Webinar presenter Duane Bowers answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Long Term Coping Skills. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Can long-term high cortisol levels affect sleep or create insomnia?
Duane Bowers: I don’t know the answer to insomnia but yes, absolutely it affects sleep. High levels of cortisol cause us to be hyper-vigilant so that we’re kind of expecting something to happen and it specifically affects our ability to sleep. Because of that hypervigilance, it also causes us to get into these brain loops where we can’t get out of the loop. We just kind of your about to fall asleep and suddenly you get this thought, I have to do something, then this and then this and then this, then you go around this loop over and over and over again, you can’t seem to stop it. So that stops our ability to sleep as well. And that’s a direct result of cortisol. So, you’re absolutely right. As far as a diagnosis of insomnia, I’m not sure. I don’t know that diagnosis and I don’t know if that can be a result of cortisol or not, but we do know for sure the cortisol does affect our ability to sleep.
Audience Question: So, getting back to basics, diet, and exercise. Does this help with focusing our body and ultimately coping with stress, is that what you’re saying?
Duane Bowers: Exercise and diet are important just for self-care, just making us healthy on a day-to-day basis. And self-care is something we should be doing whether we’re stressed or not. Whether we’re in a pandemic or not it is what we should be doing for ourselves so that our body is getting fed with good nutrition and that it’s being exercised so that keeps the cortisol levels down so that we’re not experiencing stress and that sort of thing. And so, so that just gets incorporated into the next level of resilience. Where we, okay, we’re already doing that. Now, what else do we need to do that makes us a little more long-term? So what a lot of people were doing was they were doing the self-care because they weren’t doing it before the pandemic. They started during self-care during the pandemic which really helped them to deal with their stress because it would bring down cortisol levels and all of those things. But it wasn’t solving all the problems of a long-term stressor. So, they were healthier, but they weren’t changing their perspective. They weren’t changing the way they were looking at things. And they weren’t understanding how important it was to have these other things, like a sense of hope projection into the future, social interaction, and that sort of thing. And so, it worked for a little while. But as this got longer and longer and longer, we needed to move more into resilience rather than just self-care, and more into wellness, rather than just self-care.
Audience Question: Several people text in asking about video games. So, you talked about doing activities and getting into zone and such. What about video games and those little video game apps that are on our phones can that count?
Duane Bowers: So, I’m going to be one of the few mental health folks that say, “Yeah, go for it.” And the reason I’m going to say that is, I play sudoku on my phone all the time, when I’m waiting for clients, in-between clients, whatever. And, as I said, it allows me to do some problem solving, it shifts my mentality, it actually helps me break between clients to disconnect from one before I go into the other. And so, I would suggest not playing video games that cause stress, though. But video games are problem-solving, if you think about it, they actually are. A lot of them, are you, here’s your goal, and you have to achieve that goal. You’ve got that problem-solving in a lot of ways. I’m not keen on video games that have a lot of violence, though, I have to tell you, there’s really no more evidence one way or the other, that the violence on video games causes a change in behavior. But I’m not sure it really reduces stress. So, I would suggest video games are great. As long as they’re not particularly violent, as long as they’re kind of focused on problem-solving, and you were able to achieve a goal and feel good about it after you’ve achieved it. And you don’t spend all your time on it.
Audience Question: I know we were talking prior to the webinar. I was talking about having a good glass of red wine, a little cheese, with some friends. That’s my idea of dealing with stress. But we’ve had several folks ask, is that necessarily a good idea? Is alcohol necessarily a good thing? Are you saying we should give up our glass of Cabernet?
Duane Bowers: No. I didn’t say that. But what I will say is this. You don’t want to have a friend who says, “Oh! It looks like you’ve had a rough day. Let’s knock off this bottle of wine.” You want a friend who says, “It looks like you’ve had a rough day. Let’s go for a walk. Then we’ll come back and knock off the bottle of wine.” In other words, you know, have your wine, that’s fine. But one thing to remember about any kind of alcohol is, while its initial response is, that it kind of knocks you out and it can make you go to sleep. If you drink wine or alcohol before you go to bed after about an hour, what happens is your body realizes that it takes so much energy to metabolize alcohol that you may wake up and not be able to go back to sleep because your body’s working so hard to metabolize it. So, if you’re going to use alcohol to kind of just, you know, have a glass of wine or whatever, fine. But make sure it’s not before bed because it’s going to interfere with your ability to sleep. And make sure that it’s not, you’re not dependent on it, but it’s not your only way of dealing with stress, that it’s part of the whole routine, part of a whole pattern that you’ve created, of dealing with stress, and it can be a nice reward.
Audience Question: Tell us about this thing about chocolate. Is it good for you? Is it good for your stress? Or is that just a rumor?
Duane Bowers: No, it’s not a rumor. Now, remember when we were talking about your brain creating or causing cortisol to flood the system and it affects the brain works in a way the body works. Well, we talked about the release of endorphins as bringing down cortisol and you do that through exercise or laughing or feeling good about yourself or being feeling nurtured. But there is one thing that will bring down cortisol levels which causes all of those things in the body and the brain and that is dark chocolate. Dark chocolate doesn’t release endorphins, but it actually does kind of counter the effect of cortisol, it does help to bring down the level of cortisol. The problem with it is, you know, if you really rely on that as your main source, you’ll end up kind putting a little bit of weight, so you’re fat and happy, maybe that’s fine, it’s up to you. It’s your choice but, no, you’re absolutely right there is validity to the fact that dark chocolate will help to reduce the effects of stress or the stress hormone, which is cortisol.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Long-Term Coping Skills.