We have all heard of the ‘stress’ hormone, cortisol. It is necessary for certain functions in the body. But, when too much is produced, the cortisol must be rerouted to other places in the body. When this happens, the effects can be harmful. The United States has been seeing significant increases in obesity, diabetes Type 2, and heart disease. Could cortisol be the link? And are we fighting a losing battle?
The Recent Trends
Americans are busier than ever. Our schedules are not only full with appointments and events, but Americans are working more. The productivity of the American worker has increased 400% since 1950, according to the U.S, Bureau of Labor. And here in the U.S., over 85% of males work more than 40 hours per week and over 65% of females do. Also, Americans are working more, on average, than most other countries.
One of the reasons productivity has been able to increase in certain areas, is technology and its advancement. While the technology has been introduced to make our lives easier, there is usually a substantial amount of time that is spent learning the technology. Even our car manuals are larger today because of all the technology included. This technology has also aided in Americans bringing work home, with email, smart phones, and laptops. So while technology is helping in some facets, our time with technology and the devices has increased.
What Can Help?
Our schedules more than likely will remain busy and the stress will continue. But there are some things that can be done so cortisol can be at safer levels. The first suggestion is to relax. But how do you relax if you’re stressed? It’s difficult, so here are some suggestions. Deep breathing showed a 50% decrease of cortisol in a study for women. It’s easy to say ‘relax’ but what does that mean to that stressed individual? The deep breathing helps in that it makes relaxing a physical activity, rather than a concept of the mind. Another help is listening to music. The study of male and female college students showed 30 minutes of listening to music relaxes more than 30 minutes of silence.
And in the age of stressful schedules, it is helpful to maintain healthy relationships. These healthy relationships can be a great source of happiness to counter that stress. And the relationships don’t only mean humans. Some people showed contact with a dog was more beneficial in decreasing cortisol, than interaction with a human friend. And more importantly, healthy relationships also includes with ourselves. Shame, guilt, and negative thinking about ourselves raises cortisol levels. These levels were decreased 23% after a group learned when to identify such habits and rather learned coping mechanisms.