Today, more than ever it seems more complex and harder to avoid stress. Pandemic anyone? People are quick to point blame at a multitude of factors such as work problems, your home life, and even naturally occurring hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”, takes a good amount of the blame when people point fingers regarding their stress, but that may not be entirely accurate.
Being one of several hormones our bodies naturally produce, it is true that cortisol levels rise as our stress levels rise, but this naturally occurring hormone also plays a vital role in our body’s chemistry and definitely does not deserve its bad reputation. As integrative medicine doctor Yufang Lin, M.D. says, “Cortisol supports overall health. It helps us wake up, gives us energy during the day, and lowers at night to help us sleep and rest.” As with all naturally occurring hormones, cortisol levels are meant to fluctuate at their pace.
Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced world, we’re noticing chronic stress keeping cortisol levels high for an extended period of time. These high cortisol levels can lead to inflammation, anxiety, weight gain, and ultimately, heart disease if not addressed. Hair loss is one of the most noticeable and dramatic effects of high cortisol levels. Since your body doesn’t deem hair growth as an essential function, when it is under chronic stress is preserved to be used for other body maintenance functions, leading to many people experiencing rapid and great hair loss.
So, cortisol can cause massive issues. How can we lower our level if it’s naturally occurring in our body? Though you might be tempted to make a dash to the natural food section of your nearest grocery store or start combing your cupboards for that jar of supplements you know you bought a few months ago, you may be wasting your time. As Dr. Yufang Lin says, “Nutrition is significant for coping with stress and supporting your mood, but there’s no single food that’s going to do it all, you have to look at the whole lifestyle picture.” By balancing your lifestyle and your body, the cortisol levels in your body will begin to balance themselves as well.
Relying on the big-picture approach to naturally reducing your cortisol levels will be your best bet to ward against the damaging effects of long-term high cortisol levels. The big-picture approach will rely on heavily a proper and consistent exercise routine. Its common knowledge that exercise can help with stress relief, and studies have shown that in certain demographics, such as the elderly and people with major depressive disorder, exercise can actually drastically bring down cortisol levels. Sleep is also high on the big-picture approach. As Dr. Lin says, “When you’re not sleeping well, you tend to be more anxious, irritable and stressed.” Sleep deprivation has been known to increase cortisol levels and can also impair your memory. Spending time in nature and utilizing mind-body practices are two more big picture ways to help naturally balance your cortisol levels.
Research has found, for example,
that mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy can lower cortisol and feelings of
Stress. And yoga can bring down high cortisol levels, heart rate and blood pressure.
Like many things, de-stressing isn’t a quick fix, or a one-answer type of process. It requires consistency and taking a look at the big picture to get the proper results.
Citations: Cleveland Clinic