If you take a look at our wellness culture, it seems we’ve swapped restoration and relaxation for high-intensity and ultramarathons. We work in fast-paced jobs with long hours and intense deadlines. We forgo well-planned, well-rounded meals for prepackaged anything that we can grab on the go. We infuse our yoga with extra strength training and foot-tapping pop music. We try endlessly to pack as much into our days as possible, skipping much-needed sleep (or struggling to wind down when it’s time to catch some shut eye).
But all of this go-go-go, super efficiency isn’t necessarily in service of our bodies. We’re on the treadmill of life—we get up early, go to intense jobs, do intense workouts, go home, try to sleep and then wake up and do it all over again… it’s just stress, stress, stress, piling up. And then we get sick or we can’t get pregnant or we’re exhausted—and we say we have no idea why.
Those discomforts and ailments can be linked to our stress and cortisol levels. When we’re constantly pushing our brains and our bodies, whether it be at work, with our kids, while doing a workout or while trying to man-handle ourselves to sleep, it can trigger a snowball effect internally, ultimately leading to a reduced ability to cope.
When you’re first hustling through the stress (even if it’s “good” stress!), your cortisol levels increase, fueling your muscles and brain with glucose, keeping the inflammation at bay, and making you more agile and able to focus on the tasks at hand. Those high levels of cortisol are secreted by your adrenal gland, which orchestrates your stress response. A piece of that stress response is that your body suppresses other hormones that are not “critical” to the survival of the human race—your thyroid hormone, the hormones that regulate proper ovulation and ovarian function, and the hormones that administer proper secretion of growth hormone and neurotransmitter balance. Hence, why you feel like you can’t deal as time (and stress) goes by—and why your lifestyle might be contributing to your fatigue.
If this sounds like you, never fear. We have a few tips for helping your body destress, reset, and calm down.
1. Swap High-Intensity Training for Restorative Yoga (and Light Strength Training)
When we do high-intensity training and cardio, we continue to put stress on our bodies, and they don’t always react positively: Overtraining lowers our T3 thyroid hormone production, and contributes to our tiredness.
On the flip side, yoga can counteract all of that stress. It decreases the cortisol levels in our bodies, and can help the body recover. But, yoga isn’t always enough: Add in 10 to 15 minutes of strength training, two to three times per week to build bones, increase cognitive function, increase your self-esteem and boost your motivation. Plus, strength training increases your metabolism for 24 to 48 hours after you’re done with your workout. Sounds like the definition of “work smarter, not harder,” right?
2. Incorporate Mindfulness or Meditation Into Your Daily Routine
The goal of mindfulness and meditation is to slow down, to give your body and brain a break. It’s practically the literal opposite of stress—and it can help you reap incredibly restorative benefits. Research has shown that mindfulness has a positive effect on anxiety , depression, and pain. It can also improve sleep.
Mindfulness and meditation aren’t the same as trying to achieve a certain state, like relaxation. Instead, they’re simply about noticing and accepting experiences in the present moment, whether that is an intense emotion, sensations in the body, the rhythm of your breath, or floating thoughts. Together, they help us process tough emotions instead of stuffing them away, and in effect, help reduce our levels of cortisol and provide a calmer state of being.
3. Get Enough Sleep—And Create a Bedtime Routine You Can Stick To
Maintaining a consistent, pre-bed ritual helps trigger your brain to realize it’s time to slow down, and get ready for rest. Starting to wind down at least an hour before you want to fall asleep is ideal. Try a cup of tea or a sleep supplement to give your body the heads up that it’s time to relax. Then, do that ritual every night (yep). It’s the consistency that enhances the brain-body connection and tells your body it can drift into sleep.
This is also the part where we tell you to turn off your screens, be they smartphone, tablet, computer, or TV, at least an hour before bed. Do we need to remind you that the blue light that emanates from screens has been proven to decrease the levels of the sleep hormone melatonin?
4. Eat Enough Calories, Including Your Veggies
In our busy day-to-days, we often skip meals, or reach for the fastest and easiest thing we can scarf down while still in front of our computers (or driving the kids to their next activity). Not eating enough can take your blood sugar on a rollercoaster and lead to symptoms like hunger, shakiness, anxiety, dizziness, sweating, weakness, confusion, and changes in mood. Making sure you’re getting enough calories is key to avoiding not just the 2 p.m. slump, but also increased long-term fatigue.
Why? Because it can impact your sleep. As your blood sugar drops overnight, your liver must release its stored glucose (in the form of glycogen) to keep your blood sugar steady. If you’re constantly under-eating, and especially if you’re overexercising on top of that, your liver won’t have the glycogen stores it needs to keep your blood sugar stable, and your body must release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to promote gluconeogenesis, the process of creating new glucose. If these stress hormones elevate high enough, they can actually wake you up in the middle of the night.
If any of this sounds like you, and you’re wondering how to get back on track, we’re here to support you. Schedule a complimentary 15-minute consult with us to find out how to help reduce your cortisol levels, and start feeling full of energy soon.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.