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November 2, 2022
Too busy to be stressed?
With so many competing demands on our time, we may miss the early signs of stress. Left unchecked, stress can have a serious impact on our minds and our bodies. On Stress Awareness Day, why not check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling and do something today to reduce your stress.
What’s going on when we’re stressed
Understanding stress is the first step in managing our emotional responses and thereby reducing our stress. An external trigger can instigate a feeling of stress. Maybe you have a big presentation to give at work and you’re anxious about how it’s going to go. In this state, we’re activating the sympathetic side of our autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our body releases adrenaline or nor-adrenaline and we get that ‘fight or flight’ desire.
However, this is not the only system at play in our bodies. What really determines how we react to a situation is our neuroendocrine (NE) system, not our ANS. And that’s where, what some people call the stress hormone, cortisol comes in.
The stress hormone
If you inject someone with cortisol, they often feel negative. The negativity then increases their cortisol level which makes them feel more negative. This creates a vicious cycle. People with brain tumours that produce too much cortisol often get depressed. And people suffering from depression commonly have high levels of cortisol in their brain fluid.
When we feel negative, high performance is extremely difficult. Furthermore, when we get ‘stressed’ about the fact that we’re feeling negative, cortisol levels can perpetuate our failure.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is the ‘performance’ or ‘vitality hormone’, the body’s natural antidote to cortisol and it is associated with more ‘positive’ emotions.
Spotting the signs of high cortisol levels
Hormones, like cortisol, are essential for helping us deal with pressured situations, but left unchecked and unmanaged (from too many stressful situations), they can be damaging. Cortisol suppresses bodily functions, like the digestive system, and puts you at risk of lots of different health problems, like heart disease, insomnia, high blood pressure and gut disorders like IBS.
Signs you are stressed and may have high cortisol levels include irritability, feeling depressed or unable to enjoy yourself, trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, and struggling to concentrate.
Controlling our hormones through emotional management
The good news for those of us who are stressed, and that’s probably most of us at some point, is that we don’t have to be at the mercy of our hormones. We can develop the ability to control our emotions and therefore our biology which enhances our anabolic hormones.
And to find out how, read our blog on Mastering Emotional Management in Five Steps. You might also want to try exercise, eating well, and reducing your alcohol and caffeine intake.
Now is the time to take steps to manage your stress. There are simple techniques to ensure that you are able to take control of your hormonal response to our busy lives. You’ve made a good start by reading this article, what’s next?
A physician and neuroscientist, Dr. Alan Watkins is recognised as an international expert on leadership and human performance.
Over the years he has coached thousands of individuals to greater levels of performance, transformed organisational cultures and helped leaders discover new ways to succeed. Alan has become a confidant to many of the world’s top leaders over the past 22 years.Read bio