Cortisol is commonly referred to as the human stress hormone, that is secreted by the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys. For the better part of human existence, when you are threatened by another with violence, or chased by predator, (or that bump in the night that switch your alert state on, that’s cortisol working). Your senses release cortisol into your blood system to trigger a response that quickens your heart rate, dumps glucose (stored sugar) into your blood system for quick acting fuel, dilates (opens up) your blood vessels, makes you super alert to deal with the danger (the degree is varying in accordance with the threat). After the threat is gone, cortisol is reduced, and you calm down. You may even feel good and safe by another hormone called Oxytocin (for another post).
The general idea is that cortisol is only supposed to be active in your system for a short time to deal with a threat.
However, our modern lives of dealing with family, work, finances, mortgages, traffic, pressing deadlines etc, don’t so much release large amounts of cortisol when these crisis arise, but more often are drip feeding cortisol into your body system for long periods over time.
So, what are the detriments of low amounts of cortisol in the body over long periods of time:
- Turns off your immune system.
- Turns off your digestion (sometimes even makes you throw up to empty the stomach)
- Causes sleep problems, can’t fall asleep, disrupted sleep
- Turns off weight control and gears up weight gain
- Impairs memory and concentration
- Inflammation and heart disease
- Anxiety and depression
What can you do to lower stress and lower the release of Cortisol?
Stressful events are a fact of life. You may not be able to change the situation. But you can take steps to manage the impact they have on you, how you think about them and how to overcome them, so that you can deal with the events with less detrimental impact on your health. These strategies can help:
- Engage in exercise (to release endorphins, the feel-good hormone)
- Practice relaxation techniques (such as yoga, getting a massage)
- Engage in learning, such a reading or visual media documentary
- Socialize in healthy relationships with people of comfortable and accommodating surrounds
- Being creative or volunteering your time with family or community
- Having a sense of humour or engage in laughter
- Seeking professional help in counseling services
- Coach Stephen