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Cortisol vs. Anxiety

Understand How Managing Your Cortisol Levels Can Directly Improve Your Anxiety

 

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone released by your body’s adrenal gland. Cortisol is often referred to as your “stress hormone”, as it plays a key role in your body’s reaction to stress. Think of cortisol as your built-in alarm system. It works with the main parts of your brain to control, mood, fear, and motivation. Cortisol plays a major role in other functions of your body including:

-regulating digestion

-keeping inflammation down

-helping to boost energy levels

-regulating blood pressure

Your body will produce cortisol daily to help with these different functions in your body. When your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down other bodily functions that may get in the way. Your body then naturally goes into a relaxation response. However, when you are experiencing prolonged stress, it can cause cortisol to be continually produced as if you were still in that stressful moment with no relaxation response.

What Does This Mean For You?

You may already know that long term stress can also aid in physical health issues. Cortisol production may be directly involved in these physical reactions. When you experience high levels of stress, over an extended period of time, your body is at a higher risk for; high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, weight gain, sleep deprivation, insulin resistance, decreased energy, heart disease, and poor memory. In addition to these health concerns, when you experience long-term stress it can also lead to adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue will result in your cortisol levels being too low and can have side effects such as hair loss, memory loss, body aches, lightheadedness, or weight loss.

You can understand why it is so important to provide yourself with the necessary self-care to aid your body and mind in balancing this hormone. By practicing some of these self-care practices you can keep your cortisol levels balanced and maintain lower levels of anxiety.

To stay healthy try some of these self-care practices:

1. Practice Mindful Breathing Techniques

By teaching yourself these techniques you can apply them when faced with a stressful situation to regain control and keep your mind and body in a calm state

2. Write In A Journal

The simple act of letting off steam will lead to reduced cortisol. Journaling is an effective way to relieve stress without interacting with others

3. Spend Time Outside

Try to spend 20-minutes outside every day. Feel the sunshine, listen to nature’s sounds and be present in the moment.

4. Maintain Healthy Relationships

Family can be a source of great happiness but also stress. Spend time with those you love and learn to forgive and manage conflict with others.

5. Tend to Your Own Happiness

Spend time doing something that YOU love. Make time for your hobby, a nap, a spa day, or just a walk outside. It is important to take care of YOU.

Through The Lens of A Trauma Therapist

Written by, Andrea Gaspar Gonzalez, Psy.D

 

Trauma is felt in the body in many ways. This month’s newsletter focuses on cortisol: what it is and what to do to manage it. One role cortisol plays in trauma is to strengthen memories of frightening experiences and these memories can cause stress long after the event has passed, as we see in PTSD and other trauma-induced responses.

As a trauma therapist, I cannot help but look at this past month and the last four years through a trauma lens. No matter your political stance, we have all been through a collective trauma. The past four years have impacted the body collective through policies targeted against people of vulnerable identities and created fear over what those policies might mean for friends and families. During the past year alone, we have sat through the unpredictable times of a pandemic, the trauma of isolation, economic loss, instability, and nearly 450,000 dead in the US alone, 2.24 million deaths worldwide.

In the midst of a pandemic, we watched as our country was forced to confront our history of systemic racism, with the murder of George Floyd bringing the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of our nation’s consciousness without the usual distractions of daily life providing a filter to the pain experienced by the Black community.

We went through a contentious national election and waited to see what would happen to our democracy. And then we watched an insurrection at our own Capitol. Perhaps the largest stressor of all is the deep divide that polarized the country during a time when we already felt isolated and unable to connect.

We all share in these collective traumas, though how we experience them is very different depending on our circumstances. How our bodies react to and release from trauma is as individual as the experience of the trauma itself. The transition to a new administration often provides the opportunity to reflect on our memories of the past four years, and can psychologically symbolize a bookend to a traumatic period of time. For some, it may be an experience of relief. For others, new or remembered stress may emerge. Even reading this brief overview of what we’ve been through the past four years may have stirred a variety of emotions.

In naming our traumas, we call forth our memories rather than having them come unbidden or stumble upon them in shock, which raises our stress response even higher. By actively remembering, we can be better prepared to deal with the reaction from our bodies as we work through these experiences and begin the difficult but important work of healing, both personally and collectively.

