I love writing about habits, productivity, and various strategies that you can take advantage of to continue your self-improvement journey.
But quite honestly, it’s all for nothing without your health.
If we neglect our health, then there’s no way we can be as effective or productive as we’d like to be. Back when I was ridden with anxiety, things like exercising, performing at work, building a business, and social interactions weren’t so easy for me.
Learning how to cope with stress is hard.
I was in a constant state of negativity. The shitty thing about negative thoughts is that they breed more negative thoughts. They demand your attention, causing you to continue to dwell on them, and you end up slowly spiraling down a black hole of misery.
The other thing weighing me down was stress – something I had no clue how to deal with. Cortisol is the chemical that your body releases when it’s under stress. It’s a primal instinct that your body uses to protect you in fight or flight situations. It has its benefits in the moment but wreaks havoc on your body when constantly flooding your system.
Exactly how bad is stress for us?
To nobody’s surprise, it’s bad.
That feeling you get when you’re sitting at your cubicle and your boss comes by to ream you out? That’s your body injecting massive amounts of cortisol into your system. That same feeling is what our ancestors felt when standing toe-to-toe with a sabretooth tiger. Our civilization has evolved greatly, but our bodies haven’t caught up yet.
Cortisol causes mass inflammation of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is hands-down the largest nerve in your body. It runs all the way from the brain into the abdomen. It’s the main channel that affects (almost) all of the organs within the body.
Too much cortisol over prolonged periods causes mass inflammation of the vagus nerve. Heart attacks, strokes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, you-name-it. That’s the kind of havoc cortisol can create. I strongly believe that this is the reason many balls-to-the-walls New Yorkers drop dead at age forty – their bodies literally can’t handle the stress anymore.
Shitty foods. Alcohol. Drugs. Smoking. All of them are things that cause inflammation of the vagus nerve.
Replacing bad habits with better daily habits goes a long way towards reducing stress and preventing inflammation.
But sometimes, life gets the best of us. What can you do if you find yourself neck deep in stress?
You find ways to relieve the inflammation of the vagus nerve. That’s how to cope with stress.
This brings us to what I I really wanted to share with you today. That was quite the introduction, wasn’t it?
There’s hope for all of us. Aside from better, stress limiting habits, our Creator has given us a natural way to fight back against cortisol – oxytocin. It’s another one of those chemicals that your body loves to release. It’s often nicknamed the “feel good” hormone.
If the vagus nerve were Louis Lane, oxytocin would have to be Clark Kent.
There are two main actions that cause the release of oxytocin:
- Sex, or really just having an orgasm.
- Women in labor. Oxytocin helps the body deal with the immense amount of stress in pushing a baby out of a woman’s vagina, something I still can’t even fathom.
Basically, as Choose Yourself author James Altucher puts it, it’s the “life hormone”. It’s always present in your body during those critical moments of creation. So it makes sense that it’s what helps our bodies thrive and combat stress.
The really awesome thing is that you can “trick” your body into releasing oxytocin at other times, not just the two listed above. Oxytocin acts to counteract the negative effects of cortisol and suppress inflammation of the vagus nerve, allowing you live a long, healthy, happy life.
A natural release of our friend, the life hormone, can leave you feeling good for up to two weeks. A constant, slow drip of oxytocin can make you feel good forever.
Here are 9 wonderful ways to introduce this fountain of youth into your system:
- Hug someone. Everybody loves hugs. Touching and hugging release oxytocin, hugging clearly being more powerful. The general trend with oxytocin appears to be that the more intimate the act, the more oxytocin released. Hug your S/O. Hug your family. Hug your friends. Hug the hobo underneath the bridge on your commute to work (I’m sure he could use it).
- Use more social media. Wait what? This might be the first time anyone’s ever suggested this. As you might’ve guessed, you feel good when you’re browsing Facebook. You feel more connected. This makes us feel happy. Obviously, you shouldn’t let your social media habits get out of hand, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s all bad for you.
- Laugh. Last weekend I visited my brother in New York City. We ended up going to a comedy show at the Gotham. It was awesome and hilarious. If you’ve never been, it’s a smaller venue, meaning you get a much more intimate experience with the comedians, causing more oxytocin release. Just go to a comedy show. I’m rambling, but the venue doesn’t actually matter all that much. Trust me and laugh some more.
- Give. The act of giving without expecting anything in return provides a feeling like no other. It doesn’t matter if it’s a gift, money, a service, or a HUG! (I love hugs), just do it. Some of the nicest people I know give and show compassion without expecting anything in return. On the flipside, some of the douchiest people I know are also the most frugal and selfish.
- Breathe deeply. When you’re stressed or anxious, your breathing hastens, your heart beats faster, and you feel panicky. This is your body preparing for that sabretooth tiger that doesn’t actually exist. Calm yourself by slowing your breath and relaxing your body. The importance of a daily meditation or deep breathing practice, like yoga, can never be overstated. If you aren’t doing something like this daily, do some Googling and get with the program.
- Express gratitude. Yeah, it’s cheesy, but hear me out. Tell someone how much they mean to you. Tell them you love them. I woke up the other morning and felt an overwhelming urge to text my parents and tell them how grateful I am for everything they’ve done for me, and for raising me right. That day I felt absolutely incredible. If you don’t have a daily habit of gratitude, start.
- Ride a rollercoaster. The next time you go to a theme park, try riding a thrilling rollercoaster solo. The experience can bring total strangers closer together. I can’t say I liked my sister-in-law’s ex-husband very much, but we rode a rollercoaster at Dollywood once, and in those few moments, we actually shared a bond. It’s like Daniel Tosh says with jet skis. It’s impossible not to have fun on a rollercoaster. Unless you’re afraid of heights. Then maybe not so much.
- Have LOVING sex. I know I know, I already mentioned this above. But it deserves a second mention. It very well could be the most obvious and prominent way to boost oxytocin, but did you know that it is most effective when doing it with someone you love and deeply care for? As it turns out, this is not so much the case while living the hook-up life.
- Go for a walk, outside. Nature and the sun have proven effects on our state of well-being and longevity. If you do nothing else for exercise, please start taking walks. You will feel great, you will feel relaxed, and you will feel more in touch with the Earth. If you’re not familiar with “grounding”, this is something you will start to hear more of, I promise. Basically, touching the Earth with our bare feet has a natural grounding effect to balance out the electrons in our bodies. This is something that happened automatically with our ancestors, but as civilization evolved, we got out of touch with. Find an opportunity to go for a walk outside and don’t be embarrassed to take your shoes off and walk in the grass.
How will you reduce stress in your life?
I’m going to go hug someone right now and feel like Superman for the next couple of weeks.
Get into the habit of building better habits to prevent stress and anxiety from ruling your life. Then, use the advice in this post to boost your happiness even more and beat cortisol back into the ground.