Cortisol – The stress hormone
Cortisol is a stress hormone, produced by the adrenal glands. Thanks to cortisol, we are able to respond to a stressful situation.
What if the stress hormone keeps working even when the danger has passed?
A definite bad sign. Too much cortisol in our body can cause a large number of health problems and a lot of stress. Lucky for us, recent studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can help control cortisol levels in our bodies.
How is cortisol level maintained in our body?
The hypothalamus in the brain, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal gland are responsible for controlling the cortisol level in the body. When the cortisol level is low, the hypothalamus releases a hormone called corticotrophin-releasing hormone, which causes the pituitary gland to secrete another hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone. This hormone is detected by the adrenal glands which in turn secretes cortisol in the bloodstream.
Cortisol helps in:
- Controlling blood sugar level
- Reducing inflammation
- Regulating high blood pressure
- Assisting memory formulation
Too much cortisol in blood- what does it mean?
The cortisol is popularly known to trigger our “flight or fight” response. What if this mode is always on? Well, here’s what it does to your body:
- Anxiety and depression (Also read: How to deal with an anxiety attack)
- Disturbed sleep
- Heart diseases
- Weight gain
- Problem related to digestion
Too much level of cortisol can lead to a condition called Cushing Syndrome.
Let us now try to understand what is mindfulness meditation and how can it help us to control the level of cortisol in the bloodstream.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
As the word suggests, it is a combination of two practices: mindfulness and meditation.
It’s a mental training practice wherein we have to let go of all negativities and fully focus on “the now”. Mostly it involves deep breathing and an acute awareness of body and mind.
You don’t need anything to practice mindfulness meditation. Just a comfortable place, few moments from your busy schedule, and an open mind: that’s all you’ll need.
Benefits of mindfulness meditation:
There are numerous benefits to name a few,
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Lowers the heart rate
- Improves immunity
- Improves sleep cycle
Mindfulness meditation and cortisol:
A high level of cortisol in the body indicates a high level of stress. Cortisol if released for a longer period of time can cause adverse effects on our body, as we already know.
Medication is always a way to treat what is wrong. But what if we can, on our levels, do something to accelerate the process of getting better?
Studies have shown that practicing meditation can help to reduce the level of cortisol in the body.
A study conducted in 2013 (subjects consisted of 66.77% female and 33.33% male) showed that cortisol level was less after performing mindfulness meditation. The conclusion stated:
“Mindfulness meditation lowers the cortisol levels in the blood suggesting that it can lower stress and may decrease the risk of diseases that arise from stress such as psychiatric disorder, peptic ulcer, and migraine. Then, mindfulness meditation should be used in combination with standard treatment.”
More recently, research done by The Shamatha Project at the University of California, Davis suggested that focussing on our present helped in lowering the cortisol level. They noted that higher mindfulness resulted in lower cortisol levels.
How to practice mindfulness meditation?
How to Practice Mindful Meditation
- First thing first, find a peaceful spot for yourself.
- Sit comfortably.
- Place your hands over your legs and arms at your sides.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe in and breathe out. Let it happen naturally, don’t try to control it.
- Just focus on the present. Thoughts will come and go. Don’t suppress them, let them flow freely.
- Say no to distraction! Focus on your breathing.
- 10 to 20 minutes every day will give the best results.
Find your quiet spot!
Stress and anxiety have become a part of the modern world. The constant anxiety and stress take a big toll on our mental as well as physical health. In order to maintain a proper equilibrium between the mind and the body, it’s important to keep the “over-enthusiastic” stress hormone under control.
Mindfulness meditation, not only will help in reducing the cortisol level but will also provide much-needed peace. As soon as you are done reading this – go find yourself a quiet spot, start meditation and bring your cortisol level down!
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