Cortisol & Stress
Cortisol and stress are intrinsically linked. This hormone is often referred to as “the stress hormone” because your body secretes it in higher doses when you’re in a “fight or flight” mode often triggered by a stressful situation.
Cortisol in small amounts is beneficial for normal bodily functions such as maintaining homeostasis, increasing your immunity and improving your memory. However, when it’s released into your bloodstream in larger doses over an extended period of time, it can have a detrimental effect on your health.
Prolonged chronic stress can lead to a decrease in bone density and muscle tissue, unstable blood glucose levels, depression, hypertension, impaired cognitive function and thyroid problems. Wounds can take longer to heal and your body’s immune system may weaken.
Cortisol increases abdominal fat, which can put you at risk of strokes, heart failure, or metabolic syndrome leading to diabetes. An increase in this hormone can also lead to reproductive health issues in women, as too much of it can lead to irregular menstrual cycles.
It’s more important than ever to take responsibility for your well-being and manage your stress, and to keep potentially dangerous hormone levels in check.
Ways to lower Cortisol & Reduce Stress
- Increase your water intake. You should always check your hydration levels and drink at least 6-8 glasses of water daily. This is vital, as dehydration can raise cortisol levels.
- Meditate for stress relief. Set aside a few minutes daily for relaxing deep breathing exercises. This will assist with stress reduction by easing tension and helping you to feel more centered, calm and balanced.
- Reduce your caffeine intake. Too much caffeine can lead to dehydration, which in turn can lead to an increase in cortisol. Also, an excess of caffeine can make you feel jumpy or anxious, which could also increase this hormone. In general, you should try keeping your caffeine intake to a minimum. Enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning if you need it, but make the switch to antioxidant-packed green tea in the afternoon. Also, try brewing your coffee with half decaffeinated beans – you may soon find that you can change to decaf altogether.
- Practice an array of relaxation techniques. These may include yoga, journaling, listening to soothing music, spending time in nature, spending time with your family or pets or doing something artistic.
- Try to avoid refined sugars. An excess of “comfort” foods are not so comforting to your hormone levels. Refined sugars or foods that are high in carbohydrates often wreak havoc on your blood glucose and hormone levels. You may be tempted to binge on junk food when stressed, but it’s always in your body’s best interest to eat low glycemic carbohydrates such as vegetables, or a small fruit and protein portion during stressful times. Try veggie slices and hummus, an apple with almond butter or a handful of nuts. If you’re constantly stressed you may have noticed that you’re constantly hungry, too. This means that you probably have elevated stress hormone levels. If so, removing all the junk food from your reach and eating whole proteins such as meat and fish is even more important. Eating a diet rich in proteins, healthy fats and fiber will help keep you feeling fuller longer and naturally regulate your hormone levels.
- Include strength training in your fitness regime. This will help your body balance the amount of stress hormone it releases. Lifting can also set off a flurry of hormones such as testosterone and human growth hormone which can help boost metabolism.
- Shorten your workout sessions. You should always strive for exercise sessions of less than 60 minutes. Your body releases cortisol when you exercise. If you work out for more than an hour at a time, you’ll end up with a spike in the level of this hormone. You’ll also lose muscle mass if your sessions are too long, as your body will start using your muscles for the fuel that energizes you.
- Never skip a meal. Skipping meals could cause your body to go into starvation mode, which ultimately can lead to more weight gain when you do eat again. Also, when you skip a meal, your blood glucose levels drop and your cortisol levels are increased. You can prevent dips in your blood glucose levels by planning 4-5 healthy meals over a 12 hour time span. This will do wonders for stabilizing your blood glucose levels and keeping cortisol in balance.
- Incorporate interval training into your workouts. This is much more beneficial than lengthy cardiovascular training sessions. As mentioned above, long workout sessions often lead to spikes in cortisol levels. You should always strive for shorter bursts of high intensity exercise such as sprint interval training. This technique makes your hypothalamus more responsive to cortisol, and leads to more effective balancing of cortisol levels in the long term.
With advanced diagnostic hormone testing and in-depth personal consultations, the biostation can create a total wellness plan that’s tailored for you. Contact us for more information on how to manage your stress and cortisol levels.