Modern life has many benefits. On the grand scale, capitalism has made us more educated, wealthier, and healthier. But unfortunately, all progress comes at a price. Today, we’re more stressed out and anxious than ever before. And if you really think about it, how could we not be? Work deadlines, family responsibilities, the rising cost of living, scary world events – it’s a miracle most of us are as healthy as we are.
If you feel like a hamster in a running wheel, firstly, we want to reassure you that you’re not alone. Secondly, we want to inform you that you may have elevated levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. The good news is that there is plenty you can do to combat excess cortisol and reduce the effect of everyday stress on your body and mind.
What is cortisol?
Often dubbed the “stress hormone”, cortisol is your body’s response to perceived threats. While it’s essential in fight-or-flight situations, chronically elevated cortisol is bad news for your health and well-being. This is because when your cortisol levels rise, all of your energy goes into trying to handle or escape the stressor, even if it’s just everyday stress or anxiety.
Normally, the body’s stress response is short in duration. For example, when you encounter a big dog barking at you on your evening walk, your body releases a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, to help you decide whether you should remain still or run. When the danger has passed, these hormones return to their usual levels.
The insidious nature of busy modern life is that we’re constantly exposed to low-level stressors such as huge workloads, traffic jams, taking care of kids or elderly family members, etc. The long-term activation of the stress response can disrupt practically all body processes, putting you at a high risk of many health problems. These can include:
- Digestive issues
- Muscle pains
- Poor memory and focus
- Heart disease and high blood pressure
- Weight gain.
This is why it’s crucial to find a way to healthily deal with your life stressors, whatever they may be.
The power of positive self-talk
Research has shown that positive self-talk can reduce cortisol levels in stressful situations. One study showed that imagining a positive future reduces cortisol responses and reactivity to acute stress. So, when you find yourself in a stressful situation and don’t know how to deal with it, talk to yourself kindly and practise positive visualisation.
In another study, participants who practised mindfulness-based stress reduction activities reported significantly reduced perceived stress levels.
Of course, sometimes simple self-talk and visualisation may not be able to sufficiently help you deal with stress. In such situations, it’s best to talk to a professional, ideally face-to-face. For example, if you live in Jacksonville, it might be best to look for qualified therapists in Jacksonville with experience in stress management. Of course, sometimes your obligations may prevent you from attending therapy in person, and that’s OK: that’s what online therapy is for.
How to practise positive thinking and self-talk
For some, positive thinking and self-talk might seem a bit woo-woo, but really, it’s as practical as it gets. If you regularly think positive thoughts about your future, and actually talk to yourself in a kind way (like you would to a dear friend), you will feel better and more optimistic than if you were thinking negatively about yourself. It’s as simple as that.
For example, when you’re overwhelmed with work, rather than panicking and thinking, “I can’t handle this,” shift your self-talk to, “I’ve tackled tough tasks before; I can do it again.” Your brain listens, and it responds.
What if you make a mistake at work? Avoid thoughts like “I’m such an idiot.” Instead, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes, and it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. This shift from self-criticism to self-compassion can keep your cortisol levels in check.
So, next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, use compassionate self-talk, practise gratitude and practise positive visualisation while avoiding harmful self-criticism. Your body and mind will thank you for it!
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.