As people are exposed to daily pressures such as life responsibilities, money issues, and world events, it’s important to be kind to oneself.
People today are more stressed out and anxious than before. Work deadlines, family responsibilities, the rising cost of living, world events – it’s a miracle most of us are as healthy as we are.
If you feel like a hamster on a running wheel, you’re not alone. You might also have elevated levels of cortisol, aka the stress hormone. The good news is, there is plenty you can do to combat excess cortisol and reduce the effect of everyday stress on your body and mind.
Cortisol is your body’s response to perceived threats. While it’s essential in fight-or-flight situations, chronically elevated cortisol is bad for your health and wellbeing. This is because when cortisol levels rise, all of your energy goes into trying to handle or escape the stressor, even if it’s just everyday pressures or anxiety.
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The insidious nature of busy modern life is that people are constantly exposed to low-level stressors such as workload, traffic, domestic responsibilities, and so forth. The long-term activation of the stress response can disrupt practically all body processes, putting you at a high risk of health problems, including:
- digestive issues;
- muscle pains;
- poor memory and focus;
- heart disease;
- high blood pressure;
- weight gain.
Research has shown that positive self-talk can reduce cortisol levels in stressful situations: imagining a positive future reduces cortisol responses and reactivity to acute stress. In another study, participants who practised mindfulness activities reported significantly reduced perceived stress levels.
So, when you find yourself in a stressful situation and don’t know how to deal with it, talk to yourself kindly and practise positive visualisation.
Of course, sometimes simple self-talk and visualisation may not be enough to help you deal with stress. In such situations, it’s best to talk to a professional, ideally face-to-face.
For some, positive thinking and self-talk might seem a bit woo-woo, but really, it’s as practical as it gets. If you regularly think positive thoughts about your future and talk to yourself in a kind way – like you would to a dear friend – you will feel better and more optimistic than if you were thinking negatively about yourself.
For example, when you’re overwhelmed with work, rather than panicking and thinking “I can’t handle this”, shift your self-talk to: “I’ve tackled tough tasks before; I can do it again.” Your brain listens, and it responds.
Make a mistake at work? Avoid thoughts like “I’m such an idiot.” Instead, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes, and it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.
This shift from self-criticism to self-compassion can keep your cortisol levels in check and help you manage stress in a healthy manner.
Read more articles by Dennis Relojo-Howell here.