Cortisol gets a bad rap when it’s not kept under control. This ‘flight or fight’ hormone can cause havoc with our bodies causing multiple health issues.
Cortisol is an essential – and normal – hormone that is released when we are under stress to signal our body to adjust and react. It also helps control our sleep and wake cycle, regulates blood pressure and blood sugar, and manages how our body uses carbs, fats and proteins.
It fluctuates throughout the day depending on what happens, the type of food we eat and what exercise we do. Unfortunately, given the stress that many of us are experiencing these days – coupled with our lifestyle choices and the unhealthy food we consume – our bodies may feel the need to release cortisol continuously, which can negatively impact important bodily functions. Irregular thyroid function, gut disruptions, increased insulin resistance, chronic inflammation and of course adrenal burnout, are examples of just a few examples.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to ensure a healthier cortisol release:
I have learned to recognise the signals my body gives me when my stress levels begin to rise. A technique I use to combat these feelings is to take a pause and ask myself, “Am I under threat?” I think of this as my “self check-in”. I then try to distract myself, or move away from emotionally toxic and stressful situations, practice gratitude and work on positive thoughts. It’s remarkable how much this helps to reduce my stress.
Move your body
I recently read that people who struggle with anxiety often have a “stuck” nervous system where they have a higher heart rate and it takes longer for this rate to slow, even with deep abdominal breathing. Try active relaxation activities like meditative walking and yoga to reduce stress. But don’t over-exercise, unless your adrenals are in an optimal state. The obsessive and compulsive burning off of calories can exacerbate stress!
Focus on sleep hygiene
Adopt a healthy sleep pattern of 8 – 9 hours of good quality sleep a night. Sleep is an amazing stress reducer. A sleep routine calms and restores the body and mind. Feeling well-rested empowers us to better cope with what the day may hold.
Invest in your nutrition
Eat whole foods
Eat a whole-food nutritious diet, organic where possible, with loads of greens to make sure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to cope. Avoid processed foods as they are high in sugar and unhealthy carbs.
Make sure your getting enough minerals
Take a look at my May Instagram post on Minerals for Stress. Minerals are often overlooked but are essential nutrients that contribute to stress management.
Try adoptogenic herbs
Adaptogenic herbs also help balance hormones and manage stress. Ginseng, ashwagandha, rhodiola and reishi mushrooms – in particular – aid sleep, lessen fatigue and stimulate the nervous system to boost mental and physical performance.
Supplements that may help
Investigate supplementing with vitamin B, vitamin C, omega 3, magnesium, CBD, saffron, rescue remedy and check your iron levels. In addition, L-theanine (found in green tea) is thought to reduce stress and calm down the nervous system.
Avoid or reduce the following…
Avoid caffeine and reduce alcohol. Caffeine influences your cells to produce more cortisol as it’s linked to increased anxiety levels. If you can tolerate it and a small dose supports productivity, then that’s fine – as long as it doesn’t affect your health. Alcohol changes serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety. It also influences cells to release cortisol, disrupts sleep and affects regular insulin signals which can lead to insulin resistance.
And, the most important lesson I’ve learned?
The most important lesson I have learned is how to listen to my body. If I am feeling stressed, I slow down, address the cause, and work on techniques that work to calm my mind and destress my body. I am finding the benefits are so worth it in the long run and I would love nothing more than for you to enjoy the same results. So give it a try and see how you go!