(NaturalNews) Stress is not a modern-day problem. It's something mankind has been dealing with since our very existence began. Our bodies even come built with a specialized hormonal response to stress: our adrenal glands trigger a burst of hormones like cortisol to help us deal with periods of stress. This release of cortisol is meant to be temporary - perfect for chasing down game or outrunning an enemy.
Today, our lives are busy and stress is virtually constant. This lifestyle produces chronic high cortisol levels. So, while we may not have to worry about evading a grizzly bear, our modern way of life has its own risks. High cortisol levels are linked to a weakened immune system, insomnia, weight gain, high blood pressure, depression and more. Fortunately, we can take measures to balance our cortisol levels and regain our good health.
Budget Your Stress
It's impossible for anyone to eliminate all stress from their lives, but we each have the choice of what stresses we are willing to deal with. In the same way you would prioritize your expense budget, decide which stress-inducers you are willing to handle and then discard the rest. If you feel like you are constantly running around, then you probably need to make a few cuts to reduce your stress. And if you find yourself dealing with a major stressor - like divorce, relocation, or a sick loved one - you may need to temporarily scale back even further.
Take a Break From Stress
Even after making cuts in your stress budget, you're still likely to run across situations that cause your cortisol to jump sky-high. The best way to combat these stressors is to allow yourself some downtime. Here are some proven ways to put a check on your cortisol:
- Sleep it off. Eight hours of sleep every night is one of the most effective ways of lowering cortisol. Even if you didn't sleep well the night before, a midday siesta can help make up for lost hours and normalize your cortisol, according to research at Pennsylvania State University.
- Listen to some soothing tunes. By spending time listening to your favorite songs, you can significantly lower your cortisol levels.
- Massage the cortisol away. Well, no one had to tell you a massage helps you unwind, but several studies have shown regular massage therapy is an effective way to slash cortisol levels
- Laugh till it hurts. Laughter can help reduce cortisol - by as much as 39 percent says a study from Loma Linda University. So pop in a DVD of your favorite sit-com or hang out with your buddy the wannabe comedian to melt the stress away.
- Eat regular, balanced meals. Skipping meals and low-calorie dieting can trigger the release of stress hormones. Instead, eat a healthy, balanced diet of at least three meals and one snack each day. Include whole carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
- Avoid too much caffeine. You may think you need eight cups of java a day to function, but the truth is that caffeine is a stress trigger to the adrenal glands. Chronic high cortisol will cause fatigue and poor brain function over time, so in the long term those shots of espresso do more harm than good. Try sticking to less than three caffeinated beverages per day.
- The little things add up. Studies show simple things like chewing gum, spending time with loved ones, deep breathing exercises or spending a few minutes meditating can help reduce cholesterol levels.
For many, managing stress is a lifelong journey of baby steps. But rest assured that each step you take in the right direction will improve your health and restore you body's natural reserves of energy and vitality.
Elizabeth Walling is a freelance writer specializing in health and family nutrition. She is a strong believer in natural living as a way to improve health and prevent modern disease. She enjoys thinking outside of the box and challenging common myths about health and wellness. You can visit her blog to learn more: www.livingthenourishedlife.com/2009/10/welco...