Given what the world’s been through recently, it’s fair to say that we’ve all seen our fair share of stress. But, as you probably already know, stress isn’t just a state of mind. It’s a very real, physiological process that, if left unchecked, can have serious health implications. And that’s thanks to cortisol, widely known as the stress hormone. Which, to be fair, isn’t a particularly accurate moniker. It’s involved in so much more than stress.
What is cortisol?
Primarily responsible for our flight or fight response to extreme stress, cortisol also has a myriad of other functions and can get everywhere. Yes, almost every cell in your body has a receptor for cortisol, which is pretty impressive. But the ways your cells respond and how much your body produces change depending on your needs on a daily basis. It’s that sensitive. And given the things it has a hand in, it’s easy to see how things can get out of control.
What does cortisol control?
For a start, cortisol decides how we handle fats, protein, and carbs. It plays a part in your mood, fear, and motivation levels. It’s a hormone that can shut down your immune, reproductive and digestive systems to conserve energy.
- regulates blood pressure,
- controls inflammation,
- blood sugar and
- your sleep cycle.
It’s literally everywhere. And exposure to stress only increases the levels in your body. Which is fine on a short-term basis.
What are the negative effects of cortisol?
Over a longer term, though, those higher levels can lead to serious effects. From depression and anxiety to heart disease, memory and concentration issues, headaches, insomnia, and weight fluctuations. In fact, it’s possible that there isn’t a system in your body that isn’t affected by an overabundance of cortisol.
How do we reduce the negative effects of cortisol?
So, if we want to combat the negative effect of cortisol – and who doesn’t – there are some fairly simple things we can all be doing. And a big part of that is diet.
Cortisol reducing diet
While many recommend a Mediterranean-style diet, that’s not always possible for those of us who don’t live in Italy. In which case, a basic multi-vitamin is a great way to help ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. Chamomile tea can help lower stress levels naturally, and we swear by lavender in all its forms.
Exercise to reduce cortisol
Exercise is, as always, crucial to mental and physical wellbeing. But more specifically, getting outdoors can do wonders. Ditto for mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, and meditation. Anything that encourages you to slow down, breathe deeply, and let go is fine by us.
Key to lower cortisol- sleep
Here’s another massive thing you can do for yourself and your cortisol levels: Sleep. Now, we know stress can cause insomnia, so we also know how dumb that sounds. But sleep is so important for your health, do whatever you need to do to make it happen. Bedtime routines, cocoa, lavender, your fave movie or album, sex… Whatever it is, do it and get proper sleep.
Some more tips to reduce cortisol levels
Finally, and most importantly, take care of yourself. Taking time for you is as necessary as breathing, and can make a massive difference to your stress levels. Take a long bath/walk/vacation. Talk to your friends/mom/dog. Binge Drag Race/Succession/Judge Judy. Look after you. Because, as Jennifer Aniston once said, you’re worth. And don’t you forget it!
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