What is Cortisol?
When you’re feeling stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. But what is cortisol and how does it relate to your overall health?
Our bodies have adapted and evolved to be able to handle the stresses of everyday life, but even as evolved as we are, our brain cannot tell the difference between good stressor bad stress. Good stress might mean getting a promotion at work, or moving into a larger home with more room for your family. Bad stress, on the other hand, might be constant worry about your financial situation, or chronic health problems and pain. In each situation, when the body feels stressed, a message is sent to the brain to release the hormone, cortisol, which is the “fight or flight” hormone that enables us to spring into action.
What is interesting is that in a situation where stress occurs, but a goal or the desired outcome is attained, the brain recognizes this and cortisol stops being released. The body naturally reduces the amount of the hormone in the blood as it is filtered through the kidneys.
When stress occurs without a resolution (such as the completion of a goal), the level of cortisol builds up in the blood causing all manner of ill health symptoms.
There are a host of negative mental and physical symptoms tied into having too much continuous cortisol in our blood. Unchecked amounts of cortisol have been clinically linked to depression, anxiety, memory loss, learning difficulties, and weakening of the immune system.
So what can we do to lessen the effects of cortisol to live a healthier life?
Physical activity – even a moderate amount such as 20 minutes each day – is the number one way to reduce stress and in turn, reduce cortisol levels. Meditation, yoga, and practicing mindfulness all rank high as cortisol-busters. But other things such as simply being social, laughing, practicing an enjoyable activity, and listening to or playing relaxing and enjoyable music also greatly benefit us in the war against stress.
While it’s not difficult to control cortisol by controlling stress, you do have to be conscious of those stressful feelings, and be ready to combat them using relaxation techniques and/or exercise. Left unchecked, constant stress will leave your cortisol levels too high, and your mind and body both inside and out will suffer for it.
So stop, take a deep breath, and set your sights on a healthier you!