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Stress and Cortisol

woman receiving a massage on her shouldersWinter is the season of shorter days, longer drives, work may be getting busier as the year comes to an end, and you are thinking about holiday plans and shopping. Did you notice your shoulders may have gotten more tense while reading that list? You may have started to notice some other symptoms of stress as well: quicker, shallower breathing, and increased heart rate. These are just the symptoms of stress that are obvious to us.

When the body experiences stress it releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone affects the body by increasing heart rate and blood pressure, increasing respiratory rate, increasing muscle tension as part of a fight or flight response, and limiting systems the body deems unnecessary in crisis such as the digestive system and immune system. The digestive and immune systems are especially important for keeping us healthy around this time of year so limiting the amount of stress, and cortisol release can actually help us to stay more immune to the illnesses circulating.

Stress can be managed in a number of ways. Finding ways that work for you and implementing them can be very beneficial to you especially around this time of year. Here are a few suggestions for stress management:

Breathing Exercises

Focusing on slow, conscious breathing can help to slow heart rate and shifts focus from the stressor to allow the brain to process things in a more controlled manner. You can do this anywhere. You may choose to focus for 5 or 6 breaths just to release a little tension or you may take 5 minutes to focus on the breath and feel even more centered and greater relief from stress. You may also choose to incorporate meditation into your day and do your breathing exercises as part of a meditation. Try finding a deep, even breath by breathing in for 6 seconds and out for 6 seconds and focus on drawing the breath deep into your belly. If you need to start at a lower number that is okay but keep the in and out even and try to work up to 6 seconds.

Physical Exercise

Exercise increases the production of other hormones that counteract the negative effects of cortisol. It can improve mood which is helpful when combatting stress. It also increases circulation which can help to promote immune system function as well. If you have a gym membership this is a great time of year to use it. However, if you can’t find time to get to the gym try doing 5-10 minutes of bodyweight exercises to get the blood pumping and to get those positive hormones working. You can find some great routines online or even follow along videos on youtube. If you search “10-minute workout” you will get a lot of options. Make sure you are bracing your core during your workout especially when working legs and low back! Your core really is the center of everything and will make your workout easier in the long run and help to prevent injury. Have fun with it and push yourself. It can be hard but the benefits are worth it.

Massage Therapy

Massage increases relaxation which can help to promote slowed breathing, slowed heart rate, decreased muscle tension, and increased digestive and immune function. These effects are all the opposite of what cortisol does to your body. Massage therapy can be utilized in a number of ways. If you have aches and pains or an injury that affects how you live your massage therapist can help decrease your pain and make daily life easier for you. Any time pain has decreased the stress in the body will be decreased. If you struggle with mental illness such as depression and anxiety, or just experience a lot of mental stress in your life, massage therapy can decrease the effects of this in the body. This is done by decreasing muscle tension created by negative emotions as well as the fight or flight response associated with cortisol release, as well as through the healing power of touch. We don’t think of it often but physical touch is very important and can be very helpful in decreasing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even day to day stress. Massage therapy is something that can benefit everyone in some way or another. If you have any questions our massage therapist at Elevate is more than happy to answer them.

I hope you can take some of these tips and find them helpful in managing the stress of the holiday season. Each of these tips individually are very helpful but can be super effective when used together. Whatever you choose to do to relieve stress, try and take at least 10 minutes each day to focus on yourself and enjoy a break from the fast pace of the holiday season. Happy holidays and don’t forget to breathe!

1 Join the Conversation

  1. Yena says
    Sep 21, 2020 at 9:39 AM

    Interesting stuff to read. Keep it up!

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