Photo for Institute (1) 

Dr. Andrea Gaspar Gonzalez is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at 360º Wellness & Coaching. She is experienced in providing psychodiagnostic and therapeutic assessments, as well as engaging with clients in both brief and long-term individual and group therapy. 

 

To schedule an appointment, email us at contactus@360wc.com

 

Goodbye 2020!

Wow, I have been waiting to say that for quite some time! I think we can all agree 2021 is the perfect time for a RESTART. Every new year brings resolutions but how can fully commit ourselves to these resolutions?

 

Set daily goals (not annual)

Goals have to be manageable in order to be repeatable. Instead of saying, “I’ll eat healthy this year”, try “I will eat whole foods today.”

Make it a Habit

In order for a new behavior to stick we need it to become a habit. This is accomplished through repetition. So go do it, then do it again and again!

Be your own cheerleader

Find the positive in even the small victories. We may not see physical change every day. It is important to recognize the strides you are making daily to better yourself.

 

Take a different approach this year…

This year use behavioral science to craft resolutions that will actually work

 

1. Start SMALL because, in the end, those are the HARDEST steps

“Eating Healthy” is HARD. “Getting in Shape” is HARD. Starting with such a large goal is most likely why your resolutions have failed in the past. In order to succeed with your resolutions, it needs to become a habit. A habit is formed by repetition. So start with something like, “walk for 20 minutes every day after dinner”, “practice yoga for 30-minutes every morning.” This zones in on the specific action you want to take instead of a broad goal.

2. Focus on what you WANT to do instead of what you don’t want

We often set resolutions like, “I won’t go on social media during our family time” or “I won’t eat out every weekend.” This year, you can keep that same resolution but re-phrase it. Try, “I am going to keep my phone on silent while I have family time and check it after the kids go to bed” or “I will plan a fun family night dinner for Friday nights”. The point of changing the language is to turn it from something our brain would view as “negative” to more of a positive affirmation.

3.  Enforce the new habit by using visual cues

Why do you think you think about stopping at Mcdonalds so often? Could it be it’s because you drive past several on your way to and from work every day? With seeing it several times a day, you are going to think about it, and more than you’d like to admit stop and grab the drive-thru. This same situation could be switched around to enforce a positive habit. Let’s say you make the goal to go for a walk every day. You can create visual cues by leaving your gym shoes out by the door. Write a note to leave on the fridge so you see it every day. If you have a dog, place their leash next to your car keys. Simple things like this will keep you thinking about it and help the action become a habit.

Podcasts to Keep Your Goals on Track

The Science of Happiness 

Learn research-tested strategies for a happier, more meaningful life, drawing on the science of compassion, gratitude, mindfulness, and awe.

https://apple.co/3n91eI1

10% Happier

Mental traits such as happiness, calm, generosity, compassion, and connection are not hardwired, unalterable factory settings; they are, in fact, skills that can be trained. On this show, you’ll learn how.”

https://apple.co/37ZyM6K

Get Sleepy 

Relax and fall asleep with Get Sleepy’s unique combination of sleep meditation, followed by a calming story that lets you drift off to a peaceful slumber.”

https://apple.co/34SwzrW

 

Holiday Stress: How to Cope

Your Mental Health Guide For This Holiday Season

 

The holiday season often has two pesky guests who tag along with it each year; stress & depression. It’s easy to understand why; from the cooking, baking, shopping, and entertaining, there is no shortage of running around. Now, this year you have to add in the stress and concern of Covid-19.

Your holiday plans may look pretty different this year; however, this does not have to mean extra stress. By taking hold of your mental health before the holidays begin, you can keep stress to a minimum and actually enjoy your holiday season.

We put together a mental health guide to put things in perspective and give you the confidence to kick those pesky, unwanted guests out of your holiday festivities.

Tips to Manage Your Well-being

 

1. Don’t Quit on Your Healthy Habits

You have worked hard to create a new routine and create healthy habits, this is not the time to become lax. Investing in your well-being will allow you to be more present, engaged, energized, helpful, and healthy.

