Sleeping through your alarm. Showing up unprepared to a presentation. Forgetting an important birthday. Getting stressed out just reading? I can relate. But by making my InsideTracker goal ‘Reduce Stress,’ tracking certain biomarkers, and making some lifestyle changes, I’ve been able to find relaxation, mindfulness, and balance in my fast-paced daily life.
How your body and biomarkers react to stress
Aptly nicknamed "the stress hormone," cortisol kicks into high gear during stressful situations. So if you've been feeling the pressure at work, at home, or perhaps on the home-field lately, chances are your cortisol levels are too.
Your inflammation group (hsCRP, White Blood Cells) is also affected by stress. When your body senses an impending internal battle via inflammation signals, it hikes these biomarkers up to bolster its defense.
Worse still, low magnesium (Mg) levels can exacerbate these effects. Low Mg has been connected to increased cortisol levels, which in turn deplete magnesium levels. The vicious cycle continues.
Then, your liver enzymes (ALT, AST, GGT) join the party; elevated liver enzymes are associated with increased feelings of stress and fatigue.
And finally, your creatine kinase (CK) levels, which are are an indicator of muscle breakdown, can also reflect your stress levels. Unlike cortisol which largely mirrors emotional stress, CK levels spike with physical stress, like the voluntary kind you experience in the gym.
Ready to zen out? Choose ‘Reduce Stress’ as your next InsideTracker goal. And in the meantime, check out these recommendations.
Mitigate stress and meditate
No, it’s not exactly ground-breaking. But while the practice of meditation to relieve stress might seem stale, it works!
Research shows that a 4-week meditation program can significantly decrease both morning and "post-stress" cortisol spikes.1,2 Plus, the centuries-old practice has gotten revamped thanks to the advent of technology. As with most things these days, “there’s an app for that!”
For years, I’ve tried to sit calmly, quietly, and attentive in the name of my mental health. I couldn't do it. In my book, meditation certainly qualifies as "easier said than done." That was until I discovered Headspace, a guided meditation app. Although I now subscribe to Headspace yearly, I started with their free trial: ten days of 10-minute meditation sessions, each of which teach basic techniques for a calm, quiet, and less stress-ridden mind.
My number one piece of meditation advice: give it a chance!
Thoughts like “I’ll get bored/fall asleep/get lost in my own mind” are valid, and all of the above have interfered with my personal meditation practice at one point or another. But the same goes for everyone who meditates regularly, so try to stick it out!
Quick meditation tips:
- Integrate it into your daily routine; practice at the same time every day (I do it right before I head out the door each morning)
- Include meditation as part of your InsideTracker action plan to keep yourself accountable
- Try an app: Headspace is my go-to, but other apps, like Calm, 10% Happier, The Mindfulness App, and Smiling Mind have good reviews, as well.
Make sleep a priority
It’s no secret that getting eight hours of sleep per night is integral to your physical and mental health (not to mention your productivity). But, if doing so sounds impossible, you should know that your sleep habits have as much of an impact on your health as your diet and exercise routines. Plus, longer and higher quality sleep has been demonstrated to increase feelings of positivity and decrease feelings of stress the following day.3,4,5
Both earplugs and relaxing sounds have been shown to improve both sleep quality and cortisol levels.6 I decided to try the latter, with help from an app called Relax Melodies. It has dozens of sounds – from ocean waves to rain on a roof to an oscillating fan. The fun part: you can mix and layer to create your perfect sleep soundtrack. Now, when I put it on, I immediately get sleepy á la Pavlov’s Dog.
Most importantly, make sleep as important as getting that project in on time, picking your kids up from school, and the like – because it is! If you are unable to get 7-8 hours of rest each night, reevaluate your routines. Something’s gotta go, and it shouldn’t be your health.
To keep "a good night’s sleep" at the top of your priority list:
- Think of your morning self as your manager – if you don’t get done what you said you would (i.e get those eight hours), the boss will definitely be upset... and probably stressed
- Add it to your InsideTracker action plan and schedule a daily reminder a couple of hours before bedtime
Multiple studies have shown that practicing yoga regularly can decrease stress levels.7,8,9 If you have a tough time imagining yourself as a yogi, you’re not alone. Oftentimes, people are hesitant to get in a room with strangers and put their flexibility (or lack thereof) on display – something I’m sure can add to stress loads. But, yet again, technology has made incorporating yoga into your daily routine relatively painless. So don’t count it out!
