Stress Management Tips For Healthy Aging
You know that stress reduction is important. No one likes that exhausted, anxious feeling that overwhelms us when the going gets tough. You can just feel your cells aging, your skin wrinkling, and your brain getting duller. Figuring out how to do it can be hard, especially when it seems like everywhere we turn we are hit with a new concern about finances, health, politics, and so on.
The reality is that no matter how bad stress is, it is never going to go away completely.
More realistic is to develop habits that help you cope with high-stress times. In fact, studies of the most successful business executives show that having such skills is what allows them to outperform workers who get bogged down by the never-ending rigors of daily life.
The best way to do this is to identify actions you can build into your daily life that will help lower the stress hormone cortisol while improving your resilience to hair-raising experiences. By making them habits that you do every day, they work for you automatically, without too much thought or willpower.
This is a game-changer because one of the most harmful qualities of chronic stress is that it reduces our ability to make rationale choices. Not only are we more reckless, stress makes us less likely to make choices that are in line with our best interests. Adopting the following five habits as part of your non-negotiable routine will help keep stress at bay.
Habit #1: Practice Proper Sleep Hygiene
You’ve probably heard of the stress hormone cortisol. Normally cortisol follows a circadian rhythm, peaking in the morning right before you wake up and then slowly curving downward over the course of the day like this:
But people who have high stress levels all day long will have an altered curve—they reach the end of their day and their cortisol almost as high as it was in the morning.
High nighttime cortisol makes it hard to relax and is associated with a racing mind. Sleep will be hard to come by, and you’ll be less likely to fall into a deep sleep, meaning you miss out on the most restful and restorative REM sleep. Worst of all, lack of sleep raises cortisol even higher the next day—it’s a vicious cycle.
Adopting a consistent sleep routine can help: Have a set bed and wake time. Sleep in darkness and avoid your phone or other blue-light emitting device in the hour before bed. Put your phone on airplane mode to avoid disruptions overnight. Having a back-up sleep strategy for high-stress times is also important: The supplement melatonin has been shown to help improve sleep quality.
Habit #2: Avoid Skipping Meals
It’s easy to think that you have no time to stop for a meal when you’re in the thick of it. Plus, when you’re stressed, cortisol and the adrenaline hormones are pumping through your body, blunting your appetite. It’s only later that hunger hits with a vengeance.
Eating can reduce the negative effects of stress by resetting your body’s hormonal cascade and improving your biological circadian rhythm. Eating a healthy breakfast is especially important because cortisol is highest in the morning.
Habit #3: Be Careful With Caffeine
There are several cognitive benefits to caffeine and it seems like there is a new study out every day praising the health effects of coffee. However, caffeine can be a curse if you overdo it or are suffering a lot anxiety along with your stress.
Caffeine elevates cortisol, particularly when consumed later in the day. For people who have a racing mind, caffeine raises cortisol levels higher than they would be in the absence of caffeine, exacerbating the response. Another factor is that people who are suffering from hormonal imbalances, such as chronically elevated cortisol, have a reduced ability to metabolize caffeine. Certain genotypes have the same problem.
Habit #4: Practice Deep Breathing or Meditation
Mind-body activities that bring you into the moment and help you connect with what really matters are extremely effective for boosting resilience during stressful times. They are especially important for older individuals because studies show that mind body activities can improve levels of anti-aging hormones such as testosterone, DHEA, growth hormone and melatonin.
In addition, the part of the brain, the hypothalamus, that is involved in releasing stress hormones from the adrenal glands is soothed by meditation and other mind-body activities. The parasympathetic nervous system also relaxes, having a calming effect on the body. For example, something as simple as deep breathing has been shown to help the body clear cortisol after a stressful experience.
Habit #5: Exercise
Pretty much everyone will agree that exercise is a great stress reliever because it allows you to think through problems. In general, it has a beneficial impact on cortisol, lowering it over the long-term so that your experience of stress is improved.
It should be noted that high-volume endurance exercise such as marathon running or triathlons can lead to elevated cortisol, amplifying your daily experience of stress. Most of us don’t need to worry about this, however, you should know that two often-overlooked forms of exercise, strength training and interval exercise, appear to be more effective for improving cortisol levels because they can reset how the brain responds to stress. Interval exercise occurs when you alternate between a vigorous bursts of exercise and active rest (such as increasing the incline on a treadmill for 2 minutes and then returning to a flat surface for 2 minutes).
Final Words: By adopting these habits into your daily routine, you’ll build the resilience you need to overcome challenges when they arise.
Tell me, what habit do you find has the biggest impact on lowering your stress? Contact me here or share your answer in the Facebook comments.
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