Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands, sitting atop our kidneys, that alerts our bodies to potential threats. It's no-nonsense and "thinks" strategically to get you out of danger, while also regulating other hormones like thyroid and estrogen. But it's our brains and central nervous system that serve as the control center for activating the adrenal glands. In other words, even when a threat is perceived (the people in the audience are going to "attack" or "mock" me when I'm on stage, or I'm never going to be afford to have the life I want to live because...) we can be impairing the function of our adrenals. We might produce too much cortisol, and too often, which makes our body's cortisol receptors become resistant to the overload; or because of the hyper response, we process too quickly and our cortisol converts into the less active or useable form, cortisone.
When we're running from danger, our bodies are not concerned about digesting food, healing wounds or making babies; our bodies only care about survival. In the face of prolonged or extreme stress or PTSD, it is our body's defense mechanism for short-term stress (the lion is chasing me!!) that reduces our ability to produce cortisol or utilize it in the face of future stress. But thankfully, recent science does not seem to show evidence of our adrenal glands actually failing to produce cortisol because they're overworked. They don't get "drained" as we previously thought. But this means the problem still remains how to tell our hearts and brains that we're not in danger, we're working on a solution and the mission control should proceed with healthy body functions accordingly?
Being somewhat of a reformed stress-monger myself, I've learned a couple of tricks to help calm the brewing brain storm:
1. 4-7-8 Breath. I learned this breathing technique from Dr. Andrew Weil, and it works! Whenever I can't fall asleep or feel overwhelmed, I take 4-5 minutes to breathe:
*Breath in deeply on a count of 4
*Hold your breath for a count of 7
*Then exhale deeply almost through your teeth to a count of 8.
*Repeat this cycle 4 times. z z z Works every time!
2. Appreciation. Sometimes when you're "in the suck", it's so hard to find things to be happy or appreciative about. Fortunately, I have pets who always make me smile. They experience stress in the primal way we used to (the need of food, shelter and safety). They know nothing of money, work stress, traffic or bad attitudes. They just love, as long as they have food, shelter and safety. Looking at them, petting and playing with them re-sets my emotional counter. If I'm feeling out of balance, they are my drug therapy :)