When the World Drives you up the Wall
Put your legs up and get your stress down - By Tracy King
Reading time: 3 minutes
Stress has become an increasingly common part of our lives, so much so, that we start to normalise and accept its presence. Elevated cortisol (stress hormone) can have detrimental effects on both our mental and physical well-being.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in response to perceived threats or stressors. While cortisol is crucial for maintaining energy and regulating bodily functions, chronically elevated levels can lead to a range of health issues, including fatigue, anxiety, weight gain, and compromised immune function. Managing cortisol levels is essential for maintaining optimal health.
Recognising the signs of high cortisol levels is important, as this recognition allows you to take positive steps for change. The following signs may indicate high cortisol (remember always seek the advice of a healthcare professional if you are unsure about aspects of your wellbeing):
1. Sleep Disturbances:
One of the earliest signs of high cortisol levels is changes in sleep patterns. Experiencing difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up feeling unrested can indicate an imbalance in cortisol. Increased levels of cortisol can disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle, leading to insomnia or interrupted sleep. If you find yourself tossing and turning at night or feeling perpetually fatigued, it may be worth considering cortisol as a potential factor.
2. Weight Gain and Difficulty Losing Weight:
Elevated cortisol levels can interfere with metabolism and disrupt the body's ability to maintain a healthy weight. It can lead to increased appetite, particularly for high-calorie and sugary foods. This can cause weight gain, particularly around the abdomen, as cortisol promotes fat storage in that area. If you notice unexplained weight gain or struggle to shed pounds despite a balanced diet and exercise, cortisol imbalances could be a contributing factor.
3. Mood Swings and Irritability:
Cortisol influences our emotional well-being, and high levels can exacerbate feelings of stress, anxiety, and irritability. You may find yourself easily overwhelmed, emotionally reactive, or experiencing frequent mood swings. Chronic cortisol elevation may also contribute to feelings of depression and a sense of being constantly on edge. It is essential to recognise these emotional changes and explore potential cortisol-related factors.
4. Impaired Cognitive Function:
Chronic stress and high cortisol levels can impact cognitive function, leading to difficulties with concentration, memory, and decision-making. You may experience brain fog, poor focus, and reduced mental clarity. These cognitive impairments can interfere with productivity, learning, and overall quality of life. If you notice persistent mental sluggishness without any apparent cause, cortisol levels may be worth investigating.
5. Weakened Immune System:
Elevated cortisol levels suppress the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections, allergies, and illnesses. If you find that you frequently fall ill or experience a prolonged recovery time, your cortisol levels could be chronically high. It is crucial to address this issue to protect and strengthen your immunity.
There are simple and accessible techniques that can help reduce cortisol and promote relaxation. One of the most simplest interventions is the “Legs Up the Wall" yoga pose as a natural way to decrease cortisol levels and induce a state of deep relaxation.
This pose known as Viparita Karani in Sanskrit, is a gentle and restorative yoga posture in which you lay on your back with legs extended vertically against a wall. This pose creates a gentle inversion effect, allowing blood to flow from the lower extremities back to the heart, as well as triggering the relaxation response in the body's nervous system. By activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the body can shift into a state of rest and digest.
By assuming the "Legs Up the Wall" pose, blood and lymphatic fluid flow are facilitated, promoting detoxification within the body. Improved circulation helps remove waste products and toxins while delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. This gentle inversions also prevent blood from pooling in the lower limbs, reducing swelling and alleviating the strain on the cardiovascular system.
The "Legs Up the Wall" pose encourages deep diaphragmatic breathing, promoting a relaxation response. As the body begins to relax, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, leading to a decrease in cortisol production. This shift from the fight-or-flight response to the rest-and-digest state allows the body to recover and rejuvenate.
Aside from reducing cortisol levels, "Legs Up the Wall" pose offers additional benefits, such as stress reduction, improved sleep quality, enhanced digestion, and relief from swollen or tired legs. It can also help alleviate tension in the lower back and legs, making it an excellent posture for individuals who spend long hours sitting or standing.
Give yourself permission to take a break, elevate your legs up a wall, and allow the healing benefits of decreased cortisol levels to unfold.