Stress is a killer, we all know this.

It diminishes the quality of life. It adds a big dark custom-made cloud that follows us around, dampens our joy and make us feel like we need to escape from the very lives we have created for ourselves. And yes, we HAVE created this experience for ourselves and it can leave us feeling paralyzed. When we’ve taken on too much or we seem to attract one crisis after another, we can start to feel trapped. Sometimes we turn to unhealthy habits to cope: Drinking, smoking, drugs, or food. These little escapes, though they feel uplifting in the moment, actually create more stress hormones in the body, never mind the hangover. But this is life, right?

Many of us simply have complicated lives. There are mortgages, car payments, kids tuitions, credit card bills, alimony, child support, and so on. Even when we don’t have children and spouses, life can feel stressful.

How does one manage that stress?

All these factors affect the brain – the incredible gray matter that sits atop our spine, the multi-functional organ that controls not only our conscious and unconscious actions, but also our experience of ourselves and the world around us. Our perceptions are often born of chemical reactions, fluctuating hormones and the levels of neurotransmitters bopping around our brains…..all responding to stimulation seen and unseen.

There are ways to manage stress, of course, and brain function.

THE TWO EASIEST WAYS TO FEEL BETTER ARE EXERCISE and MEDITATION.

No!  Reaching for a cup of coffee and/or a sugary snack are, sadly, not the best ways to feel better. These indulgences will help for a moment or two, they will sate that feeling of depletion for a few hours, but in the long run they will only add to your stresses because sugar and caffeine boost the adrenal and cortisol levels in your body.

What is cortisol anyway? Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands and is needed for high stress situations like being chased by an animal or human that is threatening your well-being or life. This hormone helps refocus the resources of the body to allow heightened metabolic responses. Cortisol is necessary for survival, but is only useful in spurts. If it continues to be produced at high levels in the body – and chronic stress can cause this to happen – it has very adverse effects: it weakens the immune system, can cause high blood pressure, insomnia, and weight gain. It also increases the likelihood of depression, anxiety and mood swings.

Meditation is one way to alter your brain and help quiet the production of stress related triggers. Meditation, even 10 minutes a day, can have a profound effect on you simply by letting your mind and body rest, deeply. The benefits of such a practice can be measured scientifically. Deep, conscious rest decreased your body’s stress hormones (like cortisol), lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and increases the activity of the brain waves that induce relaxation.  It can even help decrease the occurrence of migraines.

And all this with only ten minutes a day. Try it….your body and mind will thank you.

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 By Jessica Olson