POOR LIFESTYLE CHOICES can contribute to increased cortisol levels, even if you aren’t actively “stressing” about something. Whether the stress is real (like someone stopping suddenly in front of your car) or imagined (such as anxiety for a meeting with your boss) —our body releases high amounts of the hormone cortisol.
If you suffer from a mood disorder such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or if you have a digestive issue such as irritable bowel syndrome, you can bet your body is cranking up this powerful hormone. The key question is, when do you know when your stress has gone too far?
When we experience excessive stress a chemical reaction is triggered, called the “fight or flight” response. This response is hardwired into our brains and is designed to protect us from bodily harm. If you always feel tense or anxious, however, your body will remain in a continuous state of heightened arousal.
Constantly overproducing cortisol and adrenalin day after day can eventually lead to adrenal fatigue. The result is:
- chronic fatigue
- lack of stamina for exercise
- more allergy symptoms
- sleep disruption
- blood sugar imbalance
- increased cravings
- weakened immunity
If you suspect you are suffering the effects of chronic stress or adrenal fatigue, fear not. Although it will take time and patience, your recuperation strategy can be as simple as these 8 steps:
1. Stop Skimping on Sleep.
Not surprisingly, sleep has profound effects on your nervous system. Throughout most of the sleep cycle, the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) relaxes, while the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), is stimulated. The reverse is true during the REM, or dreaming, phase of sleep. Activity also decreases in the parts of your brain that control your emotions, decision making processes and social interactions.
In addition to calming your nervous system, sufficient rest and recuperation effectively reduces cortisol. A study published in The Lancet supports these claims as it showed sleep deprivation caused stress hormones to rise in the evening and heightened the stress response during waking hours. Make going to bed before 11pm, and sleeping 7.5 to 9 hours, in total darkness your new sleep mantra.
2. Become a Meditation Guru.
Meditation is as easy as listening to the sound of your breath or repeating a word or phrase for 10 minutes each day. We now know that meditation may actually reshape the brain, modify our responses to daily situations and train the mind. It is particularly relieving health conditions associated with stress, including:
- high blood pressure
- irritable bowel disorder
- skin conditions
- and many others
3. Use Supplements to Restore Your Adrenals.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is naturally highest in our adrenal glands, and research suggests that just 20 minutes of stress can deplete our vitamin C stores. Take 500 to 1000 mg one to three times daily.
B Vitamins: Stressed or fatigued individuals should take extra B vitamins, especially vitamin B5, which helps the body adapt to stress and supports adrenal gland function. When taken at bedtime, vitamin B6 is also useful for correcting abnormally high cortisol release throughout the night and for improving disrupted sleep patterns. Take 200–500 mg vitamin B5 and/or 50–100 mg of B6 per day.
Herbal Medicine – Licorice: Licorice inhibits the breakdown of cortisol, which means it can help to increase the levels naturally present in the body and aid adrenal gland rejuvenation. Do not take this herb if you have high blood pressure. The recommended dosage is 300 to 900mg each morning.
4. Pop your vitamins.
Often during hectic times our healthy habits fall to the wayside. A quick and easy way to give your body the tools it needs to stay healthy during stressful times is to keep your vitamin habit in check.
If you are rarely home, try taking them with breakfast and before bed to stay on schedule, or take them to the office – five days per week is better than none. Out of sight is out of mind, so store them in a storage container on the counter or in another location that is easily accessible. It looks better than crowds of loose bottles anyway. Snack-sized plastic bags are also great for carrying supplements when you’re on the run.
5. Tote around healthy snacks.
Instead of nibbling on blood-sugar boosting treats like a muffin or pastry, try some walnuts, pecans, apples, plain yogurt with protein powder or protein bars that have a nutritional balance of 40:30:30 or 40:40:20 (% of your calories coming from carbohydrates: protein: fat). Aim to never go longer than three hours without eating.
Eating regularly will avoid blood sugar highs and lows that can affect your mood and energy. Missing meals is stressful on your body, causing an increase in cortisol which can actually cause weight gain rather than loss because of the decrease in metabolism associated with caloric restriction. Stress-related weight gain is particularly problematic since it tends to deposit around the abdomen, which is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
If you have an undeniable craving, have a bit of dark pure chocolate or a chewable vitamin C tablet. Having protein with your snacks and meals will also help decrease your cravings.
6. Stay Hydrated.
Get a 2 litre water bottle to keep on your desk or in the car and aim to drink it by the end of the day. Add drops of chlorophyll to your water—it is cleansing, detoxifying and has a nice, minty taste.
Instead of grabbing a coffee in between shopping trips, aim for a cup of green tea. Caffeine causes an undesirable elevation of cortisol. Green tea is one of the only products containing caffeine that is not harmful because it also contains theanine which blocks the effect of cortisol.
7. Be mindful of your stress.
If you start to feel stressed or overwhelmed concentrate only on what is happening to you in your surroundings. Most people take on too much, especially during the holidays, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so break it down!
By getting the task down on paper and out of your head it will help you reduce the stress and plan your day better. Whether it’s patient visits or admin-related projects to finish, the ability to cross a task off the list is a great feeling of accomplishment. You can also keep a sweet smelling hand cream or lavender oils in your purse and use this as a reminder to keep you centered and calm when you need to de-stress.
8. Work in the weights.
The best way to release pent up energy from lengthy to-do lists is to hit the gym. But be sure to balance cardiovascular exercise with weight training to ensure maintain your metabolic rate.
If you are under high levels of stress, try to keep your workouts short so as not to increase your cortisol levels – overdoing it will only create more stress! Instead, a quick 30 minute circuit 2-3 times per week will combine your cardio workout and resistance training all in one shorter session.
Circuit training is also the best type of workout for improving insulin response, boosting testosterone and stimulating growth hormone. So you spend less time spent exercising but realize even more benefits. Best of all, the extra effort in the gym will help you reach those resolutions early and help you manage your stress levels.