Cortisol chemical dangers – Roundtable 37

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Listen to angry rhetoric or cruel name-calling and you are hearing a brain fueled by dangerous stress chemicals, that block emotional wellbeing. Walk alongside a person facing loss, and we see enough sorrow, stress and regret to shut us down completely. Have you been there?

Toxins we take on daily can impact our personal mental health, and harm entire groups around us! We may see it in a lack of compassion, a deep sense of hopelessness, a frustration in failure, excessive sadness, or an obsession to win over others without concern for their wellbeing.

Luckily, it does not have to be that way. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Those who fall in love with practice without science are like a sailor who enters a ship without a helm or a compass”. I say, “Those who fall in love with science without practice are like a rudder, helm or compass, without a ship”. Simply stated, when we act on brain science updates – we can expect emotional growth. Our brains literally come with equipment to heal a broken heart. How so?

Long before we realize our stress problems, our brains may already be wired to fail us. That’s why we boost chemicals that fuel emotions long before we drain our capability to grow mentally and prosper. Simple choices we make about moods today may surprise us with tomorrow’s mood changes. How so?

Yield to worry, for instance – and we could be opening windows to stress hormones that may appear as savior but strike as killer.

Out of Sorts?

Let’s say we find ourselves crankier or more exhausted than normal.  We may suffer anxiety, or fear that stops us from taking that risk that will help us ace the next test, or join in on a healthy adventure.

When anxiety wins, we’ve likely stirred up a dangerous chemical hormone in our brain that pushes against relationships, courage, solutions, and general well being. Emotional wellbeing is far more connected to overall mental acuity than once realized, and brain based tools can ensure we will maintain a healthier emotional balance, where our compassion tips higher and crankiness dials in lower. Teens especially benefit from emotional tools here, but so do the rest of us.

Shrinking our brain?

Cortisol is a potent chemical that surges when we slip into stress, and is now  recognized  as a toxic drug that can literally shrink human brains.  It leaves other damaging footprints behind too, that luckily can be avoided through awareness of its trickery. Researchers have known for some time, for instance,  that cortisol shuts down learning, creates anxiety attacks, limits good choices and can cause depression.

Less known, until recently, are tactics to counter cortisol surges.

You may be saying … but cortisol has useful purposes, and you are correct. It’s a short term chemical which is useful to treat allergies, or zap us with the energy to survive a shocking moment. Cortisol can also lower sensitivity to pain, help us to survive painful grief after loss, or pull us through a short term pressure project. The key here is SHORT term!

Ready to create your own stress free learning zone?

Imagine an  area where learners love to meet, stress can’t survive, and laughter livens all!

Stress’ Long-term Effects

Long-term cortisol surges though, where we maintain harmful levels,  can be highly dangerous. Research shows cortisol to:

1. Lower immune systems
2. Slow down thinking
3. Create blood sugar imbalances
4. Raise our blood pressure
5. Weaken muscle tissue
6. Decrease bone density
7. Increase fat to stomach areas
8. Limit our ability to make healthy choices  

Can you see why we may react negatively when under the influence of these harmful chemical surges?

Escape daily doses of cortisol

To flee from or lower dangerous levels of cortisol:

a. Relax, listen to music,  take a walk, and run from stress.
b. Spend time with upbeat people, laugh, and steer away from cynics.
c. Manage time, create  doable daily targets, and avoid overloads
d. Take up a sport, do stairs, park far from doors and avoid passivity.
e. Give away things, care, join Rotary, and run from financial anxiety.
f. Teach from our strengths, inspire excellence, yet flee perfectionism.
g. Propose possibilities for solutions and avoid fixation on problems at work.

You get the idea, and will likely have better alternatives than mine, to sidestep cortisol’s confinement. Strange as it may seem, the key is to do the opposite of whatever creates stress or cortisol. To do the opposite of a cortisol response, is to rewire the brain for more serotonin guided behaviors.

22 Stressors Come on Ordinary Day

People who deal with stress remind us how to take control of that “out of sorts feeling” and how to avoid the kind of cortisol an angry colleague might bring…. We’re told that on average 22 stressors hit us daily. Wonder what these 22 might look like?

In each stressor below – our responses work for or against our brains:

1. The alarm goes off when we are in the deepest part of sleep and long before we are ready to rise.

2. We bulge over the waistline of our favorite slacks and don’t have time to change.

3. Our significant other is lively and cheerful while we crave quiet and even a bit of gloom.

4. Gas is low on the car and we don’t have time to stop for a fill before an appointment.

5. Roadwork keeps us waiting past the point where we can stop into Starbucks for the Latte we dashed out the door in time to grab.

6. No parking spot exists near our building, and we have five minutes before our appointment.

7. We worked all morning on a computer project -then  lost our file before it saved, and experts assure us it’s gone for good.

8. A leader wants to know why a top player quit and what we are doing to help while we see the problem as the leader’s poor tone skills.

9. We left our agenda home – and after we’d called a meeting where we reminded people to be there and come prepared

10. The air conditioner broke and we wore a warm suit jacket that cannot be removed.

11. Our help is sick and forgot to tell us about another frequent absence.

12. The person we dislike most at work just applied for a position we planned to go after

13. We forgot our lunch and there is no break to get out to get one before our long meeting.

14. Four negative stories about us come back from  colleagues and all were relayed as anonymous

15. The phone rings more than usual and interrupts the memo that we promised to have written by the end of the day

16. Our allergies go crazy because the guy down the hall brought his dog over and set them off – the one day we don’t have meds. with us

17. The man who asks us a favor,  often complains to others about us, according to peers – but he is all smiles and warm words when he’s after something

18. The family calls to tell us with regret, why they’ll not be attending our special event.

19. The guy next door plays a jazz station outside all day, and we hate jazz but can’t find words to tell him

20. We were in charge of the coffee this month and it has run out so we have no coffee and friends remind us hourly why they too have no caffeine.

21. The woman who chews gum loudly and talks endlessly on the phone, tells a bad joke – one that we’ve heard her tell many times –and that still isn’t funny

22. We head home – knowing there will be no dinner prepared tonight – instead we agreed to dinner out later with a person who loves hot and greasy food – and who talks about self incessantly.

Whew, 22 stressors! What a tough challenge packed into one day, and we are said to have that many again tomorrow. Do you see any propensity for cortisol?

Some people respond with serotonin, and find grace and calm in response. Others find these stressors can stir up cortisol in ways that leave them angry, stressed or anxious.

Do you have a unique strategy that works well when stressors strike on a busy day? Could any hints above improve the situation?

Enter the namungo gang to buffer your brain!

From Stress to Success

Luckily the human brain also comes fine tuned for serotonin success, through doing healthier actions.  For example, our brain will rewire dendrite brain cells for serotonin well-being and growth plasticity in areas that had once created cortisol imbalances.

It’s worth an effort to make a few changes, when we think about the rewards. People who do so, tend to replace cortisol crankiness for serotonin serenity. It’s also true that some people come with lower levels of this drug in their DNA, or seem to generate fewer fluctuating cortisol surges.  Have you noticed how calm and rational some people are – even if a hairy spider meanders past?

Spiders aside,  we now know that at least 22 stressors will creep in on us – even on an ordinary day. Time to retool?

Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset

This tool is available on my TpT site

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