Cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone” is released by the adrenal glands in response to a stressful situation. As a rule, this natural process is helpful to keep the body operating efficiently and reacting quickly. However, cortisol can actually function as your enemy as well and too often, in today’s color-coded planner, fast-paced, drive-thru world, stress (and the rising cortisol levels that come along with it) is far too common. So what are some signs your cortisol levels are high, and what can you do?
Stress is bad. That much you are probably well aware of, but you may not have taken it to heart in the past. Believe it or not, the body is not designed to be under constant stress. Coristol is supposed to ebb and flow with the ups and downs of life, not flood your body in an unending stream. Here are just a few things that happen when you have too much cortisol in your body.
Back pain and headaches
High cortisol levels make the brain oversensitive to pain and can cause even the slightest twinge to lead to headaches. Plus, your adrenal glands, which help the body handle pain, can become depleted over time and cause serious issues with chronic pain, especially in the back.
You notice yourself gaining weight
Unfortunately, the weight gain-cortisol cycle is a vicious one. You exercise and eat right, but your stressful lifestyle and high cortisol levels are still causing you to gain weight. Then you become stressed out about your waist size and pump more of the stress hormone into your body, which leads to even more noticeable weight gain. You may especially notice this weight gain in the face and torso.
Chronic fatigue or insomnia
Believe it or not, it is not normal or healthy to get a reasonable amount of sleep and still wake up feeling tired. If you had a restful night and have no other explanation for your tiredness, you could be experiencing adrenal fatigue that comes along with elevated cortisol.
You may also toss and turn at night and feel restless and unable to sleep. This is because your body is unable to unwind and relax and still thinks it needs to run away from the bear of stress.
Other signs of high cortisol:
- Female facial hair or female balding
- Poor skin healing
- Menstrual abnormalities
- Blood sugar dysregulation/high blood sugar
- Decreased bone mineral density
- High blood pressure
- Easy bruising
- Muscle wasting and weakness of arms and legs
- Reddish purple streaks on skin
- Obesity, especially abdominal obesity/central obesity
- Thin skin
- Decreased concentration
- Swelling in the hands and feet
- Low libido
- Impaired memory (especially short-term memory)
These symptoms don’t usually occur all at once and can come on gradually. It is often difficult to trace how you’re feeling back to high cortisol, so it is crucial to examine your life and the stress you are experiencing, along with how you feel to get an accurate diagnosis.
Unfortunately, the results of chronic stress aren’t self-limiting. They won’t go away over time as your body adjusts to some new normal. Unless you are able to remove yourself from the stressful situation or find a way to chill out, they will only get worse. Here are just a few things you can do to lower your cortisol levels and manage stress.
Change your diet
Avoid sugary, processed foods, and start eating mindfully. Incorporate more vegetables and fruit into your diet along with lean protein sources such as beans, pork tenderloin, extra-lean ground beef, and quinoa.
Train your body to relax
Practice mindfulness or meditation to clear your mind and return to a state of relaxation. If you still find that you are antsy, or sitting still and quiet only causes your stress to increase, by reminding you of everything you have to do, try yoga. Restorative yoga can help empty the mind and body while helping you get back in tune with your whole self.
Sleep more and sleep regularly
There is nothing more essential than good, quality sleep. Develop a night time and wake up schedule and routine and stick to it. Your body will then start to realize that it is time to recharge for the next day, and cortisol levels will lower in preparation for sleep. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.
What other ways do you like to lower your cortisol levels? Let us know in the comments below!