Cortisol is a hormone your adrenal glands release when you experience acute, chronic or traumatic stress. It increases your heart rate and blood pressure as part of the innate fight-or-flight response that evolved to protect our ancestors from threats. Cortisol also plays many other crucial roles within your body, including controlling your sleep-wake cycle, suppressing inflammation and managing your blood pressure.
If you are a trauma survivor or have a high-pressure career, your body may constantly pump out higher-than-average amounts of cortisol, which can adversely affect your well-being.
Health Problems Associated With High Cortisol Levels
High cortisol levels represent an imbalance that can be detrimental to your physical and mental health. The symptoms can manifest in several ways.
- Increased blood sugar: Under normal circumstances, cortisol counterbalances the effect of insulin. Excess cortisol can lead to hyperglycemia, which can cause Type 2 diabetes.
- Weight gain: Your body will store unused glucose in your blood as fat.
- Suppressed immune function: Chronically high cortisol may suppress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to contagious viruses. Your risk of cancer and autoimmune diseases will increase, and you may develop food allergies.
- Digestive problems: If your fight-or-flight response is always overactive, it will limit your digestive tract’s ability to digest or absorb food, which can cause ulcers.
- Heart disease: Constricted arteries and high blood pressure can lead to blood vessel damage and plaque buildup in your arteries, which could set the stage for a heart attack or stroke.
- Mental health issues and substance abuse: In a state of constant stress, high cortisol levels can cause mood disorders. If you turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate these symptoms, you can soon become addicted.
Natural Ways to Lower Your Cortisol
If you’ve noticed the warning signs of high cortisol, you should learn about ways to reduce the amount of this hormone circulating through your body. Stepping back and taking a slower, more mindful approach to life can improve your health in many ways.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Many American adults are chronically sleep-deprived. Most of us need between six and nine hours of quality, restful sleep every night to recharge our bodies and minds. Setting a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine can help you establish a healthy pattern.
2. Exercise Regularly
When you have a busy schedule, fitting in a daily workout can seem like one more chore on a crowded to-do list. In that case, you can make time for small bursts of activity interspersed throughout your day, adding up to 20 to 30 minutes total. Even a short walk around the block at lunchtime can benefit you.
3. Take Mindfulness Breaks
Relaxing with mindfulness meditation can be a powerful tool in managing your mood and reducing your stress levels. A mindfulness practice can be as simple as finding a quiet place to sit down, close your eyes and focus on your breathing for 10 to 15 minutes a day.
4. Spend Time Outside
Being in nature is one of the best ways to recharge your energy levels while improving your outlook. Studies suggest that the sensory experiences of the natural world have multiple benefits for our physical and emotional well-being.
5. Learn to Say No
Stress can quickly add up when you let it into your life. Find ways to limit activities, responsibilities or relationships that make you anxious or cause unnecessary tension.
How to Seek Help
If you feel constantly anxious, fatigued, nervous or irritable, high cortisol levels could be fueling a self-perpetuating cycle of maladaptive coping mechanisms like substance abuse, lack of exercise and other unhealthy habits. Hope by the Sea is a family-owned treatment facility offering specialty programming tailored to our clients’ unique needs. To learn more, please connect with us today.