Stress and Cortisol: What the Heck Is It?
Good morning everyone!
I wanted to chat a little bit about cortisol.
Wait, what is that?
You may have heard about cortisol here and there in numerous health articles, but what exactly is cortisol? I wanted to dive into this today because it is something I have been reading about a lot lately and I hope you find the information interesting if maybe you have been curious about cortisol too.
In short, cortisol is our primary stress hormone. Yuck, stress. Get it far away from me, please. Cortisol is that pesky little hormone that can wreak havoc in our lives and cause us to feel out of whack, emotionally and physically. You have probably heard of the “fight or flight” response; that feeling that kicks in when you are frustrated, panicked, and under pressure. This is cortisol taking over. Cortisol is excreted by the adrenal gland and can be found throughout the entire body, whether you are stressed through the roof or not. Unfortunately, cortisol is one of those necessary evils that is required for us to live. Our body produces it to help keep us awake, alert, and functioning. While (in a way) it can be good for us, too much cortisol can lead to unwanted side effects and symptoms such as weight gain, sleep disorders, anxiety, and hormonal imbalances (to name a few). Ever wonder why you are feeling sluggish, unmotivated, or notice you are easily bloated? Take a moment to reflect and check your stress levels. It could be cortisol to blame!
While stress is inevitable in life, there are many ways you can naturally reduce it, thus reducing the harm of high cortisol levels. I will share a few things I do personally to keep my stress in check, and then a few other options you can explore.
Personally, I am a big fan of exercise. Going for a long run on the trail keeps my mind clear, and I feel relaxed and grounded. There’s something about being in nature that just does that to a person! Additionally, I try to eat as many whole foods as possible. No, this doesn’t mean literally going to the local Whole Foods store and buying whatever I want. My definition of a whole food is something that you can eat in it’s pure form, such as an apple or a pear. A diet full of whole foods can help combat inflammation within the body and give you the essential nutrients that your body requires to thrive. Including healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado will keep your brain happy, too! Additionally, I have been taking time out of my day to journal and read. The act of physically cracking open a book is so much more rewarding than staying plugged in and mindlessly scrolling through social media. It may take time to get used to, but it is worth it!
A few other ways to unwind and de-stress include meditating (which I think will be a huge wellness trend in 2017 – more on that in another post!), yoga and breathing exercises, Traditional Chinese Medicine (such as acupuncture, acupressure), and aromatherapy. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach for when it comes to combating stress. Find what works for you and go with it!
How do you wind down after being stressed out?