Picture the physical reaction that you have to stress… your heart rate goes up, blood pressure increases, blood sugar sky- rockets, pupils dilate, breathing quickens, digestion and immunity disappear… your body is preparing itself for ‘fight or flight’. Then our brain tries to help us out, by releasing the stress hormone, cortisol, which greatly enhanced our survival rate in human history. The short term effect of cortisol is a positive one. Along with adrenaline it sharpens our senses, quickens our reactions, and makes us think and act with clarity. In prolonged doses, it is not so fantastic. These days, a chronic overabundance of cortisol from long term daily stress is a dangerous predicament that can make us very sick. So how do we reduce it?? That’s easy, and right under our noses!!!
How does cortisol get released?
Perception of stress occurs in our mind and then when it reaches the hypothalamus in the brain, a signal called CRH is sent to the pituitary gland which releases another hormone called ACTH that moves through the bloodstream to the adrenal gland. A cascade effect takes place in the adrenal gland that results in the production of cortisol. Interestingly, when cortisol is released it increases blood sugar levels and breaks down protein in our body, transforming it into sugar, and when this is not used up, all the excess sugar turns into FAT. This means that long term stress and increased cortisol levels over extended periods of time can increase fat deposition in the body, especially around the belly. Increased levels of cortisol also suppress the immune system, making us more vulnerable to different diseases too!
But how do we decrease our cortisol levels?
To decrease the effect of too much cortisol we need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system… this will counteract the stress response. Many studies have shown that practicing yoga may just do that. Saliva tests to the level of cortisol in yoga students before and after their yoga class, has shown a clear decrease in the stress hormone. Meditation and other breathing exercises are the best, easiest and quickest way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and to reverse the increased cortisol effects. Just take a few minutes for some deep abdominal breaths; expanding your belly as you inhale and bringing the navel back in towards the spine when you exhale. It was there all along… the answer is LITERALLY just under your nose!