Usually associated with the physical and mental side-effects of a busy lifestyle, stress is rampant during times such as this. For many people, a bad economy is at the root of money worries, leading to high anxiety. During periods of stress, the body generates chemicals called cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.
Coritsol is commonly known as the “stress hormone,” this very important hormone is produced and secreted by the adrenal gland. It helps regulate numerous body functions including blood pressure, insulin release, glucose metabolism, immune function and inflammatory response. It also plays an important role in the regulation of emotion, cognition, reward, and energy utilization.
Why do we need to control cortisol?
It’s simple. Excess cortisol is secreted during times of physical or psychological stress, which can alter the normal pattern of cortisol release. When hormones are imbalanced, often due to stress, lack of exercise or a poor diet, a person can experience symptoms such as depression, mood swings, low libido and fatigue.
Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, and helps maintain blood sugar levels, which may cause an increase in appetite and cravings for high-carb, high-fat foods. Not surprisingly therefore, high levels of cortisol can also contribute to weight gain and even affect where you put on weight. Studies show that stress and elevated cortisol levels actually cause an increase in visceral fat in the abdominal area, the worst place to store excess fat. There is a strong correlation between abdominal fat and cardiovascular disease.
Lifestyle Changes to Control Cortisol
Sleep is a very important component of any healthy lifestyle. Making sure you get an adequate amount of sleep each night can help keep hormone levels in an ideal range. According to nutrition4health.org, the key to a rejuvenating sleep is having a normal cortisol rhythm during the day that leads up to a restful nights sleep. In other words, the two go hand in hand.
Although caffeine can function as an effective way to boost metabolism, making sure you don’t exceed 400mg each day is important where cortisol is concerned.
Vitamin C is thought to be a stress buster that can have a positive impact on the hormone cortisol. Psychology Today declares that vitamin C helps reduce the physical and psychological impact of stress. “In one study German researchers subjected 120 people to a sure-fire stressor….Half of those studied were given 1,000 mg of vitamin C. Such signs of stress as elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol and high blood pressure were significantly greater in those who did not get the vitamin supplement. Those who got vitamin C reported that they felt less stressed when they got the vitamin,” reports Psychology Today.
Refrain from drinking alcohol. High levels of intoxication could stimulate cortisol release. A study titled Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that long-term chronic drinking produces an increase in cortisol both during intoxication and withdrawal.
To keep cortisol levels balanced or as the experts call it, in a homeostatic state, relaxation techniques can be very beneficial. Everything from Yoga, to listening to music, to exercising regularly can have a positive effect on the body’s response to stress.
So, how do you recognize when your stress level may be too high?
- Feeling excessive guilt when you’re relaxing, and not always staying busy
- Having trouble getting to sleep
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Experiencing an unusually high level of sensitivity
- Tension in your body
- Indigestion, loss of appetite or eating purely for comfort
Making some simple lifestyle changes should help ease many of the symptoms associated with stress. If however, you are experiencing stress or anxiety that is a real cause for concern, you should always talk to your doctor.
- Take things one step at a time. It’s ok to say no when demands are too high.
- Talk to someone who is positive and will offer you useful advice.
- Let out your frustration in a healthy way. Try shouting out load, screaming or even hitting a pillow!
- Use relaxation techniques such as yoga to help calm your body and mind.
- Become physically active. Exercise releases endorphins into your blood stream, giving you a feeling of happiness and improved sense of well-being.
- Take time out from your usual daily routine. Socialize with friends or take time to be at one with yourself.
Stress, high levels of these cortisol can raise blood pressure, increase heart rate and make you sweat more. In addition to this, too much cortisol circulating in the body can lead to weight gain. Excessive amounts of cortisol releases fat and sugar into your bloodstream and even preventing the immune system from functioning properly. Do all that you can to be stress-less!