Everyone take a deep breath in….and releaseeeeee….
The holiday mayhem is coming to a close.
Gift purchasing, office parties, quality bonding time with Cousin Eddie—these things have all come and gone until next year.
Your cortisol levels (i.e. stress levels) can go back to ‘normal.’
Today in health and wellness circles, there is a lot of commotion about stress and cortisol—namely, high cortisol.
Health experts and bloggers (myself included here) talk these things like the weather:
- “Cortisol: Why the stress hormone is public enemy number 1.”
- “Hack your stress.”
- “10 signs you have way too much cortisol.”
- “Natural stress remedies.”
- “How stress wreaks havoc on your gut.”
We hear how “stress kills” and how 60% of all disease is directly attributed to stress.
“Adrenal fatigue” and “hormone imbalance” are buzzwords that now sound like broken records.
You think: Duh! I know I’m stressed, who’s not?
- Kids and other mouths to feed and bodies to worry about
- Your j-o-b
- Not enough time in the day
- Life’s daily curveballs
- Demands and expectations
- Surgeries or illnesses that stress the body
There’s no getting around it (stress will always be a part of life).
You wonder: Is it realistic to be in perfect peace and zen—ever?
And while you know by now that high cortisol is not great for you, what does “great cortisol” or “normal cortisol” look like anyway? Is it possible to really ever to achieve balance?
The short answer: Yes.
Here is a little lesson in Cortisol 101, plus 21 signs that you have achieved “Cortisol Balance” and 7 nonon-sense steps for “getting there.”
‘Cortisol’ gets a negative rep, but simply put, it is a hormone located in the adrenal glands of all humans that dictates a host of body functions including: digestion, sleep/wake cycle, physical activity, cravings and hunger, immune response, blood pressure and your ability to cope with stress.
Cortisol’s primary job, however, is involved in blood sugar balance and raising glucose levels in your body as needed (i.e. ENERGY) through a process called glycogen storage. If your cells do not get enough glucose, they wilt (i.e. symptoms such as: light headedness, headaches, fatigue, low immunity, inflammation, irritability, anxiety, etc. are clues you’ve used up your main energy supply).
Unfortunately, due to the stressed lives the majority of us lead, cortisol’s normal everyday functions are often challenged to work twice as hard to keep our cells happy, energetic and optimal.
When your body is under stress (mental, physical, emotional), the body calls on cortisol to help keep the cells in your body well-fed (i.e. glucose) to deal with the extra energy required to keep things functioning ‘normally’ (i.e. digestion, sleep/wake patterns, hunger/fullness cues, etc.).
(Hence: the SURGE in cortisol to try to find homeostasis in all parts of your body).
If your body is functioning normally, once you respond and cope with whatever stressor your body is facing (from a tough conversation with your boss, to a twisted ankle, a fight with your best friend, or over-thinking your finances), your cortisol SHOULD return to normal levels (like the rise and fall of a tide).
However, if and when the stress in your life continues to mount or “get to you”, that cortisol surge does NOT turn off; resulting in: ‘chronic stress’, ‘high cortisol’, ‘extremely low cortisol’ or ‘adrenal fatigue.’
Once you are in any of these states of stress and dysregulation, your body goes into fight or flight mode—fighting to “get out” of the predicament, and trying its best to flee and dodge the daily stressors you’ve put it through (i.e. sleeping only 5-6 hours most nights; overtraining; undereating; emotional demands; etc.).
In order to cope with the constant demand for cortisol to TRY TO FIND BALANCE, your body hurls a host of side effects your way (such as: constant anxiety and worry, low immunity, constipation, indigestion, low energy, that ‘wired and tired’ feeling and more), perpetuating the stress cycle and leaving you feeling “stuck” in a state of sub-optimal function.
Soooo….a few questions arise:
- How do you know if your cortisol is off?
- HOW DO YOU GET OUT OF IT?
- And lastly, what does “getting out of it” look like anyway (the ‘Great Cortisol Balance’ you are striving for)?!
Instead of the usual ho-hum list of what “off” cortisol looks like, here is: Thrive’s Top 21 Signs of Optimal Cortisol Balance, PLUS some steps you can take TODAY to “getting there”…
(Note: “Off cortisol” would be the OPPOSITE of these signs)
21 Signs of Cortisol Balance
- You feel generally positive and upbeat
- You are able to sleep through the night
- You wake up, refreshed for the day
- You are able to go 4-6 hours between meals without feeling shaky, irritable or like you are crashing
- You are more proactive—less reactive
- You can function without neeeeeeeding coffee (or sugar)
- You aren’t overly concerned about the future—able to focus on the present tasks at hand
- You remember where you put your shoes, your keys, your kids, your daily schedule, etc.
