Are you feeling stressed today? Take a second here and pause–check your shoulders for tension, see if your jaw is clenched, take a nice deep breath….in……and…….out. Phew. Stress is something that most of us deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s good; having a healthy amount of stress pushes us to do our best at work and to provide for our families. However, more and more our stress comes from a fear of things we can’t control and it’s wreaking havoc on our health.
What happens when we have too much bad stress? It raises our cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland and it has some great benefits in the right situations. Think of it as your “fight or flight” response–cortisol produces energy (to let you run away or punch a bear in the face) and it reduces inflammation to keep you going longer.
Too much cortisol is where we get into trouble. When we live in a constant state of stress, whether from a bad job, relationship struggles, worries about finances, or taking on too much in our lives, that steady stream of cortisol can lead to weight gain, a suppressed immune system (so you’re getting sick more often), insomnia, digestive issues, and more.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Chances are you can’t just go out and quit everything that is causing you stress, so today I want to talk about ways you can reduce cortisol and get your adrenal system back on track.
A Healthy Diet
Come on, don’t act surprised, you knew I’d find a way to make this about nutrition. It’s what I do! But, think about it, the food you eat becomes the cells in your body, so making sure that those cells are made up of the highest caliber stuff will give you a better shot at a healthy life. In particular, omega-3s and probiotics have been found to reduce inflammation and counteract the damage that constant stress has on the body (I’ll link the studies at the bottom of this page if you want to check out the research for yourself!). Some great sources of these are fish (or fish oils like I talk more about here) and fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, or sauerkraut.
This one will probably get me a few groans too, but too much caffeine, especially at night, completely messes with a person’s sleep cycle and leads to more insomnia and more cortisol spikes. If you are a die-hard coffee drinker, I get it (except maybe I don’t because tea tastes so much better #sorrynotsorry, but I get the caffeine part!). Try switching to decaf after 2 and see if you notice any change to your sleep after a few weeks. It’s worth the rough transition period, I promise! And if you still need a pick me up later in the afternoon, try reaching for a cold glass of water and doing 10 jumping jacks instead. It might sound weird, but it’ll wake you up just as much as any caffeine would, without the negative side effects.
If you have issues with high levels of cortisol, you need to be deliberate about the types of exercise you are doing. High intensity training is popular right now and, it is AWESOME for taking advantage of a short amount of time to workout, but it also causes spikes in cortisol levels. High impact exercises are a type of stress on the body. A good type of stress, but not necessarily the best choice for someone looking to get their adrenal gland back in check. Low intensity exercise (think walking, restorative yoga, or swimming) is the perfect way to avoid spiking cortisol in the bloodstream while also relieving stress.
What are you go-to ways to deal with stress? I want to hear them! Leave a comment below and let’s reduce our cortisol levels together.
Studies on Omega3s/Probiotics and Cortisol:
Study on Exercise and Cortisol: