Articles by Stacey Wirtjes

  \  Tru Mindset, Wellness  March 11, 2024

Cortisol and how stress impacts it

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’ve had run-ins with stress. While it doesn’t take much to trigger it, stress doesn’t just happen alone. It requires the help of cortisol. But what does cortisol have to do with how stress functions? A lot! and we’ll explain it all. In this blog, we’re simplifying this complex hormone and its relationship with stress.

Cortisol + your body.

Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released by the adrenal glands on top of each kidney. It sends messages throughout your body, telling it what to do and when to do it1. This function is critical to stress. It initiates a “fight-or-flight response,” slowing down physiological processes you don’t need to survive and accelerating the ones you do during the moment3. In stressful or threatening situations, cortisol readies your body for what’s to come by regulating your body’s stress response and sending this response to your organs. It also plays many roles in the body, such as regulating sleep cycles, increasing blood sugar, and managing blood pressure11.

Your body’s response to the stress hormone isn’t meant to be a long-term solution. Cortisol released by the body over time can impair your health.

Stress and its impact on cortisol.

When stressed, cortisol is released to help regulate your body’s response to tension. Stress can impact our nervous, immune, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems and can be short or long-term. The higher the cortisol levels, the more likely your body will experience stress. If cortisol is sent throughout your body in large doses, it can have an impact on your overall health2. If cortisol levels fall too low, it can also have an impact. It’s best to think of the Goldilocks’ porridge saga. Too much and too little won’t do; your cortisol levels must be balanced.

Cortisol overload.

Stress and its indicators vary from person to person. However, researchers have found that there are common signs that individuals with higher-than-normal cortisol levels share1:

  • Weight gain – When cortisol rises, it elevates insulin levels triggering a decline in blood sugar. When this happens, you’re more likely to crave unhealthy food choices3.
  • Meaty shoulders – Excess fat accumulation between your shoulder blades occurs when high cortisol levels are present4.
  • Pink or purple stretch marks – Higher cortisol levels over a long period can degrade the collagen in your skin5. Such effects can appear on the abdomen, thighs, arms, and breast areas5.
  • Blood sugar – The stress hormone increases blood sugar by releasing glucose reserves1.
  • Blood pressure – Cortisol is necessary to balance blood pressure levels. When cortisol increases, blood pressure does as well6.
  • Hair growth in all the wrong places – Excess hair growth on the skin and other areas is caused by high levels of cortisol overtime12.

Natural ways to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels.

When it comes to reducing tension, it’s best to keep it simple, starting with your everyday routines. The lower your cortisol, the more likely you are to minimize stress. Here are some tips to naturally reduce stress and lower cortisol levels.

  • Get some quality z’s – How well you sleep is directly related to stress and increased cortisol levels. Cortisol can throw off your circadian rhythm (your 24-hour clock) telling your body when to sleep and when to wake7. Levels typically decrease at night while increasing during the morning. The opposite happens when you experience restless slumber8.
  • Work it out – Consistent exercise has been proven to decrease tension, thanks partly to endorphins. No strenuous activity is required. Endorphins are produced by your brain’s pituitary gland and secreted through your nervous system9. Their superpower? Endorphins can block the effects of cortisol, ultimately reducing stress levels. So even a leisurely walk activates these happy, healthy hormones.
  • Yoga – Looking for a way to reach Zen while getting fit? Then this exercise is for you. Studies have shown that yoga may help reduce stress, enhancing your mood and well-being10.
  • Do something that brings you joy – Read a book, watch a movie, or gather with friends and family. Stepping away from a stressful situation can help boost your mood and decrease cortisol1.

Foods that support healthy cortisol levels.

