It is a fact of life that business owners and entrepreneurs work long hours and are under a lot of stress. Some are better at dealing with stress than others, at least for a while. Regardless of how well you think you handle stress, if stress levels stay high over an extended period of time they can have a negative impact on your health and that in turn will have a negative impact on your business.
Physiologically, stress can be measured in the body as high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol levels will naturally fluctuate throughout the day but stressors like pending deadlines, issues with staff, financial concerns or any other business related problems can cause a spike in cortisol levels. If these stressors continue over time, they can cause cortisol levels to remain high for a prolonged period, and this in when business owners often start experiencing health issues.
So what are some of the tell tales signs of high cortisol levels?
Three signs of high cortisol levels
Tired but wired before bed
Feeling tired upon waking and throughout the day, but wired and unable to fall asleep at bedtime.
Why: naturally, cortisol levels should be higher in the morning and lower in the evening time.This allows for a boost in the morning to get the day going and the ability to unwind in the evening and prepare the body for a restful sleep. When stress is high and one is in overdrive itcan disrupt the natural cycle of cortisol resulting in rock bottom levels in the morning and high levels in the evening.
Poor short term and sometimes long term memory.
Why: high cortisol levels shift the body into survival or fight/flight mode. When in this mode the body does not consider the formation of new or detailed memories as a priority.
Weight gain can be anywhere on the body but typically extra weight around the midsection is most evident.
Why: sustained high levels of cortisol can cause stored energy reserves of glucose (sugar) tobe released into the bloodstream. This in turn can result in high blood-sugar levels and possible insulin sensitivity. This cascade of events can cause weight gain especially around themidsection.
As business owners it is often difficult to try and reduce stress by working less hours, taking
more vacation time or hiring others to do the work for you. However, there a few ways to reducestress and help bring cortisol levels down without making drastic changes to one’s day-to-day operations.
Three ways to help reduce cortisol levels
All ingested food causes some stress on the body but some foods, in particular foods that irritate the digestive tract, can cause higher amounts of stress on the body and yes, you guessed it, increase cortisol levels. Foods that cause rises in cortisol levels include for example refined carbohydrates, sugars, alcohol and dairy. A diet low in these foods will help keep cortisol levels down and energy levels up.
If one does not sleep well, we can not function or focus on the tasks at hand for long. A pre-bedtime routine of no phones or screens (for at least 30 minutes) and either meditation or gentle stretching can help shift the body out of the fight/flight mode and into the rest/digest mode which is more suited for promoting a restful sleep.
Take up activities that lower cortisol
We are lucky in Newcastle because we have access to a large variety of stress relieving activities and therapies. It might take some trial and error on your part until you find something that fits, but activities like meditation, yoga, swimming, and tai chi are all stress relieving and will help lower cortisol levels when practised on a regular basis.
Ryan Samuels is a Registered Acupuncturist, Chinese Medicine Herbalist and Co-owner of Poke Acupuncture in Lambton, NSW. In clinical practice, Ryan has a special interest in working with patients suffering from chronic pain, shoulder and back injuries, stress and digestive concerns.