Cortisol – Part 3: Healing Your Body

Welcome to my final blog post in my three part series about cortisol. If you haven’t read part one and two, please give them a read. Those posts will provide the necessary background information as to why it is important to reduce cortisol in your system and strive for hormonal balance.

As I’ve previously discussed, cortisol is a necessary hormone that helps your body get into action and survive intense, stressful situations. However, when cortisol runs rampant, it can cause quite a bit of wear and tear on the body. This can lead to mild to severe symptoms that can overhaul your physical, mental, and emotional health.

So how can you combat cortisol, bring balance to your body, reduce (and even reverse) the effects of cortisol on your system? Keep reading!

First, let me list some simple things that may help to slow you down and relax. These practices may seem obvious, but they really work!

  • Getting a massage (either professionally or from a friend/partner).
  • Mild exercise, such as a walk, swim, or fun sport.
  • Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong – You can join a class or find really helpful videos on youtube.
  • Mindfulness Meditation – I’ve provided some videos in my previous posts and there are more videos you can find on youtube.
  • Sleep – It’s really, absolutely vital that you are getting enough sleep. If you are sleep-deprived, not only are you throwing your body systems out of rhythm, but it will be harder to cope with daily life.
  • A balanced diet – It is important to eat healthy, raw foods more often than processed, sugary foods. Eating at every mealtime and enjoying healthy snacks in between can kick start metabolism and keep your body happy.

Along with healthy, stress reducing practices, there are also vitamins, minerals, and herbs that can really help with reducing stress and balancing cortisol in the system. For example:

  • Vitamin C – As mentioned in my previous posts, cortisol can inhibit your immune system. Take 1000 mg of vitamin C daily when you are feeling stressed and run down.
  • Magnesium – This mineral is necessary for enzymes to convert carbs, protein, and fat into energy, which will obviously help with increasing energy, but also losing weight caused by cortisol. It is also important for nervous system function. Supplementing magnesium at night time can help calm and relax your system so you are ready for a deep sleep. Most people are low on magnesium, so it’s a good idea take it regularly even if you aren’t stressed.
  • All B vitamins  – You can by a B-complex supplement, which should contain all essential B vitamins. These vitamins are important for enzyme function, as well as mental function and stress reduction.
  • Magnolia Bark – An antioxidant used in Chinese medicine to treat low energy, anxiety, and depression by modulating neurotransmitters and enzymes in the brain.
  • Ginseng – An adaptogen (meaning it brings balance to the physical processes of the body) that can improve mental function. It can also increase energy and endurance and improve the immune system. I mentioned in my previous blog post that cortisol can increase testosterone. Well, ginseng can reverse this effect by bringing balance to testosterone in the body.
  • Ashwangandha – Nicknamed “Indian Ginseng” because it has similar effects on the body as ginseng. This herb is used in Ayurvedic medicine to “balance life forces”, meaning it is used to treat insomnia, adrenal fatigue (which can be caused by too little or too much cortisol), and promote bodily relaxation.
  • Kava Kava – A great root for treating stress and anxiety. For more information, check out this post that I wrote about Kava.
  • St. John’s Wort – It is often used as an herbal alternative to antidepressants. It is used to improve mood and energy, as well as provide relief from fatigue that is caused by depression and high stress. It does all this by bringing balance to neurotransmitters in the brain.
  • 5-HTP – Tryptophan is an amino acid that is converted by the body into 5-HTP, which can then be converted into serotonin. Increasing serotonin (if you are lacking), can relieve depression, insomnia, and stress. There is are certain type of antidepressants called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) that aim to do exactly the same thing as 5-HTP. If you are currently using SSRIs, this may be an effective, natural alternative for you.

There are many more supplements and herbs that can be used to boost relaxation, reduce stress, and calm the body, but I just wanted to highlight a few that I have come across. Like all supplements and herbs, please do research before diving in and taking them. Most of these supplements can be taken safely, but some of them cannot be mixed with other medications or chronic illnesses. I would also advise seeking health advice from your doctor, naturopath, or other health care professional.

If you suffer from chronic stress, it may be a good idea to seek out professional help. There’s no shame in seeking outside assistance, especially if you have experienced some sort of trauma in your life. Life can be really hard to deal with, no matter who you are or what you’ve been through. Let’s face it: our society does not teach people how to handle stress and emotions properly and safely. It’s no wonder depression is an epidemic that’s only rising in North America! I have listed some therapies below that have been proven to help people manage their stress (some of which I have tried myself). I hope that one or all of these therapies can be effective for managing your stress.

  • Cognitive/behavioural therapy – This is probably the most popular form of therapy in the Western world. It used to change unhealthy thought patterns and behaviour, as well as solve current problems. I tried this therapy for two years and found it very helpful. There are many therapists and counselors available, so a quick google search should help you find one in your area.
  • Somatic experiencing (SE) – This is a form of therapy used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other related effects from trauma (mental or physical). The essence of SE is that trauma (or stress) is stored up in the body as energy. The goal is to release that energy to relieve built up tension and pain. I’m currently seeing an SE therapist and I am finding it quite helpful!
  • Tension, Stress, and Trauma Release Exercise (TRE) – This therapy is very similar to Somatic Experiencing, but more intense. I haven’t tried this myself, but I know others who have benefited from it. I follow a blog called The Ass Movement and there’s a great post on TRE that you can read there.