Believe it or not, some foods can help regulate cortisol, although it doesn’t apply to frequent fast-food or sugary indulgences. A diet high in processed foods can increase cortisol11. Dieticians recommend these whole foods to help get your stress and cortisol levels in check:

  • Try a Mediterranean diet – Fish, poultry, fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats are great sustenance when stressed out. The Mediterranean diet encourages the consumption of foods that are packed with nutrients your body needs, helping to reduce cortisol11.
  • Vitamin B and Omega 3’s – Whole grains and some protein can also help manage cortisol. Beef, chicken, eggs, and organ meats such as liver are great sources of vitamin B. Salmon, tuna, olive oil, and avocados are also winners for foods high in omega-311.
  • Magnesium – Need to relax? De-stress with magnesium-rich foods like avocados, bananas, broccoli, dark chocolate, and spinach. Their calming abilities can help reduce stress and metabolize cortisol11.
  • Protein-rich foods – Beans, poultry, fish, and other meats can help manage your blood sugar, reducing cortisol levels. Other protein-rich foods to try are almonds, chicken breasts, quinoa, tuna, salmon, shrimp, and eggs11.
  • Gut-healthy foods – 70 – 80% of our immune system can be found in the gut11.When your immune cells communicate with the microbiome, the bacteria and fungi communicate with your brain. Remember when we mentioned earlier in the blog that one of cortisol’s functions is to help our body respond to stress? If you are feeling stressed, then there is a good chance that cortisol is present. Cortisol is prompted by stress. If your gut is healthy, that message is relayed to your brain.

How to manage stress for optimal health and well-being.

To effectively manage your tension, you must first recognize your stressors and identify the actions that can counteract them. Here are a few ways that may help combat your stress:

  • Stay active – Take a walk, dance around your house, play basketball, or do anything to elevate your activity level and endorphins.
  • Let out a good chuckle – Laughing feels great, and much like exercise, laughing releases endorphins and gives you something more to smile about.
  • Explore green spaces – Studies have shown a connection between exposure to green spaces and a reduction in cortisol.
  • Meditate – Give yourself a chance to breathe and reflect in the present, dissolving stress, yet embracing what’s to come.
  • Journaling – When stress comes about, write it out. Sometimes writing about how you feel can be easier than verbalizing it.

Managing stress is the key to neutralizing cortisol. Acknowledging your stressors can help develop a deeper understanding of how to work through them. It isn’t always easy, and figuring out what works best for you may take time, but stress and cortisol are manageable! In addition to meditating, exploring lush green spaces, and journaling, options are vast when it comes to stress management. If you’re unsure where to start, click here for more supplementary information regarding stress. By identifying the source of your tension, you now have what it takes to successfully manage stress and cortisol whenever necessary.

1 Cortisol. Cleveland Clinic
2 Stress effects on body. American Psychological Association
3 Can stress make you gain weight? Cleveland Clinic
4 Hump behind the shoulders. Mount Sinai
5 Cushing syndrome. Mayo Clinic
6 Cardiovascular consequences of cortisol excess. National Library of Medicine.
7 Circadian rhythms. National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
8 Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolic conditions. National Library of Medicine.
9 Endorphins. Cleveland Clinic.
10 Benefits of yoga. Mayo Clinic.
11 Eat these foods to reduce stress. Cleveland Clinic.
12 Hirsutism, Cleveland Clinic.

  \  Motivational, Tru Mindset  February 26, 2024

Mind Over Matter: How to Harness the Power of Positive Thinking

We’ve been taught from an early age that the words we say to others matter. Words have the power to encourage, inspire and influence. They also have the power to discourage, unnerve and isolate. But what about the words that we tell ourselves? In this blog, we’re focusing on the power of positive thinking. Positive thoughts are like superpowers, once you tap into them, the possibilities are endless. They can transform insecurities into confidence, giving you the strength to fight through tough situations.

What’s positive thinking and why is it important?

Maintaining a positive attitude doesn’t mean that “life’s curveballs” won’t affect you1, it’s a conscious choice to remain optimistic (not pessimistic) despite your circumstance. Positive thinking refers to the productive way in which you approach adversity.

