Something that my mother used to say, fairly often about me, is that I'm violent about getting (emotionally) healthy and maintaining my peace of mind. While it is a bit of a play on words (you know, being "violent" in order to "keep the peace"), I won't lie…she is exactly right. The older—and prayerfully wiser—I get, the more I tend to repel anything that is counterproductive in my world. On the heels of that, the more I study about how stress plays a direct role in illnesses like heart-disease, diabetes, depression, obesity and even premature death, the more intentional I am about maintaining my overall health and well-being. A part of that means keeping my stress levels low.
Take the stress hormone known as cortisol, for example. While this steroid hormone plays a significant role in increasing our body's metabolism, controlling our blood pressure, and reducing how much inflammation our system produces, it can cause all sorts of health-related issues when it's out of balance. When your cortisol levels are too low, that can result in things like fatigue, muscle weakness and weight loss. When it's too high, that can ultimately lead to weight gain, irregular periods, acne, mood swings, slow healing (especially when it comes to your skin), headaches and high blood pressure.
While rest, exercise and meditation are a few ways to naturally increase your cortisol levels, if yours tilts towards the higher side, there are foods that you can eat to naturally decrease them too. So, if your period has been a little erratic lately or your blood pressure has been a little higher than usual, after seeing your doctor (for a clear diagnosis), consider adding some of the following foods to your diet. As you're about to see, they are proven to be good for you on so many levels; including when it comes to getting your cortisol levels back on track.
If you like to snack on blueberries, you are definitely doing your body good for a myriad of reasons. Blueberries are high in vitamins C and K. Blueberries contain anthocyanins which have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer compounds in them. Blueberries also contain calcium and iron to keep your bones healthy, fiber to aid in healthy digestion and, properties to help your brain to maintain its short-term memory. The reason why blueberries are great for decreasing your cortisol levels is because they are low in sodium and high in magnesium. The balance of both of these plays a direct role in keeping your blood pressure in check, which is always a good thing.
Blueberries Tip: You can keep blueberries from molding while helping them to last longer by adding a cup of white vinegar to three cups of distilled water. Let your fresh blueberries soak in the solution for 10 minutes, then drain them, run them under cold water and dry them with a couple of paper towels. Then all you have to do is store them in a sealable container, place them in the fridge and they can easily last for up to two weeks.
2. Black Tea
Black tea is a really great drink. It contains the antioxidants theaflavins and thearubigins which are able to strengthen your immune system and help to keep diabetes at bay. Black tea also has flavonoids that can help to keep your heart strong. Some other cool things about black tea is it's able to remove bad bacteria in your gut, it has compounds that can lower your blood pressure, and there are properties in it that can reduce your risk of having a stroke by as much as 21 percent (if you drink a cup of black tea per day).
The reason why it makes this particular list is because, when elevated cortisol levels result in a rise in your heart rate, consuming black tea can decrease the cortisol in your system by as much as 47 percent. Pretty impressive, indeed.
Black Tea Tip: Not the biggest fan of how black tea tastes? Try Food Network's Honey Citrus Southern Iced Tea recipe here.
3. Cannellini Beans
Never heard of these types of beans before? Basically, they are white beans that are super popular in Italian, Greek and French cuisines. Because cannellini beans are considered to be a macronutrient that is high in protein, iron, potassium and calcium yet doesn't contain any amount of fat, I'm pretty sure you can see why they are top on the list of being a dietary recommendation. As far as health benefits go, cannellini beans help to lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels, reduce free radicals and body inflammation, so it makes total sense why you should pick some up if you want to keep your cortisol levels in check.
Cannellini Beans Tip: Put a new twist to cannellini beans by making some Cannellini-Bean Pasta with Beurre Blanc. You can get step-by-step instructions here.
