Stress Is Everywhere
It’s 2020, and more and more we are finding that patients are reporting stress levels. Having chronic stress can make a person miserable as it starts to take a toll on health and behavior. We know that everyone experiences that stress in different ways shortness of breath, faster than usual heart rate, sweat, stomach cramps, etc. but one thing we all have in common is the chemical in our body that causes these stress symptoms to manifest.
We’re talking about the hormone cortisol, which is emitted by the adrenal glands and is the primary cause of the fight or flight response, we get from stress. When we’re stressed, our cortisol levels increase, which can serious affect our health in a variety of ways. Let’s take a closer look at how increased cortisol levels affect the body and mind, and what you can do to better regulate it.
How Cortisol Affects Your Nervous System
Your nervous system is essentially made up of two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Commonly referred to as the fight or flight response, the sympathetic nervous system is essentially the part of the nervous system that controls how we react to stress. Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system controls the body’s functions when it’s resting.
In addition to regulating our stress response, cortisol also:
- Helps regulate blood pressure
- Manages the body’s use of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
- Controls sleep cycles
- Increases blood sugar levels
- Boosts energy, at least temporarily
People with regularly higher levels of cortisol are at risk of developing some serious mental and physical health conditions, including anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, insomnia, among others.
How To Regulate Cortisol Levels
First off, it’s important to understand that while stress is the primary cause of elevated cortisol levels in most people, it is by far not the only one. Regularly occurring higher cortisol levels can be caused by hormone imbalances, malfunctioning glands, side effects or reactions to medications, and others.
No matter what the cause of increased cortisol, it’s important to know there are a variety of ways to reduce it naturally, which should be preferred to taking prescription drugs to address the issue.
Here Are A Few Things You Can Try To Help Get Cortisol Levels Under Control
Get a good night of sleep
It is essential to get a good night of sleep to allow cortisol levels return to normal. Unfortunately, this can be a vicious circle we don’t sleep well because we’re stressed, which increases cortisol and makes us more stressed, which in turn causes us to continue to not sleep well. If you’re feeling stressed and you’re not getting enough sleep, there’s a good chance cortisol is the reason for it. To get a better night’s sleep, it’s best to avoid caffeine, get off electronics before bed, get a little exercise, and even take naps during the day if needed.
Get moderate exercise
Exercising can help reduce cortisol levels, though prolonged workouts may increase cortisol temporarily, having he opposite intended effect. If you’re feeling stressed out, a gentle moderate workout can dramatically decrease cortisol, helping you to focus and relax, particularly at night when you need to get sleep!
We recently discussed how taking the time to reconnect with your breath can dramatically decrease stress. This is because mindful breathing helps to calm both the mind and body, easing cortisol levels downward.
One way to lower cortisol is to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, and a big part of that is our diet. Eating whole foods that are dense in nutrients while cutting out processed sugars and carbs can jumpstart your parasympathetic system, and ultimately help lower cortisol levels.
Have some fun!
Although life can be stressful, it’s a wonderful journey and should be fun. But when we’re stressed out, it’s sometimes easy to forget that. However, having fun can release dopamine and other happy chemicals in the brain, which can in turn reduce cortisol levels. Remember to live in the moment and enjoy the company of loved ones.
We know this is always easier said than done, so if certain activities are a source of stress, then try to spend some time outside going for a walk or hiking. That way, you’ll get some exercise, you’ll get the opportunity to focus on your breathing, and you’ll be able to lower your cortisol levels naturally.
Chronic stress can cause many health problems, leaving the body weak and vulnerable. If you want to learn more about how cortisol affects the body and how to regulate it, Call us today! We’re happy to explore strategies that can reduce stress and help you feel your best.