In a culture where stressful lifestyles and habits are often praised, it is easy to justify a night of bad sleep, or letting stressful thoughts consume us. We forget to breathe, or tend to our mental health. But why is it such a big deal if we ignore these things? What happens to our body when we adopt these bad habits on a regular basis? How bad can it be if we just short our sleep a couple of hours each night, or engage in stressful thinking patterns?

Cortisol is our emergency response hormone. It can be extremely helpful in times of stress. It causes us to release adrenaline and it kicks into gear when we need to respond immediately to a threatening situation. But in times of prolonged high stress cortisol can begin to break down our body tissues to use them for fast energy. It can begin to turn muscle, bone and in extreme cases even brain tissue into glucose, a form of sugar that our body uses for quick energy. If we are trying to escape a life-threatening situation this creation of glucose gives us the physical resources to escape.

When cortisol is out of balance it can cause the body to store fat around the midsection, it can reduce the ability to regulate blood sugar, it can deplete progesterone, and it can cause memory issues. It can also increase blood pressure and increase our risk for type 2 diabetes.

A normal cortisol pattern should be high in the morning, and should gradually reduce through the day to very low levels during sleep. If your cortisol pattern is irregular it can cause mood disorders like anxiety or depression, food cravings or altered energy levels along with many other symptoms. Some of the common signs that you may have a cortisol imbalance include; sleep issues, fatigue, anxiety, muscle soreness and sensitivity, foggy Brain, recurring Infections, and several other symptoms.

You can help support cortisol balance and the adrenal system by;

  • Eating protein at regular intervals through the day
  • Limiting processed sugar and caffeine intake. Try replacing coffee with Green or Black tea or waiting for an hour or two after waking up to grab that first cup of coffee. Your cortisol is at its highest when you wake up, and you may find coffee more effective an hour later in the day.
  • Getting good sleep
  • Staying hydrated
  • Avoiding processed sugars
  • Getting enough fiber
  • Adding omega 3 fatty acids
  • Getting enough Vitamin C and B5
  • Moderate exercise (ideally in the morning)
  • Using Adaptagenic herbs like ashwagandha, and ginseng
  • Do breathing exercises or meditation
  • Have fun
  • Create a community for support
  • Find time to be connected to nature
  • Avoiding unnatural light sources when it is dark out (If you will be in a bright room or watching TV in the evening you can use blue light blocking glasses to try to help reduce exposure to those blue light rays that make your body think it is morning, and increase your cortisol levels.)

Become more aware of the kinds of thoughts you allow into your mind, not only for your mental health but also for your physical health. If you are feeling stressed try breathing with any technique where your exhale is longer than your inhale. This will help turn off the stress response.

If you think you may be having trouble with cortisol, check with your doctor about how you can be tested.