What Is Cortisol, And Should I Worry About Reducing It?

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The health and wellness girlies on the internet are obsessed with cortisol – but why should you care about it? Cortisol is directly related to stress, which I’m positive you have firsthand experience with. Turns out, stress impacts your body’s production of the cortisol hormone, and high levels of it can actually present itself in yucky physical symptoms. Let’s dive into the buzzy world of cortisol and explore how you can regulate it!

What is cortisol?

Primarily known as the “stress hormone,” cortisol actually affects a lot of key happenings in your body. Yes, cortisol helps regulate stress, but it also controls your metabolism, quells inflammation, manages blood sugar and blood pressure, and impacts your sleep cycle. Because cortisol is a glucocorticoid (a type of steroid hormone), it governs almost all of the organ systems, causing a wide range of biological responses.

Being able to identify cortisol at work in your body can be a challenge, which is why we’re simplifying some common complications cortisol causes.

Before self-evaluating your cortisol levels, it’s important that the glands that produce the hormone are all functioning. Having a healthy hypothalamus, and healthy pituitary and adrenal glands gives you a strong foundation for optimal cortisol levels. To properly assess the health of your hormonal functions, make a quick trip to the doctor’s office.

What causes high cortisol?

Cortisol works alongside “fight or flight” hormones like adrenaline, and it increases when we perceive stress. If you feel like you’re living in constant stress, your body will produce more and more cortisol. Given that, it’s no surprise that a lot of us deal with out-of-whack cortisol levels – after all, we live in a very stress-filled world.

How can cortisol impact me?

how to reduce cortisol levels and how cortisol impacts your body

High levels of cortisol in your body can feel like you’re constantly on high alert, uncomfortable, or tired. The main symptoms of high cortisol are:

  • Increased blood sugar
  • Digestive issues
  • Weight gain
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Constant cravings for sugar
  • Weakened immune system
  • Low libido
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Irregular periods

Low levels of cortisol can cause you to feel spacey and weak. The main symptoms of low cortisol are:

  • Fatigue and general weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Chronic dizziness
  • Discolored skin

If you feel your symptoms are more severe, it’s possible that you may be dealing with Cushing syndrome (too much cortisol) or Addisons’s disease (too little cortisol caused by adrenal dysfunction). These conditions worsen gradually over time, so seek medical attention as soon as possible if you feel your health is exceptionally worrisome.

How to reduce cortisol levels?

Do Some Stress Management

  • Working on stress management techniques by yourself or with a mental health professional is the #1 way to reduce cortisol in the body. Because stress and cortisol fuel each other via a positive feedback loop, being able to calm ourselves down from stressful work, school, or family situations is crucial in preventing harmful hormone levels. Stress won’t ever fully go away, but dealing with it is one of the greatest skills you can have for the sake of your physical health.
  • Some stress management techniques include meditation, yoga, exercise, spending time in nature, and journaling.

Have A Regular Sleep Schedule

  • As hard as having a normal sleep schedule when you’re experiencing high levels of stress and cortisol sounds, it’s an important element in regulating your body and mind. Trying out natural pre-sleep remedies (like this yummy mocktail for quality zzz’s), establishing a relaxing nighttime routine, and getting light movement in (strenuous workouts can spike cortisol) during the day all help you rest well. It’s also critical that you go to bed and wake up around the same times every day to properly recharge and regulate.

Eat Healthy Foods

  • Eating a balanced diet can help you reduce cortisol. Don’t worry – there’s wiggle room for sweets and treats – but it’s best to prioritize whole foods for your body.
  • Avocados, bananas, spinach, seeds, nuts, cinnamon, and omega-3-rich foods like fish and oils are all good sources of nutrition for balanced hormones.
  • Straying from hormone spike-inducing foods and beverages like processed sugary treats and too much coffee will keep you feeling calm and balanced. Make sure to hydrate with plenty of water, too!
  • If eating healthy foods 24/7 is a challenge, and you can’t seem to get the right amounts of vitamins in, consider supporting your diet with supplements! If you suspect some of your nutrients are low in your body, your doctor will be able to identify where you might need to focus your anti-stress efforts.

Make Time For Things You Enjoy

  • Indulging in your favorite activities and hobbies can take your mind off stressful situations going on in your life, reducing the body’s cortisol production. Perhaps it’s working on an ongoing art project, or going for an outdoor bike ride with a few pals. Whatever it takes to hone in on fulfilling and calming pursuit, you should do it in order to regulate the stress hormone.

Evaluate The Stresses In Your Life, And Cut Things Out Where Possible

  • Try staying mindful about what day-to-day things bring you the most stress. Oftentimes, stress accumulates in the body and you can really feel it when stress is present. Maybe you’re taking on too many tasks at work – talk with your boss about how to better manage that! Perhaps you feel like you’re doing all of the housework, without any help from your partner – let them know how that makes you feel, and work out a plan to better balance your responsibilities.

We often invite stress into our lives without even realizing it, but luckily, there are ways to manage things when they feel out of control.

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Header image via Mikhail Nilov / PEXELS