If you have frequent panic attacks, your lifestyle may be to blame. One word characterizes our lives – busy. We fill them with work, family events, and other activities that build anxiety in us. They activate our stress hormones and consequently, create pressure.
We can’t avoid these triggers, but we can keep our stress in check. How? Here are some suggestions.
How our stress hormones work
Why do we tend to grab our mobile phones when we see texts from our bosses late at night? We react to them like frightened mice because of our stress hormones.
Our sympathetic nervous system activates when it detects a stress trigger like this. It comprises adrenaline, the fight or flight hormone which guides our reactions when we sense stress. When activated, it builds tension in our muscles. We sweat, and our hearts begin to pound.
Then, there’s norepinephrine. Like adrenaline, it originates in the brain and the adrenal glands. It maintains our alertness when there is a stressor. How long it takes to return to a resting state depends on the stressor’s strength. The final hormone that raises our stress levels is cortisol. It has earned the name ‘stress hormone’ because activating it requires a multi-step process.
So, how does it work? The amygdala in the brain first recognizes a threat. It then sends a message to another part of the brain, the hypothalamus, which releases the hormone CRH. This hormone, in turn, tells the pituitary gland to release cortisol. As you can see, knowing about the process is stressful already.
Why too much cortisol can be dangerous
You won’t need persuasion that our stress hormones are not our best friends. Scientists have long realized that cortisol causes weight gain, decreased immune system function, high cholesterol levels, and heart disease.
Too much cortisol triggers depression and weakens our mental health. Canadian biochemist Hans Selye of McGill University is renowned for his discovery of two types of stress – eustress, which is beneficial, and distress, which compromises our well-being.
Distress, of course, is harmful. It is the unwanted pressure that we face when we have unmanageable deadlines or relationships. Eustress, on the other hand, is healthy. It happens when we engage in activities that we enjoy, although these may take up our attention. Eustress increases our focus and motivation to complete tasks.
Both these types of stress release cortisol. While it keeps us alert, we have to release it from the body. Too much of it causes chaos. We will suffer from panic attacks because of our flight or fight responses backfire.
How to lower your stress hormones naturally to beat anxiety and panic attacks
So, these hormones are dangerous in high amounts. You will want to beat them but without the nasty side effects of drugs. Here are some natural ways to manage them and overcome panic attacks.
First of all, is meditation, or transforming the mind. It relies on techniques that create positivity and increase concentration. It also gives a person a clear perspective on life. A study by American researchers from the Georgetown University Medical Center put participants of their research through an 8-week meditation course. They found that meditation lowered inflammation and stress hormones.
Being physically active also helps to keep unhealthy stress at bay. It increases cortisol levels for a short time, but not by much. Exercise makes us less crabby as well. These researchers show that it has a positive effect on mood.
3. Sleep well
Another way to reduce cortisol levels is to get enough sleep. The length and quality of rest affect how much cortisol there is in our bodies. A study published in the Journal of Nursing Research shows that disturbing a person’s circadian rhythms causes feelings of illness. Furthermore, participants in this study experienced a rise in cortisol levels.
4. Recognize And Change Stressful Thoughts
Just thinking about the things or events that pressurize us can raise our cortisol levels. Research in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology points out that writing about stressful situations causes an increase in cortisol levels. Mindfulness training teaches us when stress is too much. It points out warning signs such as a racing heart and irregular breathing. We would then be able to develop constructive reactions to them.
5. Just relax
Fast-paced living makes relaxing a tall order, but we can make it a habit. Just put relaxation techniques in place. A study of middle-aged women found that cortisol decreased by half with deep breathing. Another found that Yoga also limits cortisol.
6. Just have fun
Our stress naturally reduces when we do the things we love. Happiness lowers blood pressure and promotes a healthy heart rate. It also builds a robust immune system. A study of 18 adults found that laughter is indeed the best medicine. Those who laughed had healthy immune systems.
7. Have healthy relationships
Family and friends support us when we feel down. But they can be a source of stress. According to research, children whose family lives were warm had lower cortisol levels than those who lived in areas where there were conflicts.
8. Get a dog
Keeping a pet causes positive changes in cortisol levels. Stroking a dog is therapeutic for it and you. This study shows that interacting with a therapy dog reduces distress and lowers cortisol.
9. Practice forgiveness
Forgiving people who have hurt us in the worst way is a tall order. But forgiveness is the best thing you can do for yourself. A study examined the effectiveness of marriage counseling. Not surprisingly, it found that couples who used conflict resolution techniques had lower cortisol levels than those which didn’t.
10. Eat healthily
Finally, you are what you eat. A spoonful of sugar may not make much difference to your body, but too much of it does. Research proves this point. Interestingly, sugar can have the opposite effect. An ice-cream does help when we feel stressed out. What you eat and how you eat it decides how stressed you are.
In all, managing stress hormones is worth the effort. Keeping unnecessary pressures at bay, in a natural way, enhances our well-being.
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