There’s a lot of discussion nowadays about how to manage your cortisol level and improve your overall health and wellness. There is a ton of information about the correlation between high levels of poorly managed stress and high levels of cortisol in your bloodstream. The truth is that understanding and managing your cortisol levels is not at all straightforward or simple. As a matter of fact, it is actually quite complicated because there are factors that contribute to high levels of cortisol besides stress. To keep the conversation simple, in this article we are going to discuss one of the major contributors to out of control cortisol levels and that is stress.
Cortisol is the notorious stress hormone secreted by your adrenal glands—those little organs sitting on top of your kidneys. Cortisol is usually secreted in response to some type of physical or emotional danger that your body perceives. It’s important to note is that we get into trouble with cortisol when your body is constantly sensing dangerous threats and your cortisol ‘on’ switch is stuck in that ‘on’ position.
When cortisol is ‘out of whack’, you might experience some of the following symptoms:
- Visceral fat (a.k.a. Belly fat)
- Overall weight gain
- Rounding of the face
- Severe fatigue
- High blood pressure
- Difficulty concentrating or brain fog
- Thinning skin
- Slowed healing
- Muscle weakness
- Wired but tired
- Craving for sweets and sugar
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone.
In 2011, the American Psychological Association found 75% of Americans claimed they have an unhealthy amount of stress to deal with on a daily basis. Dr. Mark Hyman, family physician and New York Times best-selling author says, “Ninety five percent of disease is either caused by or worsened by stress.” We have not been successful at managing our stress (or our reaction to imagined stress) and as a consequence, there is a rampant epidemic of elevated cortisol throughout the civilized world! So you see, this is affecting a ton of people.
You can start now and create your own protocol to manage your cortisol levels:
Here are 5 action steps to help you manage your cortisol level by managing your stress load.
Get tested: The symptoms of elevated cortisol levels mimic those of many other common diseases. If you suspect that you or someone you love may by suffering from this undiagnosed condition, get tested. There are typically a few different tests that are available. There is a cortisol urine and blood test that measures the cortisol levels in your blood and urine. That makes sense. Then there’s the saliva test that typically measures your cortisol level over the course of a 12 hour period of time. Ask your doctor about which test is best for you.
Get quality restorative sleep: I can’t stress this enough, whatever chronic condition you may be struggling with start combating ot with good quality sleep, especially elevated cortisol and adrenal fatigue. Pay special attention to the timing, length and quality of your sleep. Cortisol increases in people who sleep during the day rather than at night. According to this documented study, over time, sleep deprivation cause cortisol to rise. To heal the body, strongly consider your stance on the importance of sleep and respecting the circadian rhythm.
Get a quiet time routine of daily prayer and/or meditation. This doesn’t happen unless you schedule the time in your calendar. Make an appointment with yourself and then keep that appointment.
Get Vigilant of Stressful Thinking Patterns. Stressful thoughts haunt all of us. However, a constant barrage of stressful thoughts cause cortisol to soar. When and if you experience these thought patterns, begin to “cast down” worrisome thoughts. Try prayer, deep breathing or journaling as a weapon against this. There’s also some great adaptogenic herbs that can help calm the mind and the central nervous system like ashwagandha, holy basil and rhodiola to name a few. As always check with your physician before you undertake an herbal solution.
Get that body moving by establishing an exercise routine. Physical exercise can extract stress from the body and lower cortisol levels. Be careful here though, because too much strenuous exercise actually increases cortisol levels. Short spurts of exercise are just as effective as one long session. If you are relatively new to exercise, I suggest long walks in nature. The most important thing is to do it and do it regularly.
Get a healthy diet and eat from the earth. Eat your fruits and veggies every day. Mom was right about eating your greens. There’s plenty of scientific evidence that stress levels diminish with a plant-based diet. Even if you don’t completely go vegan, add more fruits and vegetables to each meal every day to get the benefit.
Get an attitude of gratitude. As a matter of fact, a gratitude journal is a phenomenal way to lower your stress level.
Get off of alcohol and caffeine. Both of these substances can raise cortisol levels and perpetuate the ‘fight or flight response’ cycle . So if you are experiencing unwanted symptoms of elevated cortisol, choose a different beverage.
So there you have it! We know stress is rampant in our society along with all of the symptoms of unregulated cortisol.
Even before you begin to suffer from symptoms of excess cortisol—take the following action step: Look over the list of the suggestions above and pick one to implement today. If you are not spending regular exercise time, begin today—tomorrow at the latest. Or if you recognize yourself as one who is really relying on a lot of caffeine or alcohol, try to wean yourself from one and then the other.
Once your new action becomes a habit and you’re doing it without even thinking about it, pick another strategy on this list and implement it. Track your progress on a calendar, a daily habit tracker or in a journal as a great way to visually follow your success.
I hope this helps!
Be well + prosper,