What’s the difference between optimism and pessimism? For starters, they’re located on two different sides of the personality spectrum. An optimist tends to focus more on positive situations, while a pessimist may place greater emphasis on the negative1. Regardless of what characteristic you may identify with, when it comes to mental health there’s no right or wrong. Positive thinking is a mindset, and not a systematic view.

The destructive nature of negative self-talk.

Negative self-talk is likely provoked by unproven thoughts, preconceived ideas or assumptions that arise from a given situation1. To embrace the positive and filter out the negative, you must first be able to recognize the various types of negative behavior1:

  • Highlight the worst and forget the best – Instead of looking at the positive in a situation, you continue to look toward the negative.
  • Constantly blame yourself – When things don’t happen the way that you want them to, you point the finger at yourself.
  • Thinking the worst – Negative thoughts feed your mind before the situation itself has even occurred.
  • No matter how hard you try, you’re never doing enough – You remember every task you didn’t complete and blame yourself for not following through.
  • Making a mountain out of a molehill – It could be a small problem that requires a minor adjustment, but you turn it into a seismic shift.
  • No one is perfect, but you’re trying hard to be – Nothing is impossible, but the standards that you’ve set for yourself might have set you up for failure.
  • It’s all good or all bad – Everything is good or bad, there is no between.

Positive thinking with a twist.

One of many great things about the human mind is that it’s constantly evolving. What does that mean for you? Change is possible, should you choose to embrace it. Positive thinking isn’t always linear, so your approach shouldn’t be either. Here are a few pointers that can help foster the positivity in your life:

a. Reframe your thinking – Challenging thoughts in a positive or productive way is called positive reframing. Finding something to be grateful about in a challenging situation is a way of successfully accomplishing this2. It’s basically reprogramming your brain to think in ways that you may have never considered.

b. Write in a gratitude journal – Gratitude is the state of being grateful3. Studies have shown that there is a connection between thankfulness and overall health. Set aside time during your day to think of all the things that went right. What are you grateful for? It can be as simple as having food to eat or a place to sleep4. Need pointers on starting a gratitude journal? Here are a few tips:

  • Write when it suits you – Find a time to decompress. Research has revealed that writing in your gratitude journal before bedtime can help you get a better night’s rest5.
  • Go with the flow – Don’t make things complicated. Start with a goal of writing a couple things in your gratitude journal for just a few minutes a day. As time goes on, you’ll build upon what you have written, and witness the progress that you’ve made5.
  • Make your day… a positive one – Embrace the positivity in your life, daily. It can help reduce stress levels even when things aren’t exactly rosy, allowing you to reclaim your focus on things that matter most5.
  • Details. Details. Details – This is the time to be as detailed as you want. Describe your moment of appreciation in its entirety. By doing so, you’re able to relive the positive experience which can be cathartic to your mind and body5.

c. The power of visualization.
Visualization (or imagery) is the process of cognitively creating an image to either develop or enhance a skill6. It’s one of the most popular psychological techniques, that’s even thought to improve athletic performance, although researchers aren’t sure about the psychological factors that play into it. You may or may not be an athlete, but you can still apply this exercise to your everyday life. Consider it practice for great things to come. Preparation for the positive can give you the self-esteem to excel when it really happens, and it will.

Conquering your mountain of negative thoughts.

Overcoming negative thoughts can be a huge obstacle, but there is a way to turn it around with self-affirmation. Self-affirmation is the belief in one’s worth and existence7. In laments terms, it’s understanding who you are and what you are made of. There’s an inner warrior in you. However, it may take time to reveal itself. Here are a few ways to overcome negative thoughts through affirmation:

Embrace change – Identify anything large or small in your life that may cause you to think negatively. Reflect on how to approach it positively1.

Fact check yourself – Negative thoughts can often be based on things that aren’t true. When you feel yourself going down that route, find something positive. It could be as simple as a lesson learned in a particular situation1.

Laugh it off – When things get rough, sometimes a smile or a laugh can help. Laughter can produce endorphins. Endorphins can decrease cortisol (the stress hormone) therefore helping to reduce your stress level1.

