Saturday, as Eric and I rode our bikes down the sandy sidewalk in Huntington Beach I saw a sign in a store window that said, “Smile—it’s good stress relief and makes you happier.” So I smiled. I smiled at Eric. I smiled at the little boy who ran right in front of my bike, and I smiled at all the strangers as we cruised by. And guess what? I almost always got a smile back. And, when people smiled back it made me happy. When I’m happy, I’m not stressed. It worked!
Last week I wrote about how stress can make us fat. Stress causes a release of the hormone, cortisol, which over time causes us to build up that wonderful belly fat. Cortisol is a necessary hormone that is great to have in large amounts if you’re running away from a pit-bull, but it isn’t so helpful when you’re worrying. Especially if you are a chronic worrier. Chronically high cortisol levels can cause sleep problems, a depressed immune system, blood sugar problems (insulin resistance), food cravings and that dreaded abdominal weight gain. Read more about that here.
So along with smiling more, I came up with my top ten ways that I regularly use to tame my cortisol. You’re probably wondering, does she really think about things like this? Yep, I do. I’m weird like that. I started focusing in on lowering cortisol techniques when I hit menopause because the calorie counting wasn’t working anymore.
Walking does more than burn energy. It burns off cortisol too. Also, remember when cortisol levels are high it eats up your muscle mass. So, you’re losing muscle and lowering your metabolism. Bad combo! Fight cortisol back by taking a walk, a bike ride, do strength training or take a yoga class.
- Eat more foods with magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that helps to calm insanity. It can help lower stress levels by keeping the body in a state of relative ease as you start that presentation. It can also help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep. Have you ever taken a calcium magnesium supplement before you went to bed and slept like a baby? It really does work. Unfortunately, seven out of ten of us don’t get enough of the stuff. No wonder we’re cranky. Just one cup of spinach provides 40 percent of your daily value—so, try subbing it for lettuce on sandwiches and salads.
- Smile more
Smile at everyone. This is the easiest of all my tips, the cheapest and probably the most important. Smiling increases endorphins, makes you feel great, and helps you make new friends.
- Go to bed earlier
What’s the difference between getting six hours of sleep instead of eight? When a group of pilots slept six hours or less for seven nights while on duty their cortisol levels increased significantly and stayed elevated for two days (Germany’s Institute for Aerospace Medicine”. The recommended eight hours of sleep allows your body enough time to recover from stress. Make sleep a priority. Turn off the TV and your computer and listen to some soothing music before you go to bed.
- Make a great Ipod mix
I have a music folder on my iPod for music that soothes my soul. I love acoustic guitar and soft piano melodies before bed. No vocals, just soft music to put cortisol (and me) to sleep.
- Have sex more often
When I first read this I thought a man must have made this up. I’m sure Eric would agree. But I’ve since learned that it does work. Sex produces oxytocin which is a calming hormone. It’s the opposite of cortisol. Oxytocin gives cortisol that “one-two punch.” I know it’s hard to be “in the mood” when you have a work presentation the next day. But, if you’re struggling to get to sleep…well, just saying!
- Take a multiple B vitamin supplement
When we are under stress, B vitamins are easily depleted and when taken at bedtime vitamin B-6 is useful in helping to correct abnormally high cortisol levels. I like taking a multiple vitamin that has extra B vitamins. Or, just take 50-100 mg of extra vitamin B-6 per day.
- Drink Tea
Green tea that is. Green tea has long been touted as a healthy superstar and stress relief is among its many benefits. That’s because it naturally contains theanine, a calming nutrient. Black tea works, too. But, just make sure it’s decaffeinated.
- Hang out with friend
Friends keep our mind off ourselves. It’s hard to worry when your hanging with friends–especially funny friends. No time to hang? Pick up the phone.
10. Get a massage, manicure or pedicure
Yeah, I know massages are expensive. So, do the next best thing and get a pedicure or manicure. Here’s what I do. I pick up a green iced tea at Starbucks and head down to my nail spa for a pedicure. Works every time!