Cortisol ~ The Stress Hormone ~ How To Maintain Balance

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Life in 2012! Has living ever been so stressful?

Do you feel the compression of time? Is there more to do with less time to do it?

Do the seasons come and go more quickly? Are the months flipping by with extraordinary speed?

We all know the answers, but many are not aware of the effects.

As an example, many people now suffer from chronic insomnia. While there are many co-factors which contribute to this condition, perhaps the most common one is the presence of too much cortisol in your system at night when you retire to sleep. Even if every thing else is right for you to experience a good night’s sleep, this imbalance will prevent you from sleeping well.

Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone. As such it is secreted at much higher levels during the body’s fight or flight response to stress. It is also found at its highest levels in the morning and the lowest at night. Herein lies the problem, especially for those who cannot get to sleep, or stay asleep.  

Some with low adrenal function actually take cortisol around the clock which can often manifest explosive mood swings and rages which can result in physical violence and danger to themselves and others. Coupled with SSRIs (well-known to cause wild mood swings) and other addictive psychotropic pharmaceuticals, numerous severe emotional and personality disorder can manifest. The marriage of cortisol, naturally-produced by the body or taken as a prescription, and the entire family of anti-depressants can lead to catastrophic results. Those individuals can become instantly irrational and often suffer severe OCD as well.

Just Do It --- Stop your anxiety!

The new normal of chronic stress throughout one’s day has produced a chronic stress response. All the typical stress mechanisms are continually triggered keeping the whole being (body and mind, heart and soul) in the state of high anxiety. Because the body is suffused with cortisol, it is alternating between tenseness and agitation. The mind is darting and uncontrollable. The emotions are fraught with anxiety and worry. The whole psychological profile wavers between ADD, ADHD and PTSD.

Not a nice place to be for most of your day … and night, is it? And yet that is exactly where many people are these days. Just witness the overwhelming number of meds prescribed for insomnia, anxiety, and related ailments. Likewise, the OTC sales for these are such that they are taking up more and more room on the store shelf.

Most people do not even know they have morphed into this state because it usually occurs below the radar. With each passing day, as the pressures of life pile on, their stress responses are kicked in more frequently and intensely … until one day that becomes their predominant posture towards life. Therefore, developing the awareness around this slowly evolving condition is absolutely key.

Once you are able to identify the symptoms of any stress disorder, you are able to respond to them with effective measures and appropriate changes. Most importantly, you are able to systematically remove all the easily identified co-factors which contribute to the condition, setting yourself up for success in getting a good night’s sleep.

When it's time to sleep, do everything you can to put the odds in your favor to sleep well.

In addition to the inability to sleep well, here are some other negative effects associated with heightened levels of systemic cortisol, as provided by an excellent article at About.com: Stress Management.

• Impaired cognitive performance
• Spontaneous outbursts of extreme anger and violent rage
• Suppressed thyroid function
• Blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia
• Decreased bone density
• Decrease in muscle tissue
• Higher blood pressure
• Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, and other health consequences
• Increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater amount of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, the development of metabolic syndrome, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which can lead to other health problems![1]

The upshot is that the body always seeks homeostasis and therefore never wants to have higher and prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream. Not only will such a chronic condition decrease effectiveness of the natural fight of flight response, it will ultimately undermine the vital functions which cortisol performs. Some of those functions are as follows:

• Proper glucose metabolism
• Regulation of blood pressure
• Insulin release for blood sugar maintanence
• Immune function
• Inflammatory response[1]

The very essence of the fight or flight response is to keep the organism safe and protected in threatening situations. The following effects are brought about by small yet measured increases in cortisol production by the adrenals when an individual feels danger or an impulse toward self preservation.

• Proper glucose metabolism
• Regulation of blood pressure
• Insulin release for blood sugar maintanence
• Immune function
• Inflammatory response[1]

Now we can see why we do not want to compromise the function of the adrenals, as many have experienced as adrenal exhaustion throughout their adult life. Having an adequate amount of cortisol at the right times can literally save your life, while too much all the time will guarantee a shorter, unhappier life with many health problems.

What can be done to remedy a lifelong condition of adrenal exhaustion?

Actually, there is much that can be done which can completely reverse this trend. First, we strip away each co-factor, one by one. We start by removing all the dietary triggers which can aggravate the whole syndrome. Try replacing all the usual fixes in your diet with healthy replacements. For instance, the following ought to be replaced asap.

