During an unhappy marriage I suffered low moods, physical problems, and frequent agitation. I knew things weren’t right and that my body was telling me I needed to make changes but I found logical reasons to ignore my gut instincts – where would I live, how would I support my children, I couldn’t ‘break up’ their family? In hindsight I can see my body was flooded most of the time with stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine. From an evolutionary perspective we need these hormones to help us respond appropriately to danger – they trigger the fight/flight/freeze response that helps us to survive threatening situations such as being attacked by a predator. But when there is no predator, only a stressful job, phobias or a consistently unhappy relationship, we experience them constantly over hours, days, months, even years these hormones will suppress the immune system. This can increase blood pressure and sugar levels, decrease libido, contribute to obesity and bad skin. I had chronic psoriasis, headaches and stomach aches for years. Catastrophising (imagining/visualising negative outcomes, living in fear) similarly produces these hormones.
But when we learn to control our thoughts (understanding they’re not necessarily ‘true’ but are stories we tell ourselves) and our subsequent behaviour, we can reduce stress hormones and produce more feel-good hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
We can do this by practising breathing exercises – James Nestor, author of Breath, recommends breathing through our nose to a count of 5.5 seconds for each in and out breath. Other ways of encouraging ‘happy hormones’ include stretching, exercise, a daily gratitude practice, kindness to others and self-compassion.
Visualising our thoughts and emotions can also be a powerful tool in staunching the flow. I find it helpful to imagine what’s happening in my mind and body as if it was an epic adventure movie. Negative thoughts are grey walls being smashed with a big wrecking ball, crushing Cortisol and the baddies, while Serotonin and the good guys are wizards flourishing their wands to summon positive thoughts. It might sound a bit daft but it works! You could visualise Dr Who instead, perhaps, or Harry Potter characters – it’s your movie, create the scenes that work for you. Children can do this too – it’s something that can be great fun but also very powerful and effective.
Although leaving my marriage and starting afresh was traumatic, and Covid and the resulting uncertainty and worry has been an added pressure, it has been a relief not to experience consistent hormonal flooding of my system so my skin, stomach and self-belief are much improved. There is much in the world that we cannot control but learning to master our thoughts and emotions is a positive step we can take right now to strengthen our immunity and encourage strong and healthy minds and bodies.
Claire Robertson, Ollie Coach
Claire Robertson is an Ollie Coach and NLP practitioner with a degree in psychology. She runs a private practice in the West Midlands, in the heart of Shropshire, working with children, young people and adults. Claire is also a university lecturer specialising in business, marketing and supporting students, has two children, and enjoys reading, crafts and walking.
To get in contact with Claire, email Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to https://www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com/pages/about-us