Live healthily – A healthy diet, frequent exercise, stress management and a great night’s sleep can provide the mental clarity necessary to help you sift through negative talk and finally speak the truth about yourself. Stressing less and maintaining a better night’s sleep are essential to healthy living1. CLICK HERE to learn how you can effectively manage your stress and achieve a blissful night’s sleep.

Happy is what happy does.

Exposing yourself to positive people, won’t always guarantee happiness, but it can provide encouragement. There will be days that don’t go quite as planned, and it’s during those times you’ll need positive reinforcements the most, helping you to see past the moment. The same principle applies to music, movies and books. The positivity you put in, is what you will get out.

Time to put that positivity into practice.

Before making a negative statement, ask yourself, “Would I say this to someone else”? Give yourself a little grace, disregarding the negatives. Think about the good things you’ve accomplished and what you are thankful for1. Not to worry if you don’t get it right away. Positive thinking requires practice and lots of it. Avoid negative self-talk by replacing it with a positive statement1, blocking out the negativity, and allowing you to become more accepting of who you are and where you’re going.

Negative self-talk is counterproductive. It allows assumptions and falsehoods to consume your life. For every negative, tell yourself something positive. Forget what you think you’re incapable of and focus on what you are. Positive thinking is a state of mind, it may require some practice, but it’s an achievable goal. If you can’t verbally say what you’re grateful for, write it down in a gratitude journal. Surround yourself with like-minded positive people and participate in activities that bring you joy. Be your biggest advocate. You are what you think, and there’s no doubt that you were meant to be someone great.

1 Positive thinking: stop negative self-talk to reduce stress, Mayo Clinic.
2 Positive reframing and examining the evidence, Harvard University Stress and Development lab.
3 Gratitude definition, Merriam Webster.
4 Can expressing gratitude improve your mental, physical health?, Mayo Health System.
5 4 tips for keeping a gratitude journal, Cleveland Clinic.
6 APA Dictionary of Psychology, American Psychological Association.
7 Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation, National Library of Medicine.

  \  Motivational, Tru Mindset  February 26, 2024

The Secret to Success: The Power of Consistency

Consistency is the key to success. This is a timeless truth. Any successful person you admire will tell you the same. Consistency is what sets successful people apart. Consistency is the ability to maintain the same level of performance or effort, day in, day out. It is not about being perfect, but it’s about showing up every day and doing what needs to be done, no matter how difficult or mundane the task may be. Let’s explore the power of consistency and how it can change your life in significant ways.

Consistency: The Key to Building Habits that Stick

Consistency is the magic ingredient that turns everyday actions into lifelong habits. It acts as the bridge that connects our dreams to reality, transforming simple actions into powerful habits that become second nature. When you commit to doing something on a regular basis, whether it’s exercising, reading, or practicing a skill, you are setting yourself up for success. By steadily pushing through resistance and building a habit, you create an automatic response that requires less and less willpower to execute. This is why building good habits is such a critical component of achieving your goals.

The Science Behind Consistency and Habits

Our brains are designed to conserve energy and operate efficiently. When we consistently engage in a particular behavior or activity, we are essentially training our minds and bodies to adapt and become accustomed to that routine, eventually turning it into an automatic response that requires minimal conscious effort.

This allows us to develop new habits and eliminate old ones by consistently reinforcing desired behaviors and minimizing undesired ones. Over time, our habitual actions become deeply ingrained, making it difficult for us to break free from them – which is why consistency is so vital in shaping our habits.

Train Your Brain

One common misconception about habit formation is that significant changes require grand gestures or drastic measures. However, research has shown that small, consistent steps can be more effective in creating lasting change. By breaking down our goals into manageable tasks and focusing on consistency, we can achieve gradual progress that accumulates over time.

For instance, instead of trying to read an entire book in one sitting, commit to reading just 10 pages every day. This approach not only makes your goal more achievable but also helps you build the habit of reading consistently. As you continue this practice, your brain will begin to associate reading with pleasure and relaxation, making it easier to maintain this habit in the long run.

Successful People are Consistent

Success is not a matter of chance, but rather a product of consistent hard work and dedication. This is a trait that is often found in successful individuals, who understand the importance of consistency in every aspect of their lives. They don’t rely on occasional bursts of inspiration or luck to achieve their goals, but rather stay true to their routine and work ethic every single day. Whether it’s in their personal or professional life, they take a disciplined approach to their goals, understanding that small consistent steps towards their objectives lead to significant accomplishments over time. Being consistent in your actions and mindset is a fundamental key to achieving success in any area of life, and this is a lesson that successful people have learned and applied.

Consistency in Personal Growth

Personal growth and self-improvement are essential elements of success. By consistently setting and working towards personal goals, individuals can develop the skills and qualities necessary to excel in their chosen fields. Successful people understand that personal growth is a lifelong journey, and they maintain a consistent routine of self-reflection, learning, and skill development to ensure they continue to progress and evolve.

Consistency in Professional Life

In the professional realm, consistency is equally vital. Successful individuals establish a strong work ethic, demonstrating reliability, punctuality, and dedication to their tasks. They understand that their reputation and credibility are built upon their consistent performance and ability to deliver results. By staying committed to their work, they build trust with colleagues, clients, and employers, ultimately paving the way for career advancement and new opportunities.

Building Resilience Through Consistency

Life is full of challenges and setbacks, but successful people recognize that consistency can help them build resilience. By maintaining a steady approach to their goals, they develop the mental fortitude to persevere through difficult times, knowing that their consistent efforts will eventually pay off. This resilience enables them to bounce back from failures and setbacks, turning these experiences into valuable lessons for future growth.

The Power of a Consistency Plan

A consistency plan is a roadmap that outlines the steps you need to take regularly to achieve your goals. It helps you stay focused and accountable to your objectives. When you have a consistent plan, you remove the guesswork, and you know exactly what you need to do every day to achieve your objectives. Not only do consistency plans help you stay focused and accountable, but they also give you the confidence and motivation you need to keep going.

In this section, we’ll delve deeper into the power of a consistency plan and how it can help you achieve your goals.

  1. Clarity of Purpose – One of the main benefits of a consistency plan is the clarity it provides. By outlining your goals and the steps needed to achieve them, you establish a clear sense of purpose, which can be incredibly motivating. This clarity allows you to focus your efforts on what truly matters, rather than getting distracted by less important tasks or losing sight of your objectives.
  2. Accountability – When you have a plan in place, you hold yourself accountable for your actions and progress. This accountability can be a powerful motivator, as it encourages you to stay committed to your plan and avoid procrastination. By regularly reviewing your plan and tracking your progress, you can ensure that you remain on track and make any necessary adjustments to keep moving towards your goals.
  3. Measuring Progress – A key aspect of a consistency plan is the ability to measure and track your progress. By setting milestones and regularly assessing your performance, you can identify areas where improvements can be made, and celebrate your achievements along the way. This not only helps you maintain momentum but also provides valuable insights into what works best for you, allowing you to refine your approach and optimize your efforts.
  4. Resilience and Adaptability – A well-crafted consistency plan can help build resilience and adaptability. As you work towards your goals, you may encounter obstacles or setbacks that require you to adjust your approach. With a plan in place, you can more easily identify these issues and make the necessary changes to overcome them, ensuring that you continue to make progress even when faced with challenges.

The Long-term Impact of Consistency

The impact of consistency is profound and long-lasting. When you approach things with steadfast consistency, you are effectively laying the groundwork for success. Whether it’s establishing a strong daily routine, maintaining a healthy work ethic, or sticking to a long-term goal, you’ll set yourself up for a better future. Remember, the key to success is not doing something occasionally; it’s about showing up every day and doing what needs to be done. As you experience the power of consistency, you’ll become more confident in your abilities and more likely to set and achieve even greater goals. So, if you’re looking to make a meaningful impact on your life, it’s time to start embracing consistency, and the positive changes that come with it.