CORTISOL “THE STRESS HORMONE”
WHAT IT IS
Cortisol is a hormone made by the two adrenal glands one is located on each kidney. As we perceive stress or immediate danger our adrenal glands produce and release the hormone CORTISOL into the bloodstream narrowing the arteries while at the same time another hormone, epinephrine increases your heart rate, working together, they then trigger a flood of glucose to be produced which then supplies an immediate energy source to your large muscles.
WHAT IT DOES
Often called the “stress hormone,” CORTISOL causes an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure. This “flight or fight” response has kept us “humans” alive for thousands of years, kicking in whenever we are suddenly startled or threatened, switching on and surging into action, forcing our blood to pump harder and faster in order to confront and resolve a perceived threatening or frightening situation.
WHEN IT’S GOOD
Smaller and natural amounts of Cortisol are also released when we wake up in the morning, as we begin our exercise routines or as we jump into and face our regular daily challenges. This natural cortisol response can help regulate our blood pressure and blood sugar levels and even strengthen our heart muscles. In small doses, this built -in stress hormone that we all naturally call on can heighten memory, increase our immune systems and lower sensitivity to pain.
WHEN ITS NOT (CHRONIC STRESS)
However, if our whole lives are filled with constant and unrelenting stress we may be at risk of constantly pumping out cortisol, our pancreas will begin to struggle to keep up with the constant demand for insulin, our cells will then demand energy desperately searching for glucose causing a false sense of hunger which can lead to excessive weight gain.
Elevated cortisol levels can also wreak havoc on our immune systems resulting making us susceptible to illness suppressing our immune system’s ability to ward off colds, flu and various other contagious infections as well as it may lead to an increased risk of many autoimmune diseases including cancer.
We also may suffer from digestive problems, lack of nutrient absorption, ulcers, food allergies, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome.
Constant cortisol production can also lead to blood vessel damage and plaque buildup in your arteries, setting the stage for a heart attack or stroke.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT
We humans are not designed to live in a constant state of fight or flight, in today’s society STRESS can be unrelenting which can have a devastating effect on our health and wellbeing if kept unchecked, we MUST learn to find the “release valve” to remind our body’s and minds that we have a “switch off” mechanism which must be implemented often and regularly in between periods of high demand.
We must make the time and take the time to protect and nurture our nervous systems, to know when we’re pushing ourselves too hard and for too long a period. We need to learn to recognise the symptoms and signs to know when we’re operating at a high cortisol producing state for too long a period (stress overload)
It is imperative to to develop our own personal ways of turning down the pressure whenever we need to, this could be as simple as taking a few long slow deep breaths throughout the day releasing tension as we exhale, it may be that we need to incorporate meditation into our daily lives or that we need to exercise more increasing and encouraging the let go feel-good endorphins to do their job.
We may need to cut out the stressors in our lives, reduce our workloads, remove ourselves from toxic and demanding people and situations as well as we need to allow ourselves the time to prepare and to eat foods that are energy supporting and rather than the quick sugar high adrenal draining snacks that we often turn to when we’re on the fly oh and let’s not forget the importance of getting enough sleep!
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
– Anne Lamott