4. Dried Apricots
If you're looking for more healthy snacks to add to your diet, how about some dried apricots? They are low in calories while being high in fiber, calcium and magnesium. Since dried apricots also have a good amount of Vitamin A in them, they are able to boost your immune system, encourage cell growth, maintain your vision, strengthen your bones, and even assist in healthy embryonic development if you happen to be pregnant. Something else that dried apricots have in them is potassium. When cortisol levels are elevated, a decrease in potassium comes as a direct result (this results in fatigue, muscle cramps, mood swings, heart palpitations and breathing difficulties). Eating foods with potassium in them can help to restore the potassium in your body that has been lost.
Dried Apricots Tip: If you want to take a stab at making some apricot fruit roll-ups, Natasha Kitchen's website has your back. Check out "How to Make Apricot Fruit Leather" to get the recipe.
5. Holy Basil
Here's what's a trip about holy basil—it's literally an adaptogenic herb. What that means is it's the type of herb that helps your body to build up a resistance to stressors that might try and attack your body. Holy basil is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. Because of this, it increases energy levels, lowers inflammation, improves brain function, strengthens organ function and yes, balances out your cortisol levels. Just make sure that you don't give it to infants or children (studies on its safety for them is on-going) and that you only take it six weeks at a time, should you choose to use it in supplement form. The reason why is because holy basil is so potent, that it's not a good idea to take larger quantities without taking breaks in between.
Holy Basil Tip: How should you store this fresh herb? First, make sure to clip the ends of it. Then, place the herb into a glass jar or vase. Cover up the jar and store it in the refrigerator. It will last for a week if you do. Or, you can cut up the leaves of the herbs, put them into ice trays that are filled with water. If you then transfer the cubes to a large resealable plastic bag, the cubes can keep for up to a year.
Mangoes are as good for you as they taste. They are high in antioxidants, the combination of vitamins A and C can help to keep your skin clear and, because they are on the lower end of the glycemic index scale, this means that they can tackle the sweet cravings you might have if you happen to be diabetic.
If high cholesterol is something that you struggle with, mangoes can assist with that too. How? Well, since they are a fruit that contains high levels of fibre pectin, mangoes are able to reduce the cholesterol in your system that can lead to plaque in your blood vessels which can ultimately restrict blood flow to your heart.
Mangoes Tip: Sick of mangoes turning brown quicker than you can finish eating them? If so, once you slice a mango up, put the slices into some fresh lemon juice. The acid will slow down the browning process without interfering with the taste of the mango itself.
7. Olive Oil
Out of all the different kinds of oil that you have to choose from, you should definitely have olive oil in your kitchen pantry. It's loaded with omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and, it has anti-inflammatory properties in it. Also, unlike a lot of other oils that can do the opposite (of what I'm about to say) over time, studies reveal that olive oil can help to prevent heart disease and prevent strokes, fight off cancer cells, effectively treat rheumatoid arthritis, plus it does not lead to weight gain. As a bonus, because olive oil contains the compound oleuropein, it can lower cortisol levels too.
Olive Oil Tip: There are basically three different kinds of olive oil— refined, virgin, and extra virgin. If you want to consume the one that has the most health benefits, it's best to go with extra virgin olive oil. That's because it is the least processed and refined.
Salmon is probably my favorite kind of fish. I like that it's not super fishy in taste and has a light texture. Anyway, I always feel good whenever I eat it because I know that it's looking out for my physical health whenever I do. Salmon is rich in omega-3s, B vitamins and protein. It's also high in potassium, selenium (a mineral that protects your bone health and your thyroid) and astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a compound that reduces oxidation in your system. As a result, it can help to keep your cortisol levels from getting out of control.
Salmon Tip: If you want to get the most nutritional benefits from eating salmon, try poaching it. Poaching pretty much consists of placing salmon filets in a shallow saucepan, along with water, wine or bone or vegetable broth for about 10 minutes; just enough for the salmon to not be raw without being overcooked. If you want to check out a video on how to prepare salmon this way, click here.