I’ve recently gotten hooked on an app called YogaGlo. Sure, it's $20 per month, but compare that to the price of studio membership, and it's a steal. Plus, there are thousands of yoga classes of multiple styles and lengths to choose from. Two points about YogaGlo that I prefer over, say, a free YouTube video: 1) some videos are of actual classes, which I think entices the instructors be more descriptive in their language, and 2) you can select a multi-class program according to your goals, ability level, schedule, etc.
Set the proper scene for your yoga success
Put on some calming music, dim the lights, light a candle, and lock the door. If you can still hear your phone ring or are in a room with a lot of foot traffic, odds are you won’t be able to fully unwind, minimizing the impact of your practice.
Other yoga success tips:
- If practicing at home, hold yourself to a "class time." An "I’ll get to it" mentality often ends in a missed practice
- At first, prioritize practice frequency over length. Committing to 20-minute sessions three times per week can be less daunting than one hour-long session.
- Don't forget to breathe!
Give ashwaganda a try
Ashwaganda is a supplement made from the root of the plant Withania somnifera, which is mostly cultivated in India. Regular administration of ashwaganda significantly lowers cortisol levels; for individuals with elevated cortisol, InsideTracker recommends a 300mg supplement twice per day (once at breakfast and once at dinner) for 60 days.10,11
While I have yet to add ashwaganda to my stress-reduction regimen, my colleague Ashley found that adding ashwaganda to her supplement routine reduced her cortisol levels – even when the holiday season and finals week for her masters degree collided.
If you’re looking to try ashwaganda as a destressor:
- Add it to your InsideTracker action plan
- Set a text or email supplement reminder via your InsideTracker dashboard
While this list may seem exhaustive, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many ways to reduce stress. So, if you're looking to bump stress reduction to the top of your priority list? Make 'Reduce Stress' your next InsideTracker goal.
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Some other blog posts we think you'll love:
-  Fan, Yaxin, Yi‐Yuan Tang, and Michael I. Posner. "Cortisol level modulated by integrative meditation in a dose‐dependent fashion." Stress and Health 30.1 (2014): 65-70.
-  Christoff, Kalina, et al. "Mind-wandering as spontaneous thought: a dynamic framework." Nature Reviews Neuroscience 17.11 (2016): 718-731.
-  Blaxton, Jessica M., et al. "Relationships among nightly sleep quality, daily stress, and daily affect." Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 72.3 (2015): 363-372.
-  Bassett, Sarah M., et al. "Sleep quality but not sleep quantity effects on cortisol responses to acute psychosocial stress." Stress 18.6 (2015): 638-644.
-  Kumari, Meena, et al. "Self-reported sleep duration and sleep disturbance are independently associated with cortisol secretion in the Whitehall II study." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 94.12 (2009): 4801-4809.
-  Hu, Rong-Fang, et al. "Effects of earplugs and eye masks combined with relaxing music on sleep, melatonin and cortisol levels in ICU patients: a randomized controlled trial." Critical Care 19.1 (2015): 115.
-  Yadav, Raj Kumar, et al. "Efficacy of a short-term yoga-based lifestyle intervention in reducing stress and inflammation: preliminary results." The journal of alternative and complementary medicine 18.7 (2012): 662-667.
-  Thirthalli, J., et al. "Cortisol and antidepressant effects of yoga." Indian journal of psychiatry 55.Suppl 3 (2013): S405.
-  Rocha, K. K. F., et al. "Improvement in physiological and psychological parameters after 6months of yoga practice." Consciousness and cognition 21.2 (2012): 843-850.
-  Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62.
-  Auddy B, Hazra J, Mitra A, Abedon A, Ghosal S. A standardized withanis somnifera extract significantly reduces stress-related parameters in chronically stressed humans: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study. Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association.2008; 11(1): 50-56.