Think of cortisol as nature’s built-in alarm system. It is your body’s main stress hormone. It works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear. Cortisol is made in the adrenal glands in your kidneys. We are all pretty familiar with the ‘fight-or-flight’ instinct in a crisis, and cortisol plays an important role in this. Cortisol also plays a number of other roles including the following:
- Manages how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
- Keeps inflammation down.
- Regulates your blood pressure.
- Increases your blood sugar.
- Controls your sleep and wake cycle.
- Boosts energy so you can handle stress and restores balance afterward.
HOW IT WORKS:
If everything is functioning properly, your brain can sense if your blood contains the right level of cortisol. If the level is too low, your brain adjusts the amount of hormones it makes. Your adrenal glands will then pick up on these signals and fine-tune the amount of cortisol they release. Cortisol receptors use the hormone in different ways, and your needs will differ from day to day.
TOO MUCH STRESS:
Sometimes, your cortisol levels can get out of whack. After the pressure or danger has passed, your cortisol level should calm down. Your heart, blood pressure, and other body systems will get back to normal. But what if you’re under constant stress and the alarm button stays on? It can lead to a number of health problems including:
- Anxiety and depression.
- Heart disease.
- Memory and concentration problems.
- Problems with digestion.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Weight gain.
TOO MUCH / TOO LITTLE CORTISOL:
When your body produces too much cortisol, it can lead to a condition called Cushing Syndrome. It can lead to rapid weight gain, skin that bruises easily, muscle weakness, diabetes, and many other health problems.
On the other hand, too little cortisol can lead to a condition called Addison’s disease. Symptoms can include:
- Being tired all the time.
- Muscle weakness that grows worse.
- Loss of appetite and weight.
- Low blood pressure.
- Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
TIPS FOR CONTROLLING CORTISOL LEVEL:
To keep levels healthy and under control, the body’s relaxation response should be activated after the fight or flight response occurs. You can learn to relax your body with various stress management techniques, and you can make lifestyle changes in order to keep your body from reacting to stress in the first place. The following have been found by many to be very helpful in relaxing the body and mind, aiding the body in maintaining healthy cortisol levels:
- Breathing exercises.
- Listening to music.
While cortisol is an important and helpful part of the body’s response to stress, it’s important that the body’s relaxation response be activated so the body’s functions can return to normal following a stressful event. Unfortunately, in our current high-stress culture, the body’s stress response is activated so often that the body doesn’t always have a chance to return to normal, resulting in a state of chronic stress.