What is Cortisol? Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by our adrenal glands and is known as the "stress hormone." Sounds like public enemy number one right? Well in large quantities it can be. Cortisol is a hormone that helps us adapt to "fight or flight" situations. For many of us, our average day is free of life-threatening situations, yet in the modern American culture of constant deadlines, multiple demands, increased workloads, taking care of family, and trying to make ends meet stack up as a bunch of hassles that trigger stress. As a result, we can get bogged down under pressure as our body produces Cortisol to react to these changing, constant demands!
Many of us struggle with constant stress and a steady flow of Cortisol each day, and according to the Mayo Clinic, this long-term exposure can adversely affect our health. Elevated Cortisol levels contribute to many of these symptoms:
Interference with learning and memory
Lower bone density
Increased risk for depression and mental illness.
Increased risk for anxiety
Can cause headaches
According to Psychology Today, on top of traumatic experiences, a big part of why our modern society faces elevated levels of stress and anxiety (and heightened levels of Cortisol) is because of our environment. From the demands and the hustle and bustle of city life, the overload of information on social media, and constant access to "higher" standards of beauty, lifestyle, etc. shown on television and media.
But all is not lost. We don't have to let stress run our lives if we make a few changes in our daily lifestyle!
Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise to allow your body to produce healthy chemicals. It also improves your overall well being, reducing stress.
Take "me time." Give yourself time to enjoy hobbies, read a book, and relax. It may feel counterproductive, but by taking care of yourself and giving yourself time to relax allows you to function more efficiently and effectively when you do work.
Laugh a little! The physical act of smiling and laughing, like exercising, actually releases endorphins and reduces stress!
Take time to be social and engages with friends and family, or serve others through volunteering! We are social beings and need time to participate in that social space!
Reduce caffeine consumption: studies show that caffeine increases cortisol at rest similar to being under acute-stress!
Take quiet time for prayer or reflection. Clearing the mind of cluttered thoughts and releasing them reduces stress as well!
Even though we struggle with increased levels of Cortisol these days, it is still an essential hormone that in healthy amounts helps us manage blood pressure, reduces inflammation, supports a stronger immune system, and triggers us to react to danger! Knowing how to balance our Cortisol levels aids our chemical health, and allows us to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle!