Cortisol is a stress hormone in the body that is naturally released from the adrenal glands everyday during regular activities. Since stress is also a natural part of life, the cortisol and stress connection is a strong one that can either work for you or against you depending on your lifestyle.
Cortisol has important responsibilities in the body, such as:
- working as an anti-inflammatory
- regulating blood pressure
- encouraging insulin release to help maintain blood sugar
- suppressing the immune system during times of stress
- helping the body to break down sugars
During times of stress, especially during the fight or flight response, higher amounts of cortisol are secreted in the body. This high amount of cortisol is what helps us survive. Cortisol, in high doses is the body's survival hormone.
- It enables the individual to use high amounts of energy. This is the same chemical that helped us to run from that saber tooth tiger all those years ago.
- It increases the body's natural pain killers. This is the reason why so many people do not feel pain during high amounts of physical or emotional stress. Pain is usually felt much more when a person is in a relaxed state.
- It increases mental focus and memory. A good reason why the brain remembers in detail the bad things that happen to us.
- It maintains and balances the body's internal condition, such as it's pH balance, temperature, etc.
- It increases immunity in the body.
Cortisol and Stress are Important, BUT....
As important as cortisol and stress are to the body, experiencing high amounts for prolonged periods of time can hurt the body when regular stress management and relaxation methods are not used to bring balance back to the body.
Whether chronic stress, anxiety, or panic attacks are experienced, prolonged high amounts of cortisol hurt the body in the following ways:
- Lowered Immunity
- Blood Sugar Imbalance
- Increased Belly Fat - this is the bad fat (white fat), that is associated with high cholesterol, and heart disease which can result in heart attacks and strokes.
- Improper Thyroid Function
- High Blood Pressure
- Decreased Bone Density and Muscle Tissue Loss
What Can You Do about Cortisol and Stress?
It is very important to do whatever you can to balance the stress in your life. Prolonged cortisol and stress can have serious negative effects on your health.
One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to take care of yourself inside and out!
- Take time each day to physically relieve stress. One of the best stress relievers is EXERCISE!!! Get your body moving! Walk, dance, run, jump...do something to get that heart pumping! If you have a medical condition, be sure to check with your doctor to see what the best physical exercise would be for you.
- Eat a Healthy Diet! A heart healthy diet is most important during times of stress and anxiety. Don't forget to drink plenty of water too.
- Use Relaxation Methods. That's right, do something relaxing. Many people don't know how to relax because they have been so high strung for so long, but this takes practice. The more you do it, the better you get. It all begins in the mind, so give yourself permission to relax. You are not being lazy, you are doing something that is good for you.
- Stay positive and keep a healthy mind. Listen to your internal self talk. Is what you are stressing about going to matter tomorrow, or next week or even a month from now? If not, let it go. Accept the day for what it brings and look for the positive in all things.