Courtesy of The Raithwaite Estate Spa, N Yorks
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And Relax… We’ve made it!

 ‘The future of Health and Wellbeing is in our own hands’ 

Written by Christine-Alice Hartigan 

 

We are one quarter way through 2019, WE HAVE MADE IT! 

It is March and spring time is here! We have hopefully all recovered from the financial stresses from Christmas and, if you’ve been following the tips from January and February blogs, you will have made some significant changes to your lifestyle - the January Detox completed and February daily exercise routine implemented. 

So, this month, what could possibly be the topic for discussion…what is the missing link? 

Nutrition…Exercise….And

You guessed it!  Mindfulness and Relaxation

This month I want to talk about stress, the affect it has on our bodies and to give you some vital tips on how to manage it. I’ll talk particularly about the stress hormone Cortisol – what causes an increase in Cortisol release and the serious impact on us when it does.  These days….WE ARE 24/7 BUSY with the pressure of managing the ‘ideal world’ we have created for ourselves. On a typical day ...we are constantly checking our finances, focused on making our families strong, healthy and happy, building and retaining relationships, finding time for fitness, making the right food choices and making sure we make it work on time, making sure we get the kids prepared and at school on time. 

Over time our lives have become a series of tasks we must complete and with time saving technologies and the smart phone we fit a lot into our day! 

I think it’s a fair question to ask… Are we ACTUALLY TRYING TO FIT TOO MUCH into our day?

It is also fair to ask… What tasks are we prioritising and are we spending our time productively?

Awareness around mental health has been increasing over the last few years. Even this year’s Grammy Awards focused on highlighting and supporting those suffering with mental illness. Whilst the continual attention to mental health may appear concerning, it is good that we are now openly talking about it and that people are more comfortable in opening up about their own mental health. There is good evidence to suggest that we know so much more about it, because through the internet the world is connected 24/7 and this allows any person on the planet to start a conversation about mental health by posting online.

The rise in Dementia and other mind related illnesses has seen more money invested in testing and research, to find the causes of these illnesses and also uncover how to prevent them.

There is evidence to suggest that there is a link between extreme stress levels over a sustained period of time and mental illnesses in later life.

Nutrition, Physical Activity and Mindfulness are key factors in our overall sustained health. If we can manage to eat a diet suited to our body, keep our bodies active and, if we can manage our stress levels throughout our day, we are giving ourselves the best possible chance to avoid mental illness later in life.

What is Cortisol?

“Cortisol is a steroid hormone that regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body, including metabolism and the immune response. It also has a very important role in helping the body respond to stress.”1

“Cortisol is a steroid hormone, one of the glucocorticoids, made in the cortex of the adrenal glandsand then released into the blood, which transports it all round the body. Almost every cell contains receptorsfor cortisol and so cortisol can have lots of different actions depending on which sort of cells it is acting upon. These effects include controlling the body’s blood sugar levels and thus regulating metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation, controlling salt and water balance, influencing blood pressure and helping development of the foetus. In many species cortisol is also responsible for triggering the processes involved in giving birth.”1

“A similar version of this hormone, known as corticosterone, is produced by rodents, birds and reptiles.”1

How is cortisol controlled?

“Blood levels of cortisol vary dramatically, but generally are high in the morning when we wake up, and then fall throughout the day. This is called a diurnal rhythm. In people that work at night, this pattern is reversed, so the timing of cortisol release is clearly linked to daily activity patterns. In addition, in response to stress, extra cortisol is released to help the body to respond appropriately.”1

“The secretion of cortisol is mainly controlled by three inter-communicating regions of the body, the hypothalamusin the brain, the pituitary glandand theadrenal gland. This is called the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. When cortisol levels in the blood are low, a group of cells in a region of the brain called the hypothalamus releasescorticotrophin-releasing hormone, which causes the pituitary gland to secrete another hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone, into the bloodstream. High levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone are detected in the adrenal glands and stimulate the secretion of cortisol, causing blood levels of cortisol to rise. As the cortisol levels rise, they start to block the release of corticotrophin-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus and adrenocorticotropic hormone from the pituitary. As a result, the adrenocorticotropic hormone levels start to drop, which then leads to a drop-in cortisol levels. This is called a negative feedbackloop.” 1

What happens if I have too much cortisol? 