That wraps up my three part series on cortisol! I hope that some of what I’ve shared has and will help you combat stress. Trust me, we’re in this together! If you have any questions, feel free to comment.

Make sure to take a breathe, meditate (Ommmm), and stretch out those limbs yoga-style! You deserve it!

♥ Michaela

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Cortisol – Part 2: How it Works

“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. ‘Blorft’ is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.” – Tina Fey, Bossypants

Can you relate to the above post? Are you overwhelmed with life, but you just keep going, pushing onward through the stress even though you can feel its wear and tear on your body? The amount of stress that we put ourselves through is astronomical in the Western world and, what’s even crazier, is that it’s largely unnecessary. Even though stress and busyness is considered normal, sometimes even praiseworthy, that constant stress will come back and bite you in the ass.

As previously discussed in Cortisol – Part 1: the Stress Hormone, cortisol is a hormone that the pineal gland generates to help the body cope during extremely stressful situations, like fighting off a rabid dog. However, if cortisol levels remain too high for too long, the body may become unable to regulate cortisol in its system.

Before I talk about what you can do to manage your cortisol levels, I wanted to discuss how cortisol actually effects the body. This way you can see that it is an essential hormone, but also one that can cause a lot of problems if our stress levels run rampant. Please read below to find a general overview on the impact of cortisol on the body system.

  • Cortisol can inhibit insulin from moving glucose (sugar) into the cells, which raises the level of glucose in the bloodstream. Naturally this can cause blood sugar imbalances, which may lead to hypo- or hyperglycemia.
  • It can partially shut down the immune system by interfering with t-cell production and function. Because of this, you can become more susceptible to illness. If you find yourself frequently catching a cold or flu, this may be why.
  • It can inhibit the uptake of amino acids into muscle cells and inhibit bone function and calcium absorption, which can decrease bone density and muscle mass.
  • Cortisol can make the body more sensitive to epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). This can cause vasoconstriction (constriction of the blood vessels), which will increase blood pressure and heart rate.
  • It can interfere with the production and function of thyroid hormones causing your thyroid to work too hard (hyperthyroidism) or not hard enough (hypothyroidism).
  • It can increase gastric acid production in the stomach, which can cause acid reflux, digestion issues, and intestinal problems.
  • It can interfere with fertility and pregnancy, which can make it difficult to conceive and may interfere with the health of your baby.
  • It can interfere with your metabolism and this can cause intense hunger, food cravings, and an increase in abdominal fat.
  • It can have an impact on the hippocampus in the brain, which can throw off your emotions, inhibit your memory capacity, and cause cognitive impairment.
  • Cortisol is naturally released in your body during the morning hours to wake you up. However, if you have an imbalance, cortisol may be released at night time. This can cause insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
  • Because of the general impact of cortisol in your system, it can cause fatigue from lack of sleep and an overworked or sluggish system.
  • Cortisol can increase in testosterone, which can cause high blood pressure, increase in body fat, an increase in estrogen, mood swings, water retention, & more.

If you were in a survival situation, most of the side effects of cortisol would be very helpful. If we go back to my rabid dog scenario, it makes a lot of sense that your body would need an increase in adrenaline to either get you fighting or running away from said dog and a decrease in metabolism, which would not be a very helpful function in the moment. However, as you can see, prolonged stress can have quite a toll on the body. Without proper management, cortisol can do more than make you anxious. It can have a huge impact on your physical and mental health.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering what you can do to decrease your stress and normalize your levels of cortisol. Well, you’ll just have to wait for my final installment: Cortisol – Part 3: Healing Your Body.

Until then, hang out with a dog (which is scientifically proven to reduce stress), go to bed early, and listen to this 5 minute mindfulness meditation!

♥ Michaela

Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more health info and fun!

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!

Dry Skin Brushing

Skin is a very important and often overlooked part of our body. The skin is the largest organ of the human body, accounting for 15% of our body weight. Skin is very important for sensation, such as touch and it also protects our internal systems from bacteria and water loss. Skin also regulates temperature through the expansion and constriction of our blood vessels and also through the sweat glands. On top of all of that, the skin also excretes toxins, salt, water, sebum (reduces water loss), bacteria, and more. Your skin also sheds about 30,000 dead cells every minute!

So what can you do to help this process along? Dry skin brushing, of course!

Dry skin brushing can remove toxins and dead cells that have become trapped in the skin, stimulate the lymphatic system, reduce cellulite, and unclog pours. (Goodbye adolescent acne!) It’s so simple, yet few people know about it. Recently, I bought myself a dry skin brush and my goal is to use it every day before I have a shower.

