Tame that tension!

Stress and your ‘fight or flight’ response

By Deb Dittner

Stress is among us all.

Your natural reaction to “fight or flight” can simply go haywire. This response is to help you during emergency situations to avoid severe injury or death followed by a return to normalcy.

Sadly, today’s society has created an overabundance of this “fight or flight” reaction, making it a chronic condition causing significant health issues.

The main stress hormone, cortisol, is released from your adrenal glands when responding to stress. Cortisol is high first thing in the morning to get you started in your day, and slows throughout the day to allow for sleep come night. But abnormally high levels of cortisol lead to poor sleep, elevated blood pressure, brain fog, elevated blood sugar, decreased immunity, and belly fat.

Do these symptoms sound familiar to any of you?

I’m sure I’ve hit a nerve with some of you but there are foods and lifestyle changes that can help to naturally lower your stress hormone.

If you’ve read any of my previous articles in Mohawk Valley In Good Health, you have seen that I highly promote whole nutrient-dense foods for everyone. This not only aids in reducing the stress hormone but also helps in all areas of your health.

Herbal teas and dark chocolate (greater than 70 percent cacao) will also help reduce cortisol levels.

Drink pure filtered water (half of your body weight in ounces) daily as dehydration increases cortisol. Caffeine in large amounts can increase cortisol.

If you are feeling anxious or get jittery after coffee or other caffeinated beverages, you may need to cut back or eliminate the caffeine in your diet. Too much caffeine can also play a role in poor sleep.

Sugar is abundant in processed food-like products that many consume on a daily basis. Sugar in foods and drink cause us to crave even more, creating negative health issues.

Disease begins in gut

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said all disease begins in the gut. By providing your gut with prebiotics and probiotics, you will be connecting the mind and gut in taking care of your body.

Prebiotics consist of asparagus, bananas, leeks, onions, and apples. Probiotics consist of kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and fermented sauerkraut.

Balancing your body through lifestyle changes is another way to lower cortisol levels.

Sleep, between 7 to 9 hours of restfulness nightly, improves cortisol levels and your overall health.

Physical movement consisting of a minimum of 30 minutes most days of the week is necessary not only for decreasing cortisol levels but helping create stronger bones, building muscle, and so much more.

Many studies show that being lonely and isolated create similar negative effects as does smoking. It is very important to maintain positive relationships and spend time with those folks that bring you joy and happiness. Relaxation comes in many forms from hobbies, massage, yoga, music and deep breathing, all lowering cortisol.

Be mindful in reducing stressful thoughts and worry. A friend many years ago sent me a poem that I’d like to share here:

“Don’t dwell over the past, for it is gone

Don’t look into the future, for it has not yet come

Live for today and make it worth remembering”

The stress hormone cortisol has many negative effects on your body, and fortunately there are many natural ways to reduce cortisol levels.  Whole nutrient-dense foods, reduced caffeine and sugar, proper hydration, prebiotics and probiotics and dark chocolate followed by lifestyle changes including proper sleep, exercise, mindfulness, relaxation and socialization all provide profound healing of body, mind and soul.

• Deborah Dittner is a family nurse practitioner and health consultant. Her mission is to transform as many individuals as possible through nutrition and lifestyle changes. For more information, check out her website at www.debdittner.com or contact her at 518-596-8565.

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