We are all faced with the demands of the modern world; technology overload, long working hours, high impact exercise programs, high stress media and election campaigns being just a few. This high stress lifestyle triggers our natural fight/flight survival response; which in turns releases the hormone Epinephrine (also known as adrenalin) into our bodies.When adrenalin is released for long periods of time, the adrenal glands become exhausted and the Cortisol hormone is released into our bloodstream instead.
Cortisol increases our awareness, gives us a sharp focus, keeps us alert and gives us 'ready to pounce' feeling. It's designed to help us survive life or death situations. And I believe, it is easy to become addicted to. How often do you catch yourself saying, 'oh I'm just too busy' or 'this week I worked for 60 hours' as a badge of honour or means of justification. Many of us also enjoy this alert, on edge feeling.
However, long term elevated Cortisol levels are not ideal. Cortisol has many varied effects on our bodies, from altering our immune function, weight gain, slowing our metabolism, sleep disturbances and pain in the body.
Here are some signs that you may be in long term Cortisol overload;
1. Regular backache, muscular pains and headaches: when the adrenal glands become depleted (which occurs in long term stress states) our body produces more Prolactin which makes us more sensitive to pain. Even the slightest twinge can set our pain alarm bells ringing in our brain.
2. Disturbed sleeping patterns; Cortisol levels are supposed to lower in the evening, allowing Melatonin (the sleep hormone) to kick in and help us drift peacefully off to sleep. When we have too much Cortisol we will often toss and turn and wake up feeling just as exhausted (if not more!) than when we went to bed the night before.
3. Gaining Weight (especially around the tummy and hips) even when eating well and exercising regularly
4. Repetitive colds and flus; Cortisol lowers our immune function
5. Sugar cravings; Cortisol raises our blood sugar levels which then bumps up your insulin levels which drops the blood sugar levels in the body which in turn sets off sugar bells ringing to try and raise it back up again. Oh the vicious cycle of it all!!
6. Low/ Null and Void Sex Drive; cortisol shuts down our natural sex hormones leaving us very hard to impress
7. Gut discomfort; bloating, gas, reflux... all stemming from our poor gut being shut down by Cortisol
8. Feelings of anxiety; Cortisol and epinephrine leave us feeling on edge and jittery.... no it's not just that 4th coffee of the day
9. Feelings of sadness
So if you tick a few of those boxes here are some tips to help reduce the levels of Cortisol flying around your bloodstream;
1. Restorative rather than high impact exercise. Try yoga, an easy walk, Tai Chi, or if you must run, an easy jog rather than pushing yourself to your limit.
2. Get Creative. Try painting, dancing around the living room (my personal favourite), drawing, writing, gardening- anything that lets your mind wander and dream a little
3. Consider taking some supplements or changing your diet to include more;
- Probiotic rich foods (think natural yogurt, keffir, fermented foods, miso etc)
- Antioxidant rich foods (think berries, fruits, leafy greens, fresh herbs)
- Try and eat more plant based foods which are easy to digest (I prefer to eat cooked veges over raw as they are easier to digest)
4. Meditate, breathe more, dream a little (or a lot)
5. Get out into nature (away from traffic jams, mobile phones, wi-fi and commercial news programs)
6. Love someone or something deeply and with your whole being
I hope this helps you to break free of the Cortisol addiction pattern.