April is Stress Awareness Month, and part of awareness should be understanding that chronic stress does not have to be inevitable! To celebrate Stress Awareness Day this Saturday, see how you can boost your happiness hormones, not your cortisol levels!
We all seem to know that stress is bad for us. We also seem to be constantly bombarded with messages about how we as a society are too stressed, worried and anxious, and that it is quite actually killing us. We know that stress can lead to anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, weight gain, sleep disorders and digestive problems. We stress over the sheer number of negative health affects that our stressful lifestyles lead to, and it is an endless cycle.
This Saturday is Stress Awareness Day, part of the month dedicated to spreading awareness. It is an opportunity to understand that stress is not an inevitable outcome of a busy lifestyle or contemporary society, but actually an evolutionary response by your body that you can come to have some control over!
The Stress Hormones: Cortisol
The first thing to note is that the list of health risks to the body due to stress is a result of chronic, rather than acute, stress. The Centre for Studies on Human Stress notes that acute stress results from “specific events or situations that involve novelty, unpredictability, a threat to the ego, and leave us with a poor sense of control — N.U.T.S.” They go further to explain that this type of stress is actually beneficial, as your body releases hormones for a ‘fight or flight’ response that help your mind and body cope for survival.
Chronic stress works differently. The CSHS states it results “from repeated exposure to situations that lead to the release of stress hormones” in a way that many scientists consider our bodies not designed for. It is chronic stress and subsequent cortisol production from ongoing financial burden, work-related struggle, or a strenuous relationship for instance, that has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes type II, depression and so forth.
When a stressor prompts your adrenal glands to release stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol are two chemicals released. Adrenaline boosts heart rate and blood pressure, while cortisol increases sugars in the bloodstream that keep your brain alert and aware. Cortisol also reduces your body’s ‘nonessential functions’ including immune response and the digestive process so your body can focus on the stress at hand. This is where adaptogenic herbs can be beneficial: they support your adrenal glands to prevent adrenal fatigue, and help stop your body reacting chronically to stress.
The Happy Chemicals
This process is actually good news. It means we don’t have to find a way to prevent stressful situations from occurring. It is important however that we find a way to reduce the number of ongoing burdens and find a way to cope with those that we cannot remove entirely. For instance, we might not be able to avoid our financial worries or our high stress job, but we can find ways to reduce the tension it brings. One way of doing this is by boosting the happy hormones!
Just like with stress and cortisol, certain positive lifestyle choices and experiences that we have can release chemicals — but this time, for feelings of wellbeing rather than distress! Dopamine, for instance, is one of the most commonly known positive neurochemicals. It is released in relation to the happiness we feel when we achieve our goals, or more accurately when we’re successfully acting to achieve our goals. It is the happiness of motivation, of working towards the things you want and need and feeling capable of reaching those goals.
Serotonin is recognized as the mood booster, and often results from feelings of significance and importance. Interestingly, 80 percent of serotonin exists in the gut. Scientists are increasingly looking into in the gut-brain axis, which considers how microbes impact mood and brain function.
Oxytocin is known as the love hormone. It’s why just a touch or a hug can boost a sense of intimacy and trust in a relationship, and spending time with loved ones and being kind to others can boost happiness.
Endorphins are a fascinating group of happy chemicals because they are actually stimulated by pain and stress in order to help the body cope with and reduce our perception of pain. However, you don’t need the stress to feel the endorphins! Laughter, exercise, and aromatherapy have all been linked to their production.
Celebrate Stress Awareness Day with Us
In honor of Stress Awareness Day, we wanted to share a few of the things we do at HUM to boost our happy, lower our cortisol, and cope with stress.
Chris, Co-Founder, meets his trainer
“I have a personal training session once a week with Bojan, a top trainer originally from Serbia. We do weights, lunges, push-ups and then stretching at the end. I feel totally de-stressed at the end—a great feeling!”
Walter, Co-Founder, gets outdoors
“I would say skiing: You’re outdoors in the fresh air, move all day, and connect with nature. To me it’s almost like a combination of meditation and exercise. Sadly, I can’t do it every day.”
Athena, Head of Education, has a creative outlet
“One of my favorite creative outlets is using aromatherapy. I make oil sprays and use oil diffusers with my favorite essential oils. I also love buying seasonal flowers for my house, going on a walk with good friends in nature, or coloring while watching my favorite Netflix show, currently The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!”
Julie, Community Manager, plays with pups
“This is oddly specific but whenever I see a happy animal my mood is instantly lifted. Researchers have actually looked into this as well and found that petting your dog can boost the happiness hormones serotonin and oxytocin. I unfortunately can’t have a pet right now, but heard about a university in the UK that brings in piglets for petting during exam week and just the idea of it makes me insanely excited. Also, a dog cafe just opened up in LA where you can play with adoptable puppies while grabbing a coffee. I’m so signed up!”