Stress resilience

May 13, 2016 6:39pm

Resiliency is defined as the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, STRESS, or adversity. I used to be quite resilient. However, resiliency is a limited resource and like any resource, it can be depleted.  I have had so much stress and such an intense demand for resiliency for such a long duration, that my resource has been depleted. Last week, I attended a seminar on the habits of highly resilient people, (more on that later). Christopher Bergland, in Psychology Today, (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1) calls the stress hormone, cortisol, public health enemy number one. When cortisol is released, the body needs an actual physical release of fight or flight which we usually do not have.  This causes cortisol levels to build up in the blood which wreaks havoc on the mind and body.

Elevated cortisol levels: interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease… Cortisol also increase risks the for depression, mental illness, decreases resiliency and and lowers life expectancy.  I’m suffering from multiple items on this list.   ~jsn.

Bergland suggests 5 simple lifestyle choices to reduce stress, anxiety and lower cortisol levels. Resiliency and “stress management” are ways to reduce cortisol levels, thus the need for resiliency.

1. Regular Physical Activity: Kick-boxing, sparring, or a punching bag are terrific ways to recreate the “fight” response by letting out aggression (without hurting anyone) and to reduce cortisol. Any aerobic activity, like walking, jogging, swimming, biking, riding the elliptical… are great ways to recreate the ‘flight’ outlet and burn-up cortisol.  20-30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week pays huge dividends by lowering cortisol every day and in the long-run. Fear also increases cortisol. Regular physical activity will decrease fear by increasing your self-confidence, resilience, and fortitude—which will reduce cortisol. Yoga has similar benefits with added benefits of mindfulness training.  I am getting pretty compliant at doing some type of physical activity most days of the week as well as practicing yoga several days a week.  I am limited due to my health issues, but something is vastly better than nothing in this area.   ~ jsn

2. Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM): Any type of meditation can reduce anxiety and lower cortisol levels. Just taking a few deep breaths engages the vagus nerve which triggers the nervous system to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and decrease cortisol.  Loving Kindness Meditation is is a method of developing compassion. It comes from the Buddhist tradition, but it can be adapted and practiced by anyone.  I am a particular fan of Loving Kindness Meditation and have a couple options on my phone. I am trying to practice at least some type of meditation at least once daily. (Remember, this can be for as few as 5 minutes or so. Buddhify has some great short meditations.) Please see a separate blog and link regarding LKM.   ~jsn

3. Social Connectivity:  The “tend-and-befriend” response is the exact opposite to “fight-or-flight”. The “tend-and-befriend” response increasesoxytocin and reduces cortisol. Real face-to-face time with loved ones is best, but phone calls and even Facebook can reduce cortisol if they foster a feeling of genuine connectivity.  Close knit human bonds—whether it be family, friendship or a romantic partner—are vital for your physical and mental health at any age.  Recent studies have shown that the vagus nerve also responds to human connectivity and physical touch to relax your parasympathetic nervous system. (Damage to the vagus nerve causes gastroparesis.   I’d love to have more face time as my GP, anxiety and depression allow.  In the mean time, your Facebook “talks” and shares mean SO MUCH to me, as does the odd little text or email…    ~jsn)

4. Laughter and Levity: Having fun and laughing reduces cortisol levels. By the way, this font is “Happy Monkey” if CaringBridge lets it stay formatted.    ~jsn

5. Music:  Music has the power to improve mood and reduce stress and cortisol levels. (Margaritaville beats death and destruction on NPR or the BBC. <grin>   ~jsn)

Happy Friday the 13th! Thanks for all your support.

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