Cortisol levels rise naturally whenever we eat, mainly to aid in the breakdown of proteins, carbs, and fats so our bodies can use them .
But the stress hormone also regulates inflammation, which can be caused by processed foods containing high levels of saturated and trans fat, sugar, or chemical additives, Dudash says. From fast food to deceptively unhealthy meal replacement bars, frozen meals, and candy, chronically consuming processed foods cranks cortisol—which is good at some levels—to unhealthy heights in the body, she adds. Over time, this can cause blood sugar imbalances, weight gain, digestive issues, immune system suppression, and even heart disease .
This is yet another reason to eat whole foods. (Dudash encourages ones that aren’t found in packages.) When you do purchase something with a label, check the ingredients to be sure there are no partially hydrogenated oils (a.k.a. trans fats), and try to keep fast food to a minimum, she recommends.
Even better: Stock up on foods that buffer sensitivity to stress. Walnuts, almonds, and pecans facilitate synthesis of the feel-good hormone serotonin, while omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and anxiety, so don’t forget to have some fish.
Here’s a reason to start telecommuting: Lengthy daily drives to work topping 10 miles each way may increase the risk for anxiety and depression, and no wonder since the more time we spend in transit, the higher our cortisol levels have been shown to creep .
It doesn’t matter if you drive or ride: A survey of more than 21,000 people aged 18 to 65 pegged longer commutes by all modes of transportation, public and private alike, to more health problems, higher fatigue, exhaustion, and even insomnia .
Consider commuting the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. This doesn’t mean doing breathing exercises when a fellow commuter’s armpit hovers over your face. “It simply means looking around at the other people, listening, and taking note of the sights, smells, and sounds,” Winston explains. Even if they’re abrasive.
From car horns to wailing sirens to shrieking babies to that coworker who won’t stop rhythmically clearing his throat (ah-ah-hem!), intrusive noises of all types can kick-start the body’s cortisol response, elevate stress and anxiety levels, and possibly raise the risk of cardiovascular disease—especially if they’re unpredictable or interrupt our concentration . The less control we feel we have over these aural interruptions, the worse they make us feel.
You don’t have to put up with that. Noisy neighbors and cacophonies from the street can be mitigated by carpets, rugs, and curtains that absorb sounds rather than reflect them like hardwood floors and bare walls do. The larger and heavier the textile, the better. (Apparently tufted carpets are best.) If that’s not enough, maybe try some earplugs…
Opening Your Inbox
Science says it’s the number of times we check our e-mail that skyrockets stress levels, not necessarily the number of emails we have.
No need for FOMO, just cap yourself to a certain number of e-mail checks per day. (Three times is the golden number, according to the study.) If you work in an office where e-mail is the expected means of communication, apply the limits to home.
Moderate exercise is awesome for your health. But because we receive so much positive reinforcement for doing it, many of us fail to realize when we’re, well, overdoing it.
syndrome include difficulty falling asleep, restless sleep, feeling exhausted all day (no matter how much coffee you down), difficulty focusing, and lack of motivation, says exercise physiologist Mike Bracko.
Before you break, do yourself a favor and take a rest day or opt for lighter workouts when you’re feeling frazzled or experience these symptoms.
“Changing the intensity of your workout or opting for less intense, shorter sessions of active rest exercises will help restore the glycogen in muscles that can become depleted from prolonged activity,” Bracko explains. “A few days of this can have amazing effects on a person’s energy.”
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Alcohol stimulates the release of cortisol . And despite its initial sedative effects it can, like caffeine, exacerbate sensitivity to stress . Drinking has also been found to interfere with the critical REM stage of nightly sleep cycles .
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends limiting alcohol intake to one drink a day if you’re a gal or two per day if you’re a guy. (For reference, one drink means 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.) More incentive to stick to the limits: Studies show moderate drinking is linked to lower levels of inflammation and may be linked to lower rates of depression and stress . Or you can always ask for seltzer with a splash of cranberry as a happy hour alternative.
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