- You digest your food (not feeling like it’s sitting in your stomach, little if any constipation, bloating, gas, GERD, stomach upset, etc.)
- You worry less and problem solve more
- Instead of running when stress strikes, you approach the situation knowing “It will all work out.”
- You know how to calm and/or releax yourself when things don’t go according to plan or stress arises
- Your blood pressure and fasting glucose are regulated (not too low or too high)
- You are able to fall to sleep soundly within about 15-20 minutes of lying down
- You don’t feel guilty or burdened when you say ‘no’
- Your ‘PMS’ symptoms are low to nil (if any)
- Sickness is infrequent (your body is able to combat stressors)
- You’re able to focus and concentrate on the task at hand
- You don’t wake up in the middle of the night to urinate, get comfortable, or because you had crazy dreams
- You can breeeeeaaaattttthhhheeee
- You feel invigorated from your workouts—not beat down; on the flip side, you don’t rely on your workouts to pick you up
Sound like a far cry away?
It doesn’t have to be.
With a targeted approach to enhancing you health and lifestyle, cortisol balance can be won.
7 Steps for Restoring Cortisol Balance
- Identify triggers. First things first is taking a good hard look at your current lifestyle and evaluating the areas of your life (probably multiple here) wreaking havoc on you and your cortisol balance. Carve some time out to sit, reflect and list out your top stressors in your life today. Grab a pen and piece of paper and make two columns at the top: One that reads “Stressors” and the other: “What will happen/has happened?” List them out one by one as they come to mind (from “my crammed schedule” to “work stress” and “being a mom”); in the column next to each stressor you think up, reflect how this stress has impacted you to date (i.e. “burning a candle at both ends”; “not feeling like I have time for ME”; “constantly trying to be a people pleaser—and forgoing myself”; etc.). By taking inventory, we can begin to problem solve the priority areas to address first. Knowledge is power.
- Make a plan. Now that you see what stressors are impacting you—and how, use this knowledge to problem solve some practical steps you can begin taking to directly impact the amount of stress these things bring to your life. Crammed schedule top of your list? Where can you begin SAYING ‘NO’ to unnecessary demands and clutter in your life? Finances constantly on your mind? Perhaps creating a budget for yourself in an Excel spreadsheet, or problem solving some ways to promote more financial security for a time could be helpful (from Uber driving, to housesitting, freelance writing, coaching, tutoring, cleaning, etc.).
- Think happy thoughts. The power of positive thinking is REAL. In fact, women with a greater tendency to use defeatist coping strategies, such as restraint, denial and disengagements show MORE dysregulation of cortisol (Gottfried, 2013, 103). Try seeing things in a more positive light—and speaking more positivity into your own life and see for yourself.
- Digest. Believe it our not, there is a HUGE connection between your brain and gut—if your gut is not happy, your brain—more than likely—is not happy, resulting in stress, anxiety, inability to focus, fatigue, low mood and more. Are you pooping daily? Constipated or gassy frequently after meals? Have a poor appetite or insatiable cravings and hunger throughout the day? Experience GERD or indigestion? These are just some of the signs that your digestion is…OFF. How to improve it? Discover how your digestion is potentially impacting your health, brain and body. Schedule a customized nutrition, lifestyle and health assessment today. Your initial consult is free.
- Get outside yourself. Take advantage of resources aimed at promoting ‘de-stress’: acupuncture, yoga, massage, dance, meditation, exercise that makes you come ALIVE (not exercise that beats you down—there’s balance here people); etc. EVEN FRESH AIR! (My favorite). Find what moves you and resonates with you, but make it a regular part of your schedule.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine. Eeeek! Yes. I’m serious. Alcohol and caffeine are additional stressors to your body—aside from the daily stressors it already encounters in your life. Why perpetuate the problem? Alcohol, coffee and caffeine increases physical and psychological arousal—sometimes overboard, resulting in an overactive brain as well as increased cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and insulin. As a general rule of thumb, “moderation” looks like three or less glasses of alcohol per week and, at most, one 8 ounce cup of quality coffee if you must for promoting balance in thy body (reach for organic coffee beans, try adding MCT oil for an extra dose of healthy fats to help regulate your blood sugar).
- Supplement wisely. Generally speaking, there are a handful of supplements linked to regulating cortisol levels across the board. These include*:
- Vitamin B (B-complex);
- Vitamin C (600-1000 mg/day);
- A high-quality fish oil or krill oil;
- Amino acids (L-theanine, L-lysine, L-tyrosine)
- A probiotic (gut health people)
- In addition, herbal therapies and essential oils can also be incredibly impactful.
*Any nutritional program is best commenced first under the guidance and care of a nutrition therapist or other healthcare professional.
For a customized approach, find out how your own customized Thrive Life program can improve your cortisol (and hormone) balance today. Send me a message.