Cortisol – Part 1: the Stress Hormone

Everyone knows that stress is bad for you. In our busy society, stress is an expected, even accepted, part of life. However, it is very clear that human beings were not meant to have crazy schedules and run themselves ragged. We aren’t meant to live off of less than 6 hours of sleep a night and chow on fast food between daily activities. We were made to relax. That crazy notion flies in the face of our society that equates busyness with success. However, continuous stress will wear down your health, make you fat, and destroy your mental and emotional well-being.

Take it from someone who knows. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder about three years ago because my stress actually put me in the hospital on several occasions. Because my anxiety was off the charts, I was having seizure-like episodes and I actually thought that I had developed epilepsy. I had to temporarily move back in with my parents so that they could take care of me, take a break from work, and drop out of university. It was a crazy time in my life, but I’m really glad that my anxiety and stress levels are much lower now.

Speaking of, have you ever heard of cortisol?

Cortisol, also aptly nicknamed “the stress hormone”, is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and released as part of the body’s natural cycles. Cortisol levels in the blood rise in the morning to pep us up for the day and then drop to its lowest point around 3am to ensure a good night’s rest. Cortisol also helps the body handle stress by shutting down unnecessary bodily functions to direct all its energy to dealing with the stress at hand. This can be quite important if, say, you’re being attacked by a rabid dog. Instead of your body focusing on digesting the sandwich you ate 15 minutes earlier, it will harness all its energy to fighting off the dog. Great, right?

While cortisol is quite important when we are faced with stressful situations, this can become a problem if our stress does not go away. Most of us rarely encounter life-threatening situations, yet our stress remains at high levels on a daily basis. Our bodies stay in survival mode, ready to attack or run away during an extremely stressful situation, even though we may just be upset because our coffee is cold or the kids are late for school. Because of this, cortisol levels can remain too high for too long and the body may become too worn out to normalize the amount of cortisol in its system.

But what exactly does cortisol do? How does it help the body handle stress? And why can this be harmful over an extended period of time?

Well, you’ll just have to stay tuned for Cortisol – Part 2: How It Works!

In the meantime, try taking some time out of your day to relax. Do some yoga, read a book, have a bubble bath, and eat a couple pieces of dark chocolate. If you have a partner, snuggle under the covers with them, ask them to give you a rub down, or enjoy some sexy time with them. Also, check out the guided mindfulness meditation below to reduce anxiety and stress. It really works!

♥ Michaela

P.S. Sorry for the absence. I, myself, have been under some stress and I’ve been focusing on resetting my system. I definitely needed some R&R!

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