First, a bit of a primer:
Without the aid of medication, my brain would be awash with unnaturally high amounts of cortisol throughout the day.
At proper levels, cortisol serves a number of useful purposes, among other things, regulating metabolism and blood sugar levels. At higher levels it helps induce a fight or flight readiness. And, you can imagine some good reasons why fight or flight would be helpful.
However, people who suffer from chronic stress and/or chronic Anxiety are burdened with high levels of cortisol throughout the day. Most everything becomes a reason to be on high-guard or escape. A person experiencing this can exhibit symptoms of everything from being unable to focus and forgetful, to being nervous and agitated, to outright trembling, heavy breathing, and panic. In fact, you may remember that this blog started with me actually running away from my office cube in a cortisol-filled, panic moment.
And so, I take medication to help regulate the amount of cortisol in my brain (among other things).
Thankfully, you can do many things beyond medication to temporarily stave off or bring down high levels of cortisol: deep breathing exercises, meditation, spending time outdoors/in nature, getting enough sleep, exercise … oh, there are so many things you can do!
I have some good news:
For 14 of the last 15 days I have started off my mornings with 10 minutes of meditation and a few sets of steady, high-repetition exercise. The meditation helps relax my brain and begin a practice of controlled, deep, and calm breathing. The cardio-weights help continue the deep, controlled breathing while fatiguing my muscles that show the earliest physical signs of Anxiety. In addition, exercise also releases endorphins in the brain, which carries two benefits. Endorphins induce positive feelings; they also reduce pain (i.e. one of the manifestations of Anxiety). It’s also worth noting that exercise releases reduces cortisol levels.
I can now feel comfortable reporting that this practice has improved my mornings and reduced the amount of Anxiety I am feeling. This is not to say I haven’t experienced Anxiety during this time. It’s just less likely to be in the morning; when it occurs it often does so for less time; and it is often triggered by some real Anxiety-inducing situation.
p.s.: In a future post I will report on a mobile app that’s been helping me meditate each morning. It’s called Headspace, and I enthusiastically recommend it. The app comes with a 10-session free trial followed up by a few subscription options for continued use. Currently, I’ve signed up for a monthly subscription ($12.99 per month); however, at the end of my first month’s subscription I intend on converting to the yearly subscription of approximately $96 for a year ($7.99 per month).