In a Yoga Journal article I read recently, the author outlined ideas on stress and the body, including how it affects our energy levels.
Most experts agree that the adrenals play a pivotal role in maintaining everyday energy levels. Cortisol is your main stress hormone. In healthy individuals, cortisol runs on a 24-hour rhythm, normally peaking around 5 am and slowly tapering throughout the day so it’s lowest a t bedtime. When you’re well-rested and your stress is in check, you can get through the morning and fall asleep easily at night.
Shorter, more intense cortisol bursts–along with your other stress hormone, adrenaline–occur when the brain senses imminent danger. When that happens, a lightning-fast chemical cascade occurs along something called the hypothalamus. This hypothalamus (the part of the brain that communicates with the nervous system shoots a signal to the pituitary gland, triggering a fight-or-flight response in an effort to spur the body into action.
The galvanizing force comes from the adrenals, which pump out adrenaline so you can react–fast. As that initial hormone surge diminishes, the hypothalamus kicks off a second chain reaction, this time directing the adrenals to release cortisol to keep you vigilant.
However, we live in a world of saturated stress, thanks to stress, relationships, caregiving, overexercising, and all the shoulds we’re bombarded with. Studies have shown that many Americans lie awake at night due to stress. Our brains are on perpetual high alert, and with all of these stressors being interpreted as dangers and triggering the continued release of cortisol.
As my yoga training instructor said numerous times, “There is no tiger.” We act as if there is a living, breathing tiger about to pounce on us at every turn. Stress is serious and affects our well-being. Meditation, mindfulness and yoga can assist us in dialing back the stress.
I’ll be sharing with you shortly a talk on “The Cost of Chronic Stress” and a short yoga sequence of five seated poses that can help to break your fight-or-flight response.