As far as nuts go, walnuts are packed with all kinds of health benefits. Not only are they also a food that are high in antioxidants, but they are a great source of omega-3, selenium, calcium, zinc and Vitamin E. If you're looking for a food that promotes a healthy gut, will lower your risk of having type 2 diabetes and even helps your body to age gracefully, walnuts can handle all of this. Because these are the types of nuts that significantly decrease oxidative stress to your system, they are something else that you can eat to get your cortisol levels down too. Very cool.
Walnuts Tip: Have you ever wondered how to caramelize your own walnuts? All you need to do is put one cup of walnuts, ¼ cup of brown sugar and one tablespoon of butter into a non-stick skillet. Over medium-heat, stir the nuts and the mixture together for about five minutes. Then transfer the nuts to parchment paper, making sure to separate the nuts so that they don't stick together. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes and then your nuts will be ready to eat. Enjoy!
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Big Sean Reminds Fans To Take Care Of Themselves Amid Mental Health Awareness Month
Rapper Sean "Big Sean" Anderson is inspiring his fans to prioritize self-care through a timely reminder conveyed in a tweet.
This message comes when the 35-year-old's passion for mental health is at an all-time high. Over the years, Anderson has openly discussed his mental health struggles in various interviews, and his music, especially in his last album, "Detroit 2," released in 2020.
Anderson's drive to inform those about the importance of one's well-being ran so deep that the "Wolves" lyricist, alongside his mother, Myra Anderson, would create a nonprofit organization called the Sean Anderson Foundation to provide "academic and wellness resources" for the youth. To date, the father of one continues to demonstrate his commitment to raising awareness about mental health by intentionally sharing his recent tweet during Mental Health Awareness Month
\u201cTo everybody stressed the fuck out or overwhelmed cause y\u2019all busy\u2026 just remember, It\u2019s much more stressful when things ARENT happening versus stress bc they are. Ok, back to work\u2026 but take care of you too \ud83e\udd32\ud83c\udffe\u2728\u201d— Sean Don (@Sean Don) 1684455884
Big Sean On Why It's Important To Take Care of Oneself
In the May tweet, Anderson offered advice to many individuals that may feel "stressed" or "overwhelmed" due to their busy schedules.
The "Body Language" emcee told his millions of followers that although their work-life balance may be a bit hectic, it is essential to take care of themselves during those moments and to think about the stress they would have endured without those work responsibilities. Anderson wrote,
"To everybody stressed the f--k out or overwhelmed cause y'all busy… just remember, It's much more stressful when things AREN'T happening versus stress bc they are. Ok, back to work… but take care of you too."
Big Sean On His Past Mental Health Struggles
This isn't the first time Anderson has spoken about caring for oneself.
During a past interview with People magazine, the "I Know" rapper revealed when he realized that he had to step back to recuperate. In a 2020 discussion, Anderson disclosed that his mental health started declining because he failed to take a break and was constantly creating scenarios about certain situations, ultimately leading to his anxiety and depression.
"You just have to pace yourself and take a break before you need a break. It gets very real, especially with a person like me. I live inside my head so much," he said. "I go over scenarios and I go over two or three things at the same time, and that creates an overwhelming feeling and a lot of anxiety, which leads to depression, which leads to all these things."
Anderson would add that after finding the tools, including therapy, to combat his depression and anxiety, he's learned "how to pace" himself during his low moments "as opposed to before" when he didn't have the proper guidance.
"I had to learn how to pace myself. Not to say I still don't go through those things, I definitely do. It's just, now I know how to deal with them. I know how to get through them easier and I know what it is [I'm dealing with]," he stated. "As opposed to before, when I was confused on why I was feeling like that, because nobody ever talked to me about it."
Anderson wrapped up his remarks by encouraging others to prioritize themselves and their mental health because when he finally did it, he started "feeling better" and "looking better."
"I'm putting myself as a priority and that really, really speaks volumes. When you do that, you start looking better, and you start feeling better, and being better in everything you do. So, it's important," he said.
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