2. Communicate Your Boundaries

It seems difficult imagining the conversation where we have to tell loved ones we are not ready to attend the big gathering or even comfortable with hugging. However, it is important to not let this awkwardness hinder you from having these conversations. It is important to verbalize your boundaries or others cannot be aware of what they are. It’s best to be proactive than to be stuck with damage control once the damage is already done.

3. The Present Is A Present

During the holidays we tend to reflect on the past year, with this year especially, it can bring back a lot of negative memories and emotions. These thoughts can also lead us to stress about the future. Remind yourself, we cannot change the past or predict the future. Instead, focus on embracing the present. View the present moment as a present. Be intentional about creating spaces where you can be in-the-moment, free from all that has happened and the unknown of what is to come.

4. Keep It Simple

A key step in managing your stress is to know your symptoms in order to intervene sooner rather than later. Being aware of your stressors empowers you to set your limits. Don’t over complicate things or bite off more than you can chew. Limit your choices and maintain healthy boundaries with yourself & others.

 

The Holidays and Diet Talk

 

As the holidays are now here, I can’t help but think about ways to keep taking care of ourselves. Being gentle, compassionate, patient, and kind are certainly ways we have all mustered through these last 10 thousand months. To continue this trend, let’s dedicate ourselves to no diet talk over the holidays, and maybe ever if you’re up for it! Let’s discuss why…

First…These conversations can be stressful and even triggering for individuals who struggle with body image and disordered eating. Anxiety, which is already at an all-time high for most of us due to the pandemic, can spike during these conversations. When anxiety, fear, guilt, and shame ever enter the picture vulnerability is at the front door. When we are vulnerable is when the diet and exercise industry sucks us in…so beware.

Second…We know that diets don’t work anyway. The answer to a toiled relationship with food is not in restricting oneself or believing we just don’t have enough willpower. Healing one’s relationship with food starts with kicking out shame and welcoming in self-compassion. Thank you, Kristin Neff. So, save those precious dollars from the weight-watchers powers that be and invest your time in seeking out knowledge from the anti-diet world. (see resources below)

Third…Haven’t we endured enough emotional, mental, and even physical pain this year without salting the open wound with diet talk? Since when did your body deserve so much verbal abuse? Let’s swap that with gratitude for our body and mind for bringing us this far in our journey. Saying gratitude statements for each body part can diffuse the emotional response you may automatically hold towards it.

Finally..Unsubscribe from the media and social influencers that make you feel just plain crappy about yourself. A social media cleanse may be exactly what the therapist ordered.

-Leigh Rzepecki, LCSW, CADC

 

Regain Control of Your Childs Tantrums

First, Understand the Why

Tantrums begin anywhere from 12-15 months and peak from 18-36 months. At this age, children do not yet have the motor, physical, or language skills to get what they want, which leads to frustration.

Meltdowns are a complicated physiological response related to the brain’s threat detection system. Mid-freakout, it’s helpful for parents to understand what’s going on beneath the surface, then to mitigate the “threat” by establishing a sense of safety.

Your child’s tantrum may be an expression of hunger, fatigue, sickness, or simply frustration at not getting their way. Sometimes the root cause of a tantrum is easily identified and addressed, while other times, there seems to be no root cause except pure frustration.

Next, Manage Your Emotions

Before you begin to engage with your upset child, grab hold of your own emotions. Studies have shown, not only will children mimic your emotions but they can also feel how you feel. It is important to enter the situation calmly and level-headed. If the child is in a safe space, it is perfectly OK to step away to take some deep breathes or vent to a partner before helping your child through their tantrum.

Third, Manage Your Child’s Emotions

Just as every child is different, every tantrum is different too. No single method will work every time. It is important to learn several techniques to keep hidden away in your tool belt.

According to Dr. Rosanbalm, a research scientist at the Duke Center; “In the calm-down process, focus more on your actions rather than your words: Your child can mirror your emotions just by looking at your nonverbal communication, like your body posture, vocal tone, and facial expressions.”

During the tantrum, attempt to crouch down and make eye contact to show you are engaged and listening to what has your child upset. Depending on your child, you can attempt to offer physical touch like a hug or rub on the back.

