Why Stress Matters & How To Keep It Under Control

Stress isn’t just in your head. Too much cortisol – your dominant stress hormone – can affect everything from your sleep to your appetite, your sex drive to your skin. To understand more about it and how to get things back in balance, we asked the experts the share their insights…
By Tor West /

Cortisol Is A Fight-Or-Flight Hormone

“Cortisol is your body’s ambulance service, responding to emergencies and stressful situations. It sounds the alarm by activating fear and putting us into a survival response known as ‘fight or flight’. Despatched from the tiny adrenal glands which sit just above the kidneys, cortisol races through the body, increasing sugar levels in the blood and diverting blood from the digestive system to more urgent places like the brain. Cortisol can affect nearly every system in the body including the nervous, immune, cardiovascular, reproductive and muscular systems. The problem is, the body can’t differentiate between different types of stress – such as emotional and physical stress – which means cortisol continues to pump around the body. In our modern world, we can go into fight or flight 50 times a day, but this is not how the body was originally designed.” – Claudia Le Feuvre, nutritional therapist & eating psychology coach

Stress Levels Should Fluctuate Throughout The Day

“Our cortisol levels are constantly changing in response to what’s happening in our environment. Our brain monitors the level of cortisol in our blood, and if it is too low or too high, our brain sends signals to our adrenal glands, which finetune their production of cortisol to restore the balance. Our cortisol levels are meant to peak and trough as they increase during times of stress or danger to aid recovery, and then fall back down to regular rhythms. One of the main problems can be when we are continuously stressed or continuously facing dangerous situations – for example, someone who works a very stress-inducing job, someone in an abusive environment, or someone who works a very dangerous job such as a firefighter. Their cortisol levels would constantly be raised to prepare for a recovery that never comes – this is known as chronic stress and it’s at the root of many health issues.” – Amy Launder, psychotherapist & psychological coach

It Can Cause A Second Wind

“For most people, cortisol spikes in the morning when you wake up and lulls in the afternoon, but if you get a ‘second wind’ before bed, this could be a sign your cortisol levels are out of whack. Because cortisol plays a role in your sleep/wake cycle, looking at your energy levels can provide a real clue as to whether your cortisol levels are out of balance. Do you struggle to wake up in the morning? Cortisol gives you the va-va-voom to get the day started. Do you have a ‘tired but wired’ feeling, like you are running on empty but there’s a nervous energy that’s keeping you going? Do the small things stress you out? Reduced tolerance, mood swings and irritability can all be influenced by cortisol.” – Claudia

SERGEY FILIMONOV/ STOCKSY UNITED

Stress Causes Inflammation

“Continuously high stress levels can lead to countless health problems such as anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, memory or concentration problems, digestive problems, sleep problems, and weight gain. The majority of this comes down to inflammation. Cortisol increases inflammation in the body to protect vital organs from physical harm, but if the stress or danger never seems to pass, we stay inflamed. Some of the shorter-term impacts of having high levels of cortisol in the body include fatigue, mood swings, irregular periods, mental fogginess, muscle weakness and bruising easily.” – Amy  

Stress Can Hamper Immunity

“If you’re the kind of person who finds it hard to wind down from day to day, but when you finally get the chance to properly relax, you tend to get ill, chances are your cortisol levels are high. This is a classic sign you’re living in a state of stress, which is suppressing your immune system from working properly. The fascinating thing about stress is that our brains are still relatively primitive in their response to stressors – the brain cannot tell the difference from a real, life-threatening danger and perceived stress like having a long to-do list.” – Jenny McGuckian, registered nutritional therapist 

In our modern world, we can go into FIGHT OR FLIGHT 50 times a day, but this is not how the body was designed.

Ultimately, High Levels Can Lead To Burnout

“If cortisol levels are continuously high, you will simply crash. Your body cannot cope with the demands of maintaining high levels of these hormones, and instead you end up in a place with low cortisol across the day where you feel constantly fatigued and unmotivated. Getting your cortisol rhythm back on track can take time as you need to slowly nudge it back in the right direction. You may need to work with a nutritional therapy practitioner to help you with supplements and herbs that can help you recover, but the primary solution is to take rest and relaxation seriously. When stress is chronic, it becomes less beneficial. Healthy stressors should be spaced out with time for rest and recovery. A lack of time to properly wind down, however, can be a real problem.” – Jenny

Get Your Cortisol Levels Back On Track With These Expert Tips…

Fuel Your Body The Right Way: “If you often crave sugary foods or white carbs and often feel hangry, this could be a sign cortisol is affecting your insulin and blood sugar. When you’re stressed, the body constantly feels like it needs quick, easily accessible energy to escape danger. Plus, fluctuations in blood glucose can be a stressor in themselves. If you’re struggling with your cortisol, eat protein, healthy fats and lots of vegetables at every meal and avoid fasting (other than 10-12 hours overnight). Your body needs stable energy to reassure it that you’re safe.” – Jenny 

Actively Relax: “Purposefully plan rest and relaxation into your week. If this is something you struggle with, book weekly acupuncture or massage sessions as these can force you to slow down. Spending time in nature can also be powerful – even a small park with a couple of trees can have a significant impact on your nervous system and help you relax.” – Jenny 

Instil A Bedtime Routine: “Sleep is always a significant factor in any area of mental health. Having a solid night-time routine can aid sleep quality and quantity. Wind down at least an hour before bed with no screens and no high-energy activity, such as going for a run. Low-energy activities, such as yoga or stretching can improve sleep as can activities such as reading (being wary of blue light), listening to audiobooks and meditating.” – Amy

Looking at your ENERGY LEVELS can provide a real clue as to whether your cortisol levels are OUT OF BALANCE.

Cut Back On Caffeine: “When we are stressed, the adrenal glands overwork to keep cortisol levels topped up. Our bodies naturally turn to caffeine, too, for an additional energy boost. However, once the caffeine wears off, we are exhausted again, and the adrenals still struggle to keep up. Reducing caffeine intake will give the adrenals a break and time to reset.” – Amy 

Get Morning Sunlight: “Rebalancing your circadian rhythm can make a real difference. Early morning sunlight exposure is vital to kickstart cortisol release – start with five minutes of bright light exposure or 20 minutes if it’s overcast. Avoiding blue light in the final two hours before bed is also important to allow cortisol levels to fall.” – Dr Nirusa Kumaran, medical director & founder of Elemental Health 

Try Breathwork: “Regular breathwork exercises – such as single nostril breathing – is a quick and simple way to send signals to your body that you are safe and calm.” – Jenny 

Top Up Nutrient Stores: “Enhance your diet with extra servings of dark green leafy vegetables, which are rich in magnesium and vitamin C, both of which are essential for supporting the adrenals. If you suspect a food intolerance, get tested, as an intolerance can disrupt blood sugar and stress the adrenals.” – Claudia

Experiment With Adaptogenic Herbs: “The likes of ashwagandha, chaga, reishi and lion’s mane are increasingly popular. Adaptogens can help bring the body back into balance as they stop the body from jumping into fight-or-flight mode as easily.” – Claudia 

 

For more information or to book an appointment with one of the experts, visit ElementalHealthClinic.com, Go-Nourish.com & AmyLaunder.com. Goldster is a digital platform that has pioneered the only systematic non-drug approach to health, visit Goldster.co.uk for more.

DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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