Thursday, February 23, 2017

Gratitude and Cortisol WHAT???

What are you talking about Claudia?  What in the world do those two things have to do with each other.

Well, I thought you'd never ask.

You might be saying, "What IS Cortisol?"  According to WikiHow
Cortisol is a stress-induced chemical that is released by the adrenal gland. While some cortisol is beneficial for survival, some people overproduce cortisol. When this happens, you may notice you feel anxious, stressed out and have a tendency to gain weight. It is imperative to take action, once you notice any or all of these symptoms. Reducing the amount of cortisol produced within your body can have a positive effect on your overall health and leave you feeling more relaxed and balanced.

So, in other words, when you are in a stage of fight, flight or fight, you feel the cortisol rushing into your system to "pump you up" and get you ready for the upcoming dangerous situation.   The problem is that it can become addictive.

I've seen it happen in some of my children who have histories of trauma.  They experienced it so much before coming to live with us that they have gotten addicted to that rush and then then they work themselves up to get it.  Raging and running away are two ways to retain a cortisol high.  A less devastating way is extreme sports.  

For those of us who are "emotionally healthy", whatever that means,  can gradually become addicted to cortisol as well.   Our secondary trauma, the number of times that we are emotionally prodded and poked, and the times that we allow ourselves to get dysregulated, lead us to a lot of cortisol pulsating through our brains and bodies.  If we aren't careful we can start to use that "nervous energy" to propel us and become workaholics or exercise more than necessary or eat too much.... the implications are crazy.  It's like being stuck on an emotionally driven high that we can't stop.

So, what does gratitude have to do with it?  It has actually been proven that the feelings that are produced when we are grateful can have a magical effect.  They can reduce heart rate and reduce cortisol levels.

Cortisol isn't good for us.  While it is necessary in extreme situations (life and death for example), pulling large amounts of it into our systems for long periods of time can shorten our life span and make us susceptible to all kinds of physical problems.  (As the graphic above indicates)

One of the keys to regulating cortisol in us and in other people, is to recognize the symptoms.  I know for me it's cold appendages, increased heart rate, and nausea.   When I am under stress and experiencing anxiety and cortisol starts pumping my body responds.  But I have learned that when I feel those things I can go to a spot of gratitude in my mind and it helps me to regulate.

So, I am now instituting #ThankfulThursday.   Every Thursday we are going to list things we are thankful for so that we can remember them and dwell on them when we have an influx of cortisol.

Sounds simplistic, but if you can focus on things you are grateful for for a few minutes, you will feel yourself regulate and can be back to whatever your "normal" within 15- 20 minutes.

Try it.  

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