You can also offer self-soothing activities that offer calming sensory inputs. Try to offer some play-doh to push out their frustrations or some deep breathing exercises. In order to make these techniques most effective, it is important to introduce them beforehand. By introducing them before the tantrum, they will be more comfortable with the technique and can use it to manage the tantrum on their own.

Lastly, Validate Their Emotions, Show Love, and Move Forward

After the tantrum has ended, put it behind you. Instead of punishment, which can leave your child feeling shame, practice techniques that validate their emotions.

One way to do this would be to sit down and create a story about what happened and how it made him/her feel. Then, remind your child that you are there for them and end it with a big hug.

 

For more information on this topic, try these sources:

The Science Behind Your Child’s Tantrums

 

Remaining Mindful This Holiday Season

Tips on Keeping The Peace and Calm in This Covid Holiday Season

With the holidays fast approaching, many are apprehensive about how they will celebrate this year. It’s not only about the concern of the pandemic, but what lingers from the effects of it—some are struggling financially and are maybe facing unemployment or illness.

Trying to find a balance between keeping you and your family safe and healthy, while still participating in holiday festivities and traditions, can be overwhelming and stressful. However, we can manage that stress with several approaches.

Affirmations

With there being such a high level of uncertainty, we can easily lose control of our thoughts. One of the ways we can regain that control is by practicing affirmations each day. Find an affirmation that you find fitting and practice it. Say it to yourself, each morning when you wake up when you begin to feel overwhelmed, and before you fall asleep.

Try one of these affirmations today:

“My happiness is one the greatest gifts I can give”.

“I will conquer all negative feelings.”

“I can only be the best version of me.”

Want to explore 24 other examples of positive affirmations? Click here for a great resource.

Mindfulness

The trap many of us fall into, is not foreshadowing the situation ahead. Most of us can admit to waiting until we hit our breaking point and then are left feeling like we are trapped at the bottom of a well.

This year, let’s try to take a more mindful approach. Educating yourself on techniques can build your confidence heading into the season and once situations arise.

“Mindfulness encompasses awareness and acceptance, which can help people understand and cope with uncomfortable emotions, allowing them to gain control and relief.”  -Psychology Today

 

1. Accept Imperfection

As we make our plans for the holiday season, we create an image in our minds and often set the bar impossibly high. We are often left feeling disappointed when celebrations don’t live up to these self-created images. Before you even begin thinking of your plans, first acknowledge the fact that things will most likely not go as planned. If this year has taught us anything, it should be there is no rule book and most actions are out of our control. So remind yourself, it’s OK if it is not the perfect picture you had painted in your head. Imperfection is healthy and normal!

2. Open Yourself To Accept Your Emotions

Holidays can carry a lot of emotional force with them; not all of them being celebratory or happy. In addition to those emotions, this year you may also be having feelings of guilt or loneliness when trying to plan holiday gatherings, as well as a constant concern for your family’s health. The most important thing to do when these emotions arise would be to allow yourself to make space to acknowledge your feelings instead of trying to get rid of them.

3. Let Go Of Judgement And Practice Kindness

Whether you choose to spend the holidays with or away from your family this season, conflicts will arise. Recognizing and then making a personal choice on how and with whom you feel comfortable celebrating your holidays. It’s important to feel comfortable with your values and remind yourself you can make the choices that feel right for you and your circumstances. You can’t change how others act but you can change how you respond and the effect it has on you.

Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a break-down. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.

Motivation

With the end of the school year quickly approaching, motivation just as quickly disappears. However, with report card season right before Thanksgiving break, it is important to help keep your kids focused and motivated.

We wanted to share an exercise perfect for both you and your children. It is called Morning Power Hour.

Each morning set aside 60 minutes to center in and focus on the day.

                                Here’s how it works: 

-Pick one activity from each of the categories listed below

-Perform each activity for 20 minutes

             Movement                                                              Self-Developmental                                                    Inward Thinking

  • Walking/Running                                                             Reading                                                                                  Journal
  • Yoga                                                                                    Listen to A Podcast                                                              Meditate
  • Bodyweight- Exercises                                                     Watch a YouTube Video                                                    Plan out 6 things to                                                                                                                                                                                                          accomplish today