A small spark of stress can ignite a firestorm, but it doesn’t have to. Give yourself an hour of “time out” and you will go from stressed to rest. You can design your own happy hour without alcohol or scheduling hassles. Gift yourself time doing something you love. Your cortisol will metabolize in that time, and the world will look better. It may seem hard to enjoy anything while your cortisol is surging. But when you know how your brain works, you can make it happen.
Your Brain and Stress
Stress is caused by cortisol, a chemical we’ve inherited from animals. It surges when an animal smells a predator and prepares a critter to run. Your body eliminates cortisol in about an hour, so if you do something fun for an hour, the threatened feeling will be gone. Unless you trigger more.
And you do trigger more much of the time because cortisol tells your brain to look for evidence of a threat. When a gazelle smells a lion, cortisol tells it to gather details about the lion’s location so it knows which way to run. When your cortisol turns on, your big human cortex starts gathering details about the threat. It’s good at finding threat signals when it looks. That triggers more cortisol and more evidence-seeking and more cortisol. It’s a bad loop.