The Cortisol Connection
Cortisol effects us all; an important hormone in our body. Secreted by the adrenal glands, cortisol supports our body in the effort to metabolize glucose and regulate insulin. It’s also instrumental in regulating blood pressure, immune functionality and inflammatory response. Certainly, cortisol levels fluctuate during the day: naturally with lowest levels in the evening when we are at rest, and higher levels in the morning when our busy days are starting.
Normally, it’s present in the body at higher levels in the morning, and at its lowest at night. Although stress isn’t the only reason that cortisol is secreted into the bloodstream, it has been termed “the stress hormone” because the two are most definitely connected. There are several factors that cause cortisol to act (or – secrete into the bloodstream) but the most popular, or discussed – is stress; and it’s why cortisol is often called the ‘stress hormone’.
But – secreting cortisol is our body’s way of handing stress – increase cortisol during stressful situations. So, cortisol gets a bad rap, because of it’s affiliation to stress but it is also responsible for some positive things – like heightened memory, bursts of energy and immunity in survival situations, lower sensitivity to pain during injury or pain – and it helps maintain homeostasis. Bottom line – we need it!
They key is keeping the level of cortisol in our body at a healthy level – and stress is directly connected – by design. Of course – all people secrete different levels of the hormone. And, there are adverse effects too, to cortisol – such as weight gain and complexion problems. Studies have also shown that people who secrete higher levels of cortisol in response to stress also tend to eat more food, and food that is higher in carbohydrates than people who secrete less cortisol. Certainly – weight gain and complexion problems would add to self-esteem and could be additional stress to have to react to. It’s a cycle of stress that must be stopped.
What can you do? Learn to listen to your body – and take good care of it.
Make sure you’re feeding your body the right foods, staying hydrating and exercising regularly. Give yourself some downtime every day – by learning how to relax. After any stressful situation – or just after a busy day – take some downtime for yourself. Learn what lifestyle changes you need to make to keep you from getting too stressed out in the first place: are you overworked? Over-committed? Do you over-react and worry too much?
Counseling, keeping a journal, yoga, music, breathing techniques, meditation – all are great ways to cope with stress. And everyone reacts differently to stress situations. But knowing this, and knowing you are in charge of your reactions (or – remembering) is key! Stay in charge of your life, and stay in charge of healthy cortisol levels.