Cortisol – Our internal alarm clock

(Video version can be found on my Facebook page – Peggy Smith Wellness, June 20th 2019)

This week I have been up close and personal with some of the processes of the body that really matter. We have watched as one of our most beloved family members has had several different aspects of her health seriously compromised by infection and organs not able to function properly. It has been a real reminder for us of how we can never take our health for granted and how it really and truly is our most valuable asset. I feel more motivated than ever to do what I can to help others feel and function better! One of the things we have learned more about first hand is the impact of cortisol. And so that is what we are going to take a little dive into together now.

Cortisol is one of those things in our lives that we need to have some of, but not too much of. We can think of this steroid hormone as our built in alarm system. And just like the alarm we set to wake us up in the morning, we need it for that function – but we don’t want it going off all day long.

Cortisol is our body’s main stress hormone. When working properly, not too much, not too little it helps control mood, motivation and fear. We think of it primarily in conjunction with our bodies fight or flight instinct but it is also at work helping us manage how our body uses carbs, fats and proteins. It is helping keep inflammation down, it is helping regulate our blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, it is having an impact on our sleep cycle and it is also boosting energy so we can handle stress and get back to balance after the stressful event is over.

If your body is in a constant fight or flight mode, and your alarm is going off constantly, it can literally derail our bodies most important functions. It can also cause a laundry list of health problems, some of which are anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, memory and concentration problems, digestion problems, trouble sleeping and weight gain!

We clearly want to do what we can to keep our alarm system only going off when we need it to! Here are some ways to naturally manage cortisol levels.

  1. Work at lowering your stress levels. Most of us can tell when we are getting into a stressful situation, we can feel the changes starting to take place in our body. Very early in this process stop and take the time you need to get your body to calm down. Experiment with the ways that work for you to literally tell your body that we have nothing to fear, that this situation is not something to turn on all the alarms for. Deep breathing, movement, calling a friend, meditation – whatever works for you to re-calibrate and return to a calmer state of mind.
  2. Eat whole foods and limit sugar intake. Some foods that I found listed on the internet that specifically help keep cortisol levels stable are bananas and pears, black or green tea, dark chocolate, fermented foods and foods containing soluble fiber. In addition, staying hydrated with plenty of water helps keep cortisol levels lower.
  3. Get plenty of sleep. Prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to higher levels of cortisol in the bloodstream – but even just a single restless night has an impact, so it is so important that we are mindful of how many episodes of our favorite show we are binging or what our sleep routines are that help us be in the right frame of mind for a good peaceful night in bed!
  4. Make sure to laugh and have some fun every day! Research has shown that cortisol levels decrease in response to laughter and having a positive outlook is related to lower cortisol levels.
  5. Be sure to get your body moving – but not always in an extremely intense way. Intense exercise can trigger an increase in cortisol levels as this is the bodies way of managing the additional stress the exercise puts on it. Move in ways that bring you joy and create a challenge for the body from time to time, but not constantly.
  6. Create and foster good loving relationships and make it a point to untangle yourself from those that are stressful or unhealthy. The people we spend time with have a huge impact on our health. We can’t obviously control or end every single difficult relationship we are in, but to the extent that you do have control – exercise it. Arguments raise our cortisol and when we feel trapped in these toxic relationships our health suffers because our internal alarms are going off way more often than they should. Work at healing relationships where you can as a gift to your health. Minimize the amount you are exposing children to arguments as this raises their cortisol levels as well.
  7. A couple of supplements that have been shown to have a positive impact on cortisol levels are fish oil and an herbal supplement called ashwagandha. Please remember, adding in supplements is never a replacement for a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Life is not going to stop being stressful, I think we are rather going to continue to see in our lifetimes, because of environmental and political and global issues, it will get worse and harder to navigate. So we need to be aware of the signals our body is sending, the way it feels when the alarm starts to go off, and we need to do the things we can to manage the alarm system on the front end so we aren’t just going through each day hitting snooze on it over and over again!

Take some good deep breaths friends, turn off Netflix, have a good talk with your loved ones and give them a giant hug and do your best to get a good nights sleep with dreams of yummy vegetables!

Until next time friends,
XO, Peggy

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