Cortisol – more commonly termed the ‘stress hormone’ – is a necessary hormone produced in our adrenals that regulates and mobilises energy. Our bodies produce cortisol in response to physical, mental or emotional stress.
If we have too much of it, it can produce a number of negative side effects, such as raising our blood sugar and lowering our immunity. There is also a link between high cortisol levels and storage of body fat, particularly abdominal body fat.
With all the hype about cortisol these days, we must be aware that cortisol is not the one thing that makes us fat. High levels of cortisol are one contributing factor to storage of abdominal fat, but not the primary cause. Too much food and not enough exercise is what makes us fat! Stress however may lead to an increased appetite and cravings and cause the body to store fat around the waist.
Here are some tips that can help you to decrease cortisol if your body is producing an excessive amount. A few simple changes in your routine and lifestyle can make a major difference in reducing your cortisol levels and feeling better.
Drink no more than one small coffee per day, or eliminate it. Reducing caffeine intake is the quickest way to reduce cortisol production and elevate the production of DHEA, the leading anabolic youth hormone. 200 mg of caffeine (one 12 oz mug of coffee) increases blood cortisol levels by 30% in one hour! Cortisol can remain elevated for up to 18 hours in the blood.
Sleep as much as your body needs
If you have trouble falling asleep, try a hot bath, relaxing music and a break from all electronics at least an hour before bed. If you’re waking in the night, most likely your mind is on the things you need to do or problems needing to be solved. Writing before you go to bed can help get it all out of your head. Magnesium can help you sleep better too. Avoid alcohol which can cause us not to sleep as deeply.
Write something positive before you go to bed
It will be the last thing you are thinking of and your subconscious mind can go to work making it true for you. For example, ‘Everything is taken care of, I can sleep peacefully and tomorrow is another day’. Ensure you get to bed at a time that allows you to wake up naturally when your body is ready. Avoid jolting alarm clocks that take you from delta waves (deep sleep) to beta waves (agitated and anxious). Many of us with corporate 9-5 jobs feel that the agitated, tired state every morning when our alarms blare is normal. However, if your body is ready to wake, you should rarely have to use an alarm clock. This combined with regular exercise can help you feel energised and refreshed almost all of the time.
Get your exercise game on!
Exercise increases brain output of serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals that reduce anxiety and depression. Resistance training sessions should last no longer than an hour as cortisol levels start rising after 45-60 minutes of weight training.
Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates
This will keep from spiking your insulin production. Eat frequent small meals balanced in protein, complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and good fats like olive oil and flax seed oil.
Keep well hydrated
Dehydration puts the body in stress and raises cortisol levels. Keep filtered water by your bed and drink it when you first wake up and carry a bottle with you and sip water throughout the day.
Taking natural supplements can help
Stress-reducing supplements include B and C vitamins, minerals such as calcium, magnesium, chromium and zinc, as well as CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) and Omega 3 from sources such as fish oil capsules, salmon, flaxseed oil or walnuts. These can not only lower cortisol levels but they can also help you decrease the effects of stress on the body by boosting the immune system.
Make choices that are supportive of reducing the stress in your life
Journalling may help you get things into perspective. You may wish to hire help for some of your tasks if they are all getting too much, or simply reach out and ask for help from your friends who can listen and help you cope with any negative emotions.
Choose thoughts that are based on reason
High emotional responses can trigger cortisol spikes. Many of us are constantly worried and have our minds on negative thoughts and worry can cause fear that can consume us. It’s so important to be aware of what we’re watching and listening to. Listen to uplifting and positive audiobooks and read books that put good stuff in your mind, rather than negative news and TV programs that don’t contribute towards your goals and peace of mind.
Finally – and perhaps the most important – take time out of your busy schedule to enjoy life and kick back. A walk in nature is a great change from a vigorous routine. Try yoga instead of your high intensity training session occasionally. Listen to relaxing music or relaxation CDs. Having regular massage also helps. Also, listen to your body if you ‘hit a wall’ in your energy levels – it may be a sign that you’re over-training and over-stressing your body. Sometimes a sleep-in is more beneficial long term than the few hundred calories you’d get from your cardio session. You can make up for it another time when you have more energy.
Photo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – David Castillo Dominici