How do you use a dry skin brush?

  1. Make sure you buy a natural skin brush, not a synthetic one. It’s best to get one with a long handle so that you can reach your entire body (like your back). I bought mine at a local natural food store that also has a beauty department.
  2. Strip down and brush away! I stand in my shower so that I can wash away the dead skin that falls off. (I know. Ew.) Make sure you start at your feet and brush towards your heart. Run over every area of skin a couple times.
  3. Be careful as you brush over sensitive areas. Dry skin brushes can feel quite harsh on the skin at first, but you’ll get used to it! If you brush your face, be really gentle.
  4. After you brush, have a nice, warm shower, but not too hot because your skin may be sensitive.
  5. After your shower, towel down and apply coconut oil to your body.
  6. Remember to wash your brush once a week with natural soap and water. Leave your brush out to dry so that mold doesn’t grow on it.

Go out and buy a dry skin brush today! It’s worth it. It takes very little time (2-5 mins per day), yet it’s so good for you. It also feels great!

♥ Michaela

Gratitude: the Unrecognized Healer

I’m a care aid and in my line of work I constantly come across people who are in difficult situations. I work with people who have disabilities, who are wheelchair-bound, ill, people who have suffered from strokes, and those who can no longer do the things that you or I probably take for granted on a daily basis. I come across people who struggle every day to have a “normal” life. I have clients who are unable to get out of bed until someone comes to help them or clients who can’t use the washroom, or dress themselves, or cook for themselves unless I am there.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that the people that waste away, the people that sink deeper into illness and immobility, are those that allow negativity and despair to permeate their lives. And the ones that thrive, the ones that hold on to their independence and vitality longer, are those that are grateful every single day. They are the people that can shake off the burdens of life. They are the people that can look past the pain, the mire, the tragedies, and remember the goodness.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are physical, emotional, and mental ailments that cannot be changed. I am in no way blaming my clients or others for having the conditions that they do. Alzheimer’s, for example, is a progressive disease that can only be held off for so long with medication. I know this, but I’ve also seen the difference that gratitude has on an individual’s life.

A week ago, I went to a care facility to pick up an elderly man and take him to the hospital for his appointment. This man had suffered a stroke and his whole left side was paralyzed. One day he was completely healthy, the next day he couldn’t move. One day he was independent and living on his own, the next day he was unable to take care of himself. He told me, with a tear running down his face, that it was a quite a difficult situation to live with, as I’m sure you can imagine.

The thing that truly struck me about this man was how grateful he was. He repeatedly thanked me for going to the hospital with him. He thanked our cab driver, he thanked the receptionist at the hospital, he thanked his doctor, and, on multiple occasions, he told me how grateful he was that he was living in such a nice care home. After his appointment, I bought him a cup of coffee from Starbucks and he was immensely grateful for the warm drink, just the way he liked it. (He is as obsessed with coffee as I am.) And when I dropped him off at his home, he wouldn’t stop thanking me for the time that I spent with him.

I was blown away. Here was this man who was in such a difficult situation, a situation that he explained to me with tears in his eyes, yet he was grateful for every good thing that came his way. He showed appreciation for every single person he came into contact with. He poured out gratitude and kindness to others. He was even thankful that he was paralyzed on his left side because if he was paralyzed on his right side he might not be able to talk! He treasured up every little blessing.

This is who I want to be like. Life is hard: illness is probable, aging is inevitable, and struggle is usually just around the corner. However, I want to be grateful for every little thing and every person that comes into my life. I want to cherish what I have and not be consumed by what I don’t have.

I think this is a major factor in vitality and healing. Those that are grateful and mindful of life’s goodness, despite the bad, tend to heal their physical, mental, and emotional wounds and keep illness from spiraling. They have energy, compassion, and the will to do the hard work of healing, like counseling, physiotherapy, or diet changes. They don’t give up because they know that life is still worth living. They can make it through tough days because they remember the good things of yesterday and believe that tomorrow has untold promise. They cherish little blessings, like a warm cup of coffee, even when there are major upsets in their life. These people are imperfect, like you or I, but they are optimistic.

I have another client who hasn’t lost her sense of humour despite the fact that she has also suffered a stroke. She revels in what independence she has while finding joy and appreciation in what I can do for her. For example, she needs help bathing. While most of us would cringe at the thought of a stranger giving us a bath, she enjoys that chance to relax in the hot water and have her body scrubbed clean. She also gets very excited about the chance to drink tea and play Scrabble with me twice a week. (I’ve only won once.)

And that’s what I’m talking about: even though life is not how we would want or imagined it to be, we can still find gratefulness in the good that comes our way. Instead of feeling despair because we are unable to do something, we find joy in what we can do or what others can do for us. I have a friend who suffers from an illness and he lives by the adage, “it could be a lot worse”. And it could be! Don’t ignore the difficulties in life, but try not to let them bring you down or eat you alive.

Join me as I work on being a more grateful and joyful person. Let’s heal ourselves and the world with our positivity!

♥ Michaela