“Too much cortisol over a prolonged period of time can lead to a condition called Cushing's syndrome. This can be caused by a wide range of factors, such as a tumour that produces adrenocorticotropic hormone (and therefore increases cortisol secretion), or taking certain types of drugs. The symptoms include:

  • Rapid weight gains mainly in the face, 
  • chest and abdomen contrasted with slender arms and legs
  • A flushed and round face
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Skin changes (bruises and purple stretch marks)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Mood swings, which show as anxiety, depressionor irritability
  • Increased thirst and frequency of urination.”1.

“High cortisol levels over a prolonged time can also cause lack of sex drive and, in women, periods can become irregular, less frequent or stop altogether (amenorrhoea).”1.

“In addition, there has been a long-standing association between raised or impaired regulation of cortisol levels and a number of psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression. However, the significance of this is not yet clearly understood.”1.

What happens if I have too little cortisol?

“Too little cortisol can be due to a condition called Addison's disease. It has a number of causes, all rare, including damage to the adrenal glands by autoimmune disease. The onset of symptoms is often very gradual. Symptoms may include fatigue, dizziness (especially upon standing), weight loss, muscle weakness, mood changes and the darkening of regions of the skin. Urgent assessment by a specialist hormone doctor called an endocrinologistis required when a diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome or Addison's disease is suspected.”1.

“Think of cortisolas nature’s built-in alarm system. It’s your body’s main stress hormone. It works with certain parts of your brainto control your mood, motivation, and fear.”2.

So, let’s take this knowledge on board and start to do something about it today. 

So here are 10 simple sustainable ways you can manage your stress hormone and find time to incorporate relaxation in your day.

1) Activity FIRST TASK in the morning. Choosing a wake-up morning stretch might be a good choice for you, as it has been recorded that the Cortisol hormone tends to be at its highest, first thing in the morning.  If you think a more up-beat start of the day would be more suited to you, so maybe incorporating a cycle to work, walk, run or gym session, which might help alleviatethe build-up of stress.

2) Nutrition. Choosing foods which regulate your blood sugar levels, which means a gentle release of sugar throughout the day which can help with any mood swings which can cause stress for the body. Reducing the amount of toxins and pollutants in the body will also help greatly.

3) Aromatherapy. Incorporate scents into your lives to help with your moods. Some particular scents can aid with relaxation and sleep.

4) Keeping on the move. Activity and moving around helps to support a healthy metabolism.

5) TALK TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS, remember we are STRONGER TOGETHER.  Now is no better time, to realise if things are too much and time to share the load.

6) “HEADSPACE” Mindfulness and relaxation APP’s, Guided meditation sessions and reconnection therapy.

7) Practise YOGA is a fantastic way to keep your body strong and will help you incorporate breathing techniques into your day.

8) SPA. Make time in your week to visit a spa. This could quite simply be the use of the sauna, or the steam room, or a scheduled treatment which will help you to relax and take time away from any other distractions.

9) Relaxation techniques before bedtime. How do you ‘wind down’ for bedtime? Incorporating reading, listening to music, are great things which you can do in preparation for sleep.

10) SLEEP. Sleep is without doubt one of the most important parts of the day and plays a huge part on your mental health and mood swings. Not enough sleep mixed with the extra cortisol release can cause an “almighty bad mood” in the morning for some. This is also not a great start to the day. When we are tired we tend to make poor decisions when it comes to food and also activity. We are much more likely to have a conflict with friends or loved ones putting strain on relationships and your support network.

11) LONG COUNTRY/ BEACH WALKS. Walking daily can make a big difference to your moods and allows you time to digest the busyness of the day. Long walks in natural environments can have a huge effect on the body and the mind. Negative ions and away from congestion and pollution can help maintain good mental health and a good intervention to the stress cycles.

12) Reduce your brain activity working hours. Ideally if you can reduce the active hours which cause stress on the body and replace with more relaxation and down-time hours this would also be a healthier sustainable solution and can increase productivity. Cortisol release can be affected by unusual working hours or working nights, this is a further challenge for night shifters and would be helpful to reduce your evening shifts hours.

These are just 12 simple ways, of which there may be many more, as usual I would welcome your comments below. 

To help support a healthy mind, practising drawing or taking time to learn to play an instrument are also great things to add into your day, and can count towards your relaxation hours.

Practising and maintaining good mental health is important now in the present so that your future health has the best possible chance to be brighter.

Above all listen to your body! It will always guide you, recognise the symptoms and make changes to help.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing your comments below. 

Thank you for reading, 

Christine-Alice Hartigan 

UKSA board member 

Health, spa and Wellness 

Space and place wellness, lifestyle design 

Bibliography;

  1. Please see extract from website: http://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/cortisol/
  2. Please see extract from website: https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol#
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Sunday, 15 December 2019

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