"I'm a night owl."
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me this, especially a creative, I'd be rich.
But did you know that having energy at night isn't natural?
Did you know as living breathing creatures, our bodies are supposed to be fully in sync with nature every day? Wild, I know.
We are supposed to be awake when it's light out and asleep hen its dark.
So why are some of us so much more energized at night? Why do so many of us night owls have sleep and health problems?
Because many of us are in permanent fight or flight mode and, therefore, addicted to cortisol.
We've heard that "stress kills" but our modern society doesn't really care. Or, at least it didn't. I believe there is a shift happening, and I'm writing this to help it (and us) along.
So let's find out - are you addicted to cortisol?
Have you ever felt hyped up after an argument? Have you ever been so caught up in work or life that you've forgotten to eat all day? Ever find yourself in the same stressful situations over and over again, asking why does this happen to me? Do you prefer eating on the go or working while you eat instead of sitting down and truly enjoying a meal? Do you have a hard time falling or staying asleep? Do you need to scroll or watch tv before bed? Do you love watching high intensity shows?
If you answered yes to any of these, your body may be addicted to cortisol.
The reason our bodies love these fight or flight chemicals, even if it isn't necessarily an enjoyable experience, is that we are exhausted from overusing our adrenal glands. Our bodies are tired. It's a horrible cycle - we are triggered into fight or flight the first time, and then we never have a chance to fully rest. So by the time we get triggered again.... you get the point.
The first thing we need to do is understand how fight or flight gets turned on in the first place.
So what are the triggers for cortisol release? Organic Olivia pointed 4 out in her podcast recently.
1. Perceived stress
Our fight or flight is for survival - not for surviving family events or big meetings. For surviving from predators and life or death situations. This may be hard to believe but your to do list isn't a life or death situation. Your perception of it, however, tells your body that it is. So, there is trigger number one.
2. Circadian rhythm disruption
Our circadian rhythm is our natural 24 hour cycle of temperature and hormone levels that regulate basically everything in our physical bodies. When we sleep, HOW we sleep, how we feel, the function of our organs... And when we disrupt that with things like late night Instagram scrolls and overnight or changing work schedules, our bodies rely on fight or flight chemicals to get through it, which totally disrupts our sleep. And deep sleep is absolutely essential for our brains glymphatic system and our body's lymphatic system to detox, among many other things our body does overnight. to keep us healthy.
3. Blood sugar spikes and drops
I don't remember anything from my 6th grade general music class except the time my teacher drew a picture of what happens to our blood sugar after we eat different amounts of sugar. I can still see how high, and then how low, the spikes went on the chalkboard when he talked about candy, compared to how balanced it stayed after vegetables.
And it's not just the high spikes that are dangerous. It's when our blood sugar drops beneath the middle line that cortisol is released because our bodies don't have enough sugar to run off.
This is anything from leaky gut to chronic illness inflammation. A certain amount of inflammation is necessary - but too much is exhausting on your body.
I bet all of us have at least one of this triggers in our lives. It's so difficult not to, but there are ways we can deal with it. So how do we do that?
Here are 6 practices to turn off fight or flight and break your addiction to cortisol.
1. Move & stretch every day
Cortisol release is MEANT to be followed by movement.
Physical activity will literally calm your nervous system by using the energy created by the stress reaction, but also metabolizing the stress chemicals your body released. Anyone who owns a dog knows this. When they have too much pent up energy, it turns into nervous energy and they tend to make poor choices like chewing up a shoe or digging a hole in the backyard. Humans aren't too much different - our pent up energy just comes through in anxiety and health issues.
Also, since we hold emotions in our bodies, it is important to not only work through them mentally, but release them physically.
So what types of movement helps?
I have found that a 30 minute walk is enough to burn off excess energy and calm my nervous system. I also enjoy doing any yoga positions that involve lunges and twisting because I usually hold my stress in my hips and my shoulders. As much as I hate the gym, I have found that I feel incredible after lifting. Many people love a quick dance session or a good run.
