You know effects of stress on your heart, your body, your health, your belly,…
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a super hero or a magic pill that could wipe the slate clean and slow down all those effects today?
The best part? It doesn’t come from a lab, deplete any natural resources or cost hundreds of dollars. You’ve got it already.
Stress and your Body
You know the story about the fight or flight response, right?
When something happens and you need to move fast. After the fact, the stress response goes into high alert for a certain time to make sure you’re out of the woods.
The good news is that, in this state, your adrenal glands pump out cortisol to keep you going like the Energizer bunny.
If your community has just been evacuated to a shelter because of a flood; if you just lost a loved one and have to keep putting one foot in front of the other through the funeral; if you were in a car accident and are recovering from whiplash and a broken leg, then good doses of cortisol are just what you need.
As one of the hormones of the endocrine system, cortisol impacts the entire system in the same way that one musician will influence the sound of an entire orchestra, for better or for worse. Click here for a quick physiology lesson to explain further.
Cortisol influences hunger, blood sugar levels, inflammation and libido, all for the sake of keeping you moving until you’re out of danger. Because that’s what the stress response is: a survival mechanism to get you out of danger.
However, when you’re under constant stress, day in and day out – yes, I’m talking to you, Ms-Trying-to-Do-it-All, with work, children (or trying to get pregnant), love life (or trying to have one), traffic, over-stimulation from TV. The drive and drama in your life + the caffeine you consume means you’re in chronic low-level stress mode all. the. time.
The bad news is that given too much reign, cortisol will keep playing its tune all day, every day.
In your body, cortisol
• Stimulates insulin: increases your hunger, decreases your satiety (feeling full), ultimately messes with your blood sugar
• Stimulates belly fat: enough said
• Displaces progesterone: reduces your sex drive, makes it harder to get pregnant, AND opens your body to the damaging effects of estrogen dominance
• Suppresses the immune system: makes you more susceptible to getting sick
• Suppresses melatonin production: makes it harder to sleep
OK in the short term, when you’re coping with a real emergency.
Not ok in the long term.
Which is why we need a super heroine to come along and keep that stress hormone in check!
Not just for labouring women, this hormone is the champion of feeling safe, aka reducing danger signals and promoting the relaxation response.
Oxytocin reduces cortisol levels.
Think about it, in order to give birth to or nurse a baby, a woman must feel safe. This is an animal instinct. The “tagline” for the relaxation response is rest and digest: necessary to proper sleep and nourishment. (You wouldn’t take a nap or stop for a meal while you were fighting or fleeing, would you?)
Oxytocin improves digestion and sleep, and cuts the muffin top off at the pass.
Oxytocin is also known as the bonding hormone. Under its influence, babies bond to their mothers (and fathers), couples bond to each other, individuals bond to community.
Oxytocin creates connection.
What better way to find a sense of safety and reduce cortisol levels?
I suggest you take several doses of oxytocin daily:
1. Deep hugs
2. Massage or other body work
3. Hold a baby, play with a child, snuggle a pet
4. Hang out with your soul sisters – even through email, chat, texts and Facebook groups, the intimacy is real and has an impact on your physiology
5. Need an extra boost? Have an orgasm…or two…which, in the right company, means you’re deepening the connection to your self.
Have something to add to the list? By all means, tell us in the comments below. When you share your thoughts, you open the possibilities for others.
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A great reminder, thank you. Rings true… Thank you, good timing as I needed to hear this again today 🙂
thanks for explaining the cortisol/oxytocin relationship, cathy. based on the first item on your list (deep hugs), i’ve been getting huge doses of oxytocin while traveling. europeans are wonderful huggers (and it’s one of my favorite things to do as well, so i’m in heaven)!
Cathy, you had me at “sex” … just kidding. I remember being a new mom and experiencing the oxytocin effect while I was nursing my baby. It was a feeling of complete serenity and total relaxation. It was interesting to learn from you that oxytocin is directly responsible for the bonding. You are a wealth of such great information. I love reading your blog articles!!
Hahahaha!!! Lori! 😉
These types of recommendations can often be challenging for single women. 😉
Luckily, I am the proud owner of World’s Most Precious Pooch, and I have World’s Best Massage Therapist on speed dial.
There’s also an interesting gentleman on the radar, so who knows? 😉
Totally describes me! I know it, I’ve been told it, and I usually ignore it. LOVE the way you’ve laid it out here! Gonna fine my dog for a snuggle now….
Could not agree more! And in our isolated, internet society, it becomes even more important to have deep meaningful connects and raise up our good hormones. I just could never understand oxytocin’s role in labor and childbirth – I have had three, it hurts!
Good question, Heather. Think of it as exercising your creativity muscle – literally, your uterus – right there in the heart of the 2nd chakra. It’s the seat of how we connect and interact with others. You’ve brought up a good point, that may need an entire blog post to address another time.
I understand that, I understand the pain part too, but seriously, why does it have to be so painful? #partoflife!
Awesome, Cathy! I need to implement all 5 of those in my life (though not necessarily in that order!). It’s so true–when I give my kids a great big hug, I immediately feel more at ease and relaxed. Great title, by the way.