– coffee
– diet soft drinks
– white refined sugar
– alcohol
– cigarettes
– recreational drugs
– white wheat
– red meat, chicken and fish (mostly because of the chemicals that animals are fed, as well as the fear hormones that they secrete when they know they are about to get slaughtered)

There are many other recommendations in the sculpting of a really refined diet, but this list shown above is compulsory. If you don’t replace all of these with truly wholesome substitutes then it will be a LONG road back to wellness. And, YES, there are quite healthy alternatives for each of them.

Other critical suggestions include turning off the TV (Don’t watch before you go to bed and remove it from the bedroom), unless the program is positive, uplifting and peace-inducing. Get your daily news from the internet, the content of which you can control. Choose your HDTV entertainment from streaming which has no commercials and all the unwanted pharmaceutical advertisements.

Avoid bad company and those who make your blood boil. Just stay away both on the phone and in person. If they happen to be a loved one, have a real serious boundary-setting session with them which will be respected henceforth.

If it’s the job (When is it not in this day and age?), it’s time to change your outlook or attitude or expectations or fears or something. Most cannot quit their jobs during this economic depression and must evolve ways to best orient themselves to quite challenging situations at work. This one usually requires deep introspection and self inquiry as there is always a major lesson being taught.

The same goes for relationship challenges and/or marital difficulties. These are often present to provide opportunities for breakthrough. Nothing elicits the very best from us like a good old fashioned personality conflict, except that it is important to know when to walk away … sometimes forever, as your well-being and life may depend upon it.

How about focusing on the relaxation response?

Now this is where we really can begin to take back our power from all of the drains in our life that seem to suck us dry … endlessly.

There are daily practices which can be engaged that are quite helpful in reinforcing the relaxation response. None of these should bring added stress into your life; however, working them in seamlessly will produce great results. You may just go from being anxious and edgy all the time to being relaxed and joyful.

• Mediation (Gaze at the picture at the top of this website)
• Hatha Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong
• Walking in nature
• Contemplation of nature in Nature (Sit by a stream, meditate under an oak, stare at the sky)
• Relaxation arts such as painting, poetry or pottery
• Self inquiry and Journaling
• Chanting, drumming or singing
• Power-walking, swimming or bicycling
• Get a massage or perform self massage
• Watch the sun set or sun rise
• Early morning sun-gazing (only at the horizon) for 1 to 2 minutes
• Become absorbed in a flower or a flame or a bonfire
• Gardening and Flower arranging
• Prayer and Ritual worship
• Listen to classical or alpha wave music
• DO NOTHING

Of course, there are many other ways to bring about relaxation of body, mind and soul. Each person is challenged to find what really floats their boat in this regard, and then incorporate it into their lifestyle with regularity and discipline. Positive results will always follow for those with commitment and faith, yes?

Here’s just one resource of myriad references which can be consulted for those who have the time and need.
Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief

Conclusion
We ought not to overly focus on physically lowering inappropriate cortisol production. We are best served by simply changing those things which will naturally bring about the desired result.

It’s kind of like when you count calories every day of your life, you become a slave to calorie-counting. Whereas if you just eat right for your body type, your body will attain the right weight quite naturally.

Likewise, when the cortisol levels slowly decrease, and stay within the normal range for you, many of the other issues, especially physical problems, will resolve in good time. The domino effect, caused by both the overproduction of cortisol and adrenal exhaustion, can be easily short-circuited by committing to just one or two foundational practices and/or lifestyle changes. The bottom line, however, is that ONLY you can do it … nobody can do it for you.

Here’s a very relevant coaching session which you may find helpful.

Chronic Insomnia: Turn Your Bedroom Into A Cocoon

May you enjoy great health,
The Health Coach

Author’s Note and Caution:
Many people with low adrenal function actually take cortisol around the clock, which can often manifest explosive mood swings and rages that can result in physical violence and danger to themselves and others. Coupled with SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which are well-known to cause wild mood swings) and other addictive psychotropic pharmaceuticals, various severe emotional and personality disorders can manifest. The marriage of cortisol, naturally-produced by the body or taken as a prescription, and the entire family of anti-depressants can lead to catastrophic results. Those individuals can become instantly irrational and often suffer severe OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder) as well.

Endnote:
[1] “Cortisol and Stress: How to Stay Healthy” by Elizabeth Scott, M.S. – Stress Management @ About.com

Best advice:
Pause, and take time out to relax during a hectic day.

~ Click on the photo to enlarge ~

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© 2012 The Health Coach

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