Stress is a faithful friend. It doesn’t discriminate and it will never leave you. Its regular, intense presence will weigh down on you, instigate early onset aging, damage your immune system and lead to mental fragility. At the very heart of your responsiveness to stress lies the hormone Cortisol, which is simultaneously essential for self-preservation and the bane of your existence. But why is everyone so riled up about a meager hormone?
The two faces of Cortisol
There are two sides to each coin and the same can be said about Cortisol. It is responsible for several processes in the body that are initiated once we are exposed to stress. First of all, Cortisol belongs to a category of steroid hormones, which means that it is naturally synthesized from cholesterol in your body. It is produced by the adrenaline glands that are located on the top both kidneys. Eons ago, the influx of this hormone “assisted” our ancestors in achieving the state of necessary alertness in the case existential danger reared its ugly head.
In other words, Cortisol is not there simply to cause adverse effects to your body; in fact, it is an essential part of humanity’s survival. It can actually burn fat and convert proteins and carbohydrates into energy; it increases the presence of blood glucose in your cardiovascular system, it fights inflammation and even stimulates an antioxidant such as SOD. After all of this, you might be inclined to ask yourself - what’s all the fuss about Cortisol if it garners so many benefits? Here’s the kicker - we benefit for short-term situations that are resolved within a reasonable time limit! The body is not meant to be exposed to its effects for prolonged periods.
How it damages you
It is not a stretch to say that modern lifestyle gets quite demanding even before you are “inaugurated” into the workforce. The rhythm of living is ramped up to eleven and we are surrounded with public scrutiny through social networks. Combine this with the fact that 21st century denizens are generally not exposed to situations that threaten their very existence, and you get a truly unhealthy cocktail of stress-inducing causes and factors. The unbalanced levels of Cortisol weaken the immune system. The hormone reduces bone density because it impedes calcium absorption and leads to the loss of collagen, causing muscles and joints to deteriorate. Due to Cortisol’s function in increasing blood sugar, it also leads to the formation of that flabby belly fat that seems to be holding your waist hostage. It also interferes with memory and learning processes. The risk of depression and mental illness skyrockets, which is also connected, though not exclusively related, to insomnia, nightmares, digestive problems, and cardiovascular disease.
What can you do about it?
Thankfully, it is not that hard to reduce the secretion of Cortisol in your body. It is simply a matter of healthy habits that accumulate to produce the most beneficial effect. For example, if you partake in regular physical activity, you are well on your way to normalize the hormonal balance. You do not have to become a gym-fiend in order to achieve this, just two hours of Zen-walking every day (this means - no cell phones) can do the trick. A diet rich in electrolyte-rich foods - in other words, fresh fruits, and vegetables - can make a world of difference.
Staying in the loop with your friends and enjoying a range of dynamic social activities with them - especially if they include laughing - is also a certified “Cortisol-cure”, and you don’t exactly have to put too much effort into such activities. We tend to revel in socializing by our very nature. People tend to underestimate the detrimental impact of isolation on their body, which renders social connectivity one of the crucial Cortisol-relievers that need to be pointed out.
A matter of bad habits
Of course, if you have adopted certain bad habits, it is only reasonable that the levels of Cortisol in your bloodstream will become unbalanced throughout the day. The behaviors that put you at risk are quite often related to the sleeping patterns and the overall lifestyle you lead. For example, restless sleep, uncomfortable bedding and staying up late are some of the factors. As it has been indicated, poor diet has been shown to contribute to Cortisol levels. In addition, caffeine intake can drastically influence the presence of stress hormone in your body! If you can, try to reduce your daily coffee intake to one cup a day. Try to replace coffee with green tea as soon as the opportunity arises, though it might be the best course of action to “phase” coffee out of your diet gradually.
There are so many things you can do to lower your body’s Cortisol levels. Ultimately, you need to rediscover joie de vivre and treat yourself with truly enjoyable activities. Listen to music, appreciate friends, change your habits and revel in how they subsequently improve you as a person. In order to win the war against the stress hormone, you have to persevere through numerous battles that will ultimately determine the quality of your life.
About the Author
Caitlin is a bookworm, photographer and dancer. She is also a graphic designer, but that one is on hold at the moment. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Cate is researching and writing about various lifestyle related topics. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, grilled tofu and caffeine.
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