HPA Axis and Cortisol - Part 2
More on the HPA axis and cortisol...
If you can understand how your body works, you can learn to work with it instead of against it.
Last week, we talked about Jack. If Jack wants to avoid the problems caused by an overactive HPA axis, he must start with what triggers the feedback loop in the first place: stress.
It isn’t an option for Jack to sell the business he worked so hard to acquire. Even if he did, he’d still have to deal with the stressors of modern life- finding new work, paying bills, handling family life, driving at speeds of 60mph on a daily basis, and anything else that comes up.
Eliminating stress is not possible and in short bursts, it’s not even harmful. It is the chronic, constant stress that slowly erodes our body functions and mental well-being.
Jack understands it is not the elimination of stressful situations, but how he deals with them that matters. He begins to implement the following lifestyle hacks to counteract the effects of cortisol and minimize the stress he feels from work and life:
- Practice good sleep habits. Studies show a clear connection between sleep and cortisol levels. Not getting enough quality sleep affects you in all aspects of your health and being groggy during the day can cause more stressful situations to occur. Aim for 7-8 hours with little disruptions. Going to bed at the same time each night helps regulate the chronobiome and cortisol levels.
- Exercise. A recent study had young participants perform moderate aerobic exercise three times a week and tested their cortisol levels via saliva. Interestingly, the study found that exercise increased cortisol levels initially following the workout to deal with the stress, but over a course of four weeks, their overall cortisol levels decreased. Many people report being exercise being beneficial for their mental state, helping them make more clear decisions and better able to regulate their emotions.
- Practice meditation or mindfulness. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many large-scale studies on the effects of mindfulness (focusing on being in the moment and doing things intentionally instead of letting your mind race on autopilot) on the HPA axis.
Recently researchers did use a mediation retreat to test subjects’ cortisol levels before and after meditation as well as before and after the retreat as a whole. They did find that cortisol levels were decreased, but without another control group, the results are not unquestionable. However, it makes sense that quieting the mind and focusing on the moment would create less stress, and as a result, lower cortisol levels.
Jack strives to focus on one task at a time and notice when his mind begins to worry about things he can’t control or things that happened in the past. Our bodies don’t understand the difference between a perceived threat and a real one and secrete cortisol either way.
- Have fun. Jack’s business is important to him, but he understands that a balance must be struck if he’s to live a long and healthy life. He begins to make time for things he enjoys and doesn’t stress him out. He goes fishing on the weekends and hangs out with his family. If he finds himself feeling stressed at work, he makes a conscious attempt to put on music that makes him happy or make a joke about the situation to lessen the tension.
If your mind perceiving stressful situations is what stimulates the HPA axis, then by changing the way you feel about the situation can help dramatically. Viewing obstacles as challenges, shifting your thoughts to ones of gratitude, and laughing all help to naturally lower cortisol levels. So turn stressful things into fun things.
But before I let you go, learn more ways to manage stress and add to your longevity right here in my book!
To your longevity,
Anil Bajnath MD
CEO/Founder, Institute for Human Optimization
Chief Medical Advisor, Longevity Insider HQ
* Today's content was provided by the Institute for Human Optimization (www.ifho.org).