood pressure, blood sugar, and metabolism. It decreases digestion, sex hormones, and the immune system. It is best known for the Fight of Flight response. This is all clearly necessary during a life threatening emergency but not so much when your boss puts unrealistic expectations on you.
“We never know the worth of water until the well is dry.” - Thomas Fuller
Supporting The Body During The Stress Response
There is good news however, in that there are ways to diminish the extent to which our body reacts to everyday stress. These come in the form of herbals, to vitamins, to something in-between, and lifestyle adjustments.
Ashwaghanda – Lowers cortisol levels, tested well for improving anxiety, depression, and stress response.
Bacopa – mental focus, may reduce stress and cortisol
Ginseng – energy and stress reduction
Maca - hormonal balance and stress
Holy Basil/Tulsi - stress and mood
Magnesium – may help with depression
L-Theanine – decreases anxiety, stress response, and blood pressure
Melatonin – may decrease cortisol production due to stress response
GABA - stress and mood
CBD - stress and mood
B Vitamins - increased need during stress
Exercise (especially yoga)– decreases anxiety, depression, and cortisol
Journaling - decreases anxiety and depression
Meditation - decreases anxiety, depression, and cortisol
Expressing Gratitude - decreases anxiety, depression, and cortisol
Healthy sleep schedule & decreased blue light exposure - lowers cortisol
Caffeine - interferes with cortisol cycle. Avoid caffeine before cortisol peaks (before 9am)
Massage - decreases cortisol, depression, and anxiety
Forest Bathing - decreases cortisol, depression, and anxiety