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Stress and the connection to the cortisol hormone

12th May, 2023 by Cheryl Wright
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Stress and the cortisol connection

Cortisol, also referred to as the “stress hormone,” is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands (little glands that sit on top of the kidneys). It is involved in many bodily functions such as glucose metabolism, insulin release for blood sugar maintenance, blood pressure regulation, cardiovascular functions, immune function, inflammatory response, and the body’s use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

Under normal circumstances, the body regulates your natural cortisol levels. Generally, a healthy adult would have a higher cortisol level in the morning and a lower cortisol level at night. However, when a person experiences stress, the body secrets more cortisol. It is also secreted at higher levels during extreme stress (fight or flight response).

Small increases in cortisol can have positive effects, such as improved memory, reduced pain sensitivity, and increased sustained energy. The body’s stress response is usually self-regulating. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. However, if stressors are continually present (feeling under attack), the “fight or flight” response stays turned on.

When cortisol levels are too high for too long, a myriad of negative effects can happen such as reduced thyroid function, cognitive impairment, memory loss, elevated blood pressure, blood sugar imbalances, decreased bone density (leading to osteoporosis), lowered immunity, inflammatory response, slowed healing, and increased abdominal fat (studies have shown that abdominal fat is associated with greater health risks that fat in other areas of the body). Some additional long-term effects of too much cortisol include anxiety, depression, headaches, digestive problems, sleep problems, weight gain, impaired memory & concentration and heart disease.

 12 things you can do to keep cortisol at healthy levels.

- Eat a healthy diet, low in processed foods, and high in antioxidants; avoid sugar, which has been shown to dramatically affect cortisol levels; eat cortisol-reducing foods which include dark chocolate, many types of fruits, black and green tea, probiotics (friendly, symbiotic bacteria in foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut & kimchi) & prebiotics (soluble fiber/food for friendly bacteria); and drink plenty of water.

- Get the proper amount of sleep: this can vary from person to person; some things to ensure you are getting “quality sleep” include sticking to a sleep routine (consistency), avoiding caffeine later in the day, paying attention to your sleep environment (cool, dark, quiet), aiming for uninterrupted sleep/limit potential disruptions, and avoiding screens/blue light at least one hour before bed.

- Get adequate amount of exercise: 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.

- Practice relaxation techniques: deep breathing, massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga/tai chi, listening to music, spending time outdoors, self-hypnosis, and meditation.

- Have fun: take time for hobbies (reading, music, gardening, whatever makes you happy…) and maintain a good sense of humor; I’m sure you’ve heard many times that “Laughter is the best medicine.”

- Social Connectivity / Foster & maintain healthy relationships: Close-knit human bonds - whether it be family, friendship, or a romantic partner - are vital for your physical and mental health at any age; Family and friends can be a source of happiness as well as stress; spend time with those you love and learn to forgive/manage conflict with other for better emotional/physical health.

- Volunteer: volunteering has been shown to decrease the risk of depression, give a sense of purpose, teach valuable skills, help people to stay mentally and physically active, help people to develop new relationships, and help people to see the impact they can have in the world… all of which help to reduce stress levels.

- Care for a pet: relationships with animal companions has been shown to reduce stress & cortisol levels.

- Tend to your spirituality: studies have shown that those who expressed spiritual faith experience lower cortisol levels in the face of stress; if you’re not spiritual, acts of kindness have also shown to reduce cortisol levels.

- Some supplements can help such as fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids), *ashwaganda (one of the best at reducing anxiety and depression), astragalus, eleuthero (siberian ginseng), ginseng, gingko biloba, holy basil, licorice root (tho’ be careful as licorice can also affect blood pressure), maca, phosphatidylserine (PS), reishi mushrooms, rhodiola rosea, and shatavari (considered the “Queen of Herbs” in Ayurvedic medicine where it is beloved as one of the most powerful rejuvenating tonics for women).

- Essential oils can help promote relaxation including lavender, myrrh, frankincense, bergamot.

- Lastly, seek professional help when needed.

There are numerous benefits for learning to manage stress including feeling more relaxed, peace of mind and perhaps a longer, healthier life. We here are Priority Mind Management are here to help you find ways to manage your stress.

If you would like more info or to speak to Cheryl please fill in the form below and we will get back to you.

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