Say Goodbye To Stress With These 3 Tips
It’s a hormone that wreaks havoc on your body. It destroys sleep, inhibits fat burning around your belly, stops body repair, impedes the creation of collagen, ratchets up anxiety levels, suppresses your immune system and it can actually lead to your muscles wasting away. And the really bad news? You’ve probably got it coursing through your veins right now.
So, what is this nasty hormone? Cortisol. And trust me, I’ve seen first hand what cortisol can do to the body. Firstly in my study in Oxford getting my Masters in Exercise Rehabilitation then in my everyday life. It took actually being hospitalised before I realised that my go-go-go lifestyle was broken. I’d been pushing my body so hard, one day it upped and pushed back. Collapsing at the gym through exhaustion is embarrassing, collapsing at the gym through exhaustion when you’re the PT is downright pathetic! But it was also a gift. I decided to actually start listening to my body. I stopped pursuing 9% body fat and brutalising my body though relentless hardcore training and started investigating alternative ways to get results.
Fast forward a few years and the method I developed to help women get happy and healthy gained a name: Celebrity Trainer Workouts™ and with it I also gained my first celebrity client. Emma Watson.
But before I reveal some celebrity training secrets, lets get to know Cortisol. It’s a stress hormone made in the adrenal gland that is triggered in the fight-or-flight response. It shuts down the important but non-urgent bodily functions like digestion and the production of growth hormones in order to marshal all your strength and attention to deal with a threat. Getting attacked by a sabre-toothed tiger? Your brain will instinctively flood your body with cortisol, along with its cousin-hormone adrenaline, to generate lightning fast reflexes, super focus and almost supernatural strength. So what’s wrong with that I hear you cry? It sounds like the human body’s version of five Red Bulls and a triple espresso. Isn’t that what we all want? Focus, drive, energy? And super-human strength sounds pretty good too! But here’s the problem. Our body has a love/hate relationship with cortisol.
The flight-or-flight hormone bath is ok if you’re a caveman being attacked by the occasional sabre-toothed tiger, but it’s a real problem in today’s day and age. Cortisol isn’t bad in small doses but today we have almost unprecedented levels of chronic stress. Our threats aren’t tigers but emails, bosses, deadlines, relentless advertising and social media fighting for our attention. And our body is reacting as though we are in fight or flight mode constantly. We’re wrestling with stress-tigers almost 24/7. The result is the feeling of being tired all the time.
Now, we all know that exercise is nature’s stress-buster with its ability to calm our brain and flood our body with feel good endorphins. But if you have elevated levels of cortisol then you do hardcore exercises, you can often do more harm than good. Intense exercise can super-charge the stress hormones instead of dispersing them. When stressed-out, the body adopts a weird kind of siege mentality which means instead of burning fat it actually holds onto it. That’s why we can go to the gym regularly but not be able to shake that belly fat.
So if today’s hyper-kinetic world is stressful and exercise can magnify that stress, what do we do? Well, if moving to an Ashram in India is out of the question…try my simple yet highly effective tips to flush cortisol out of your system and regain some much needed balance.
1. Move tip – If you are stressed, be gentle at the gym
Before you simply launch into a strenuous workout do a quick mental, emotional, physical “stress stocktake”. Decide whether your stress at the moment can handle any more. This isn’t an excuse to be lazy! But we know that working out too hard when stressed can do more harm than good.
Try choosing nourishing movements like a 20-minute body weight circuit, yoga class, Pilates or tai chi class. These activities do not trigger a stress hormone response and actually help switch off existing stress, bring you back to balance.
2. Nourish tip – Eat more alkaline foods
When we have heightened levels of cortisol it reduces the synthesis of collagen which can result in bones that are brittle and skin that is haggard. High levels also wreck havoc on the gastrointestinal tract which is hypersensitive to cortisol, resulting in cramps and digestion problems. Luckily, nature comes to our rescue!
Make sure you eat alkaline foods which decrease inflammation, stress and pain in your body. These include greens, plant proteins and colourful vegetables.
3. Mindset tip: Practice stillness
In this fast-paced world it seems everyone craves some peace and quiet. Be purposeful in carving out time to be truly still. Meditation or taking a breathing space will help you press pause on the inner narrative of negativity.
Find 10 minutes in your day to practice, by finding a chair in a quiet room turn off all your devices and start to become aware of your breathing. You can even place a hand on your abdomen to feel it gently rise and fall with the breath. Become an observer of your thoughts instead of being inside them. Mindfulness meditation involves relaxing the body to help the mind come to rest by itself and to simply allowing it to be. Focus on and repeat a positive affirmation such as “I believe in myself”. Here you can find peace in a frantic world and bring yourself back to enjoying the present moment of life.
Nowadays I train a number of celebrity clients. And apart from the paparazzi, the Hollywood parties and mind-boggling pay checks, they are just like us. Trying to be their best selves in a frenetic and stressful world. I use these three tips to help them not just survive the intense pressure of Show Business but to thrive in it. Hopefully they’ll help you too!