2. Eat regularly & leave fasting for overnight
While my first step to self care was learning to take care of my body with food, I still struggle with this.
I tend to work right through meals. To be completely honest, I typed this post as I ate my breakfast fruit smoothie. Just caught myself and finished it before continuing haha.
With long work days, meal replacement bars, and fasting being so popular, it's easy to skip this practice. But when you watch animals in the wild, they always make time for food. It's wild to listen to our bodies and instincts - to listen past the fight or flight and really hear what our bodies are saying.
Giving yourself nourishment regularly is difficult, but is one of the best ways to love yourself.
As for fasting, simply not eating from dinner to breakfast is enough for your body. If you'd like to extend it, some people eat all their meals between 10am and 6pm. Even if you don't change your breakfast time, it's best not to spike your blood sugar late at night, so eating an earlier dinner can benefit you in many ways.
3. Rest to digest - food & emotions
Did you know your body has to be in a restful state to fully digest food? If you are working through or driving during your meals, your body isn't able to fully absorb the nutrients you are eating.
The same goes for emotions. It is so hard to stop and let ourselves actually feel. We push through, continuing to be productive and post on social media rather than stopping and digesting the emotions we are feeling. And unfortunately, they don't just go away. There is actual research that when we don't deal with emotions, parts of our body will store them in the form of stress. Just think about how we can hold tension in our shoulders, or for me my lower back, and you'll understand.
4. Stop participating in arguments - especially on Facebook
One look at the Facebook newsfeed, and you could probably see that everyone is addicted to stress. The arguments about who is right and wrong, the dramatic responses to overblown news media. Even if you don't participate, seeing inflammatory posts can incite a physical response. After just two weeks away from the platform, I've already felt my stress levels decrease. And I stopped watching the local news a long time ago. Outside of the media, there are probably relationships in your life that usually involve arguments, or people in your life that enjoy arguing.
I'm not saying you shouldn't be informed and you shouldn't have a Facebook. I'm absolutely not saying to cut people out of your life.
Listen to your body.
There are ways to approach all of these situations and change your perception of them. If you understand that people are addicted to their fear and stress, you will be able to interact with the news and social media and friends or family mindfully. It's not personal. There's no need for you to react. It's not life or death.
Wild animals reserve their energy for situations where they truly need it. They have strong boundaries in place of what they allow to rile them up and what they do not. Teach yourself to do the same.
5. No electronics before bed
Honestly, how many times are we going to hear and read this before we finally listen?
Just last night, I was up late researching cruise ships in storms because I'm about to go on a cruise with my friend who works on one and I'm TERRIFIED. But WHY?! Why in the world would I use electronics to look up something that scares me right before bed. You can bet that I am exhausted today.
And the number of people that watch scary movies and crime shows before bed just blows my mind. That is somewhere I can actually draw the line. I definitely don't need that extra stress.
But it doesn't even have to be scary or intense. Just bright lights, and especially blue lights from electronics are too stimulating.
So, you don't have to shut your phone off totally (although you should do that, AND even shut your wifi off before bed, but thats a whole other post). But at least an hour before you want to be asleep, I suggest setting your alarm (or use this app to track your sleep and wake up gently), putting your phone on airplane mode, and setting it facedown on your night stand.
If you are on a weird work schedule or find yourself needing to be up late, at least wear blue light blocking glasses like the ones I wear from Amazon, here.
6. Allow a withdrawal period
Any addiction comes with a withdrawal period. In addiction, our neural pathways are so used to a certain feedback loop that your brain will crave the same chemical releases that it's used to. Expecting this to happen will absolutely help with breaking the cycle. Practice recognizing the feeling when it comes. Step back into an awareness of it. Allow yourself to feel it, and then simply remember that it's just a feeling and you have a choice.
When we are triggered into fight or flight and we choose to respond in peace - that is power.
When we make the choice to practice self care despite our physical addiction -that is power.
The power we need to heal and live your life to the fullest.
The power of being wild.