Living in a modern world, in a society that demands more and more out of us, we can often find ourselves becoming overly stressed, easily exhausted, having a hard time sleeping, and finding it almost impossible to loose weight. These are all symptoms of cortisol imbalance.
Cortisol is a stress hormone. In fact, it's often considered the primary stress hormone. It's one of the main hormones released when our bodies are kicked into “fight or flight” mode. The “fight or flight” response (also called the acute stress response) is a response that helped our ancestors evolve. When we feel terrified, mentally or physically, our bodies release certain hormones that help us deal with the situation by either running or fighting. These hormones trigger a rapid response from our bodies that results in an increase in our heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. This pumps oxygen to our muscles much faster, allowing us to be stronger and faster for a short time. Afterward, it takes 20-60 minutes for our bodies to go back to normal.
Cortisol is a necessary hormone for life, helping us to stay motivated or keep us awake and responsive to our environment. However, being constantly exposed to tense situations, such as traffic or fast-paced work environments, can cause a buildup of Cortisol. Over time your adrenal glands will not be able to keep up the levels of production required by your constant state of stress. This will cause adrenal fatigue, and combined with high levels of Cortisol, this can cause some seriously adverse effects.
Symptoms of Cortisol Imbalance
1. Chronic pain and headaches
Excessive amounts of stress can put a major strain on your adrenal glands, which can increase your sensitivity to pain. You may start noticing an increase in backaches, headaches, and/or other body aches. If you tend to hold back your tears you should consider having a “good cry” because a number of hormones that cause this sensitivity can be released with those tears.
2. Weight gain, especially around the belly
Excessive Cortisol levels tend to cause weight gain. It stimulates appetite and most of the weight gained will end up gravitating to your mid-section. You may also develop a round face, or fat neck. This can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
3. Weakened immunity
When your Cortisol levels are high, your immune system is not able to function as well. This leads to you catching every little germ that you are exposed to. Or so it may seem.
4. In ability to sleep and fatigue
Cortisol directly helps to regulate your waking and sleeping cycles. Imbalanced Cortisol levels can cause problems sleeping and symptoms of chronic fatigue. The occasional bout insomnia is usually nothing to worry about, but if you find yourself experiencing chronic sleep problems and/or excessive fatigue, you may be experiencing a Cortisol imbalance.
5. Mood changes, panic attacks, and/or depression
When your Cortisol levels are high, your feel-good hormones (such as serotonin) are low. This can leave you feeling quite depressed, anxious, and irritable. Making you prone to some crazy mood swings, and panic attacks.
6. Infertility and/or no sex drive
Fighting or running for you life doesn’t really put most people “in the mood.” So it's no surprise that high levels of Cortisol may reduce you sex drive, and in some cases remove it all together. On top of that, it can lead to problems such as impotence and irregular menstrual cycles which can cause fertility problems.
Tips to help balance your cortisol levels
1. Whole foods diet
Our bodies actually use Cortisol to balance out our blood sugar when it gets too low. With this in mind, we can use healthy carbohydrates as an excellent tool to help us balance our Cortisol in turn. Also, by switching to a predominantly whole foods diet, we reduce our exposure to foods that increase inflammation, and thus increase our Cortisol. Combining these two strategies in a way to fits your life may be one of the best ways to reduce and balance your Cortisol levels.
2. Stress management
Cortisol is released in times of stress. So reducing your stress helps to reduce the amount of Cortisol your body releases, and helps provide more time to help your body fully recover from the stress. Using strategies that include meditation, deep breathing, spending time outdoors, healthy exercise, and acupuncture may be a great way to help balance out your Cortisol levels.
3. A matter of lighting
This may sound ridiculous, but lighting can seriously effect your Cortisol levels. Cortisol issues aren't just from high amounts of Cortisol, it can also be an issue when Cortisol is released at the wrong time. When we are exposed to blue light (such as from a TV or computer screen) at night, our bodies release Cortisol and reduce melatonin. Reducing our ability to get a good night's sleep. Also, when we spend a lot of time indoors and don't get much natural sunlight during the day, our bodies can get confused as to the time and release these hormones at inappropriate times. Try going outside for 30 minutes within an hour of waking up, and using blue light filters on your devices at night. This can seriously help balance out the timing of your body's release of Cortisol and help balance out your Cortisol levels.
4. Essential Oils
It's no secret that smells evoke feelings in us. You smell a certain scent and you remember a pleasant moment, maybe it's the smell of fresh baked apple pie. You smell that and remember your grandmother making one for you when you were little. Or maybe you smell coffee and feel instantly alert, just from the smell. Whatever the reason, smells can be strongly effective. Certain essential oils can actually reduce your Cortisol levels by scent alone. Try diffusing essential oils that help aid relaxation. Lavender, myrrh, frankincense, bergamont, clary sage, sandalwood, and thyme are just a few. You can also dilute essential oils into a carrier oil and make your own massage oil to use when you are feeling especially stressed.
5. Adaptogen Herbs
Adaptogens are a classification of herbs that help you body recover from and adapt better to stress. They naturally balance hormones (including Cortisol), reduce inflammation, lower fatigue, reduce inflammation, and help control blood sugar and blood pressure levels. A number of them have been tested and proven to actually reduce Cortisol levels. Here are just a few to look into adding into your daily routine.
Tulsi (or Holy Basil)
Medicinal Mushrooms such as Reishi or Shiitake
I hope this helps you be more mindful of your stress levels and gives you a good idea of what to do when the stress gets to be to much. If you have any questions of comments, please leave them below.
6 Ways to Lower Your Cortisol Levels: Dr. Axe: https://draxe.com/cortisol-levels/
8 Signs You're Suffering From A Cortisol Imbalance: Atlas Drug & Nutrition: http://atlasdrugandnutrition.com/cortisol-imbalance/
Cortisol/Adrenal Fatigue (Men): Genemetics Health Institute: https://www.genemedics.com/hormone-therapy/mens-hormones/cortisoladrenal-fatigue/
Cortisol/Adrenal Fatigue (Women): Genemetics Health Institute: https://www.genemedics.com/hormone-therapy/womens-hormones/cortisoladrenal-fatigue/
Cortisol Imbalance Symptoms: Livestrong: https://www.livestrong.com/article/94310-cortisol-imbalance-symptoms/
How I Reduced My Cortisol Levels Naturally With Food & Light: Wellness Mama: https://wellnessmama.com/1570/reduce-cortisol/
Symptoms of Cortisol Imbalance in Women: Tranquility Labs: https://www.tranquilitylabs.com/symptoms-of-cortisol